Faster aid distribution, not 'martial law-like' crackdown, needed in time of COVID-19 crisis – Pangilinan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20)— Instead of looking into a possible "martial law-type" lockdown, the government should prioritize the implementation of measures to hasten aid distribution to crisis-affected citizens, a lawmaker said Monday.

"I think more than a martial law-type crackdown, we have to fast-track the delivery of cash assistance and food packs for our citizens. I think that should be the priority," Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Citing data from Malacañang's latest report to Congress, Pangilinan said only 25 percent of targeted beneficiaries have so far received the promised assistance under the government's COVID-19 subsidy program.

"You have 75 percent of people who lost their jobs, who are not earning anything today, who are going hungry... Hindi martial law ang sagot sa gutom ng taongbayan. Delivery of cash assistance ang solusyon," Pangilinan added.

[Translation: Martial law is not the answer, delivery of cash assistance is.]

The Armed Forces of the Philippines earlier confirmed the validity of an internal memo of the Philippine Air Force, which directed the military to "prepare for strict implementation" of the COVID-19 quarantine, after the document made rounds online last week. President Rodrigo Duterte also previously warned of a "takeover" of the military and police, noting the rising number of lockdown violators across regions.

The government's current social amelioration program covers only the "poorest of the poor," with the low-income households expected to receive ₱5,000 to ₱8,000 worth of monthly assistance. Some local governments, however, revealed they have yet to roll out the downloaded cash aid to citizens as they have been awaiting the final list of beneficiaries from the Social Welfare Department.

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Pangilinan, for his part, said the government and the DSWD may look into possibly tapping the telco industry to help speed up the distribution process. He said there may be a "telco-padala system" which would ensure direct cash assistance for beneficiaries.

He likewise proposed that the assistance be managed by the respective local government units.

"Pagkakatiwalaan ko 'yung local governments... Kung merong corruption issues, bantayan. Kung merong mga hindi nakakatanggap, i-report. Pero ibigay 'yung pondo," the senator said.

[Translation: I would trust the local governments. If there are corruption issues, let's monitor. If there are beneficiaries left out, let's report. But let's distribute the funds.]

Calibrated, partial lifting of lockdown?

Pangilinan also backed sentiments of extending the quarantine, which will be in place until the end of April. However, he said that essential services may be allowed to resume operations.

READ: Duterte adviser bats for gradual reopening of malls, restaurants, public transport after Luzon lockdown

The move, however, should be done in line with more mass testing, Pangilinan stressed.

The Philippines has recorded 6,259 positive cases of the infectious disease, including 409 fatalities and 572 recoveries as of the Health Department's latest record.