December 13, 2022
MANILA — For the first time since lawmakers filed a bill seeking to create the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) two weeks ago, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. broke his silence on Sunday night and publicly expressed support for the proposed sovereign wealth fund.
Speaking to reporters on his flight to Belgium, the president admitted that he was the one who first broached the idea of establishing an MIF.
“It’s very clear that we need added investment. This is another way to get that,” he told reporters.
Marcos is here to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union Commemorative Summit from Dec. 12 to 14, his seventh official trip abroad since he assumed office on June 30.
Asked if the MIF would be “advantageous” for the Philippines, he said: “For sure. I would not have brought it up otherwise.”
The proposed MIF sought an initial investment of P250 billion from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS), Land Bank of the Philippines, and the Development Bank of the Philippines, and a P25-billion allocation from the national government.
Lawmakers proposing House Bill No. 6398, or the MIF Act, have since scrapped the budget allotment and the GSIS and SSS as funding sources following public backlash on the use of pension funds for the plan.
Initially, the president was to chair the board that would manage the fund, but proponents of the bill also decided to replace the chief executive with the finance secretary.
Critics have likewise assailed administration allies for rushing the passage of the bill filed by Speaker Martin Romualdez, the president’s son Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Alexander “Sandro” Marcos, and other administration lawmakers.
On Dec. 1, the House committee on banks and financial intermediaries approved the bill, and authors of the proposed measure were targeting its passage on the third and final reading this December, barely a month since it was filed on Nov. 28.
However, Marcos said: “Well, we’re just doing the regular process of looking at the bill. Well, not we. It’s the legislature. So let them do their jobs.”
He also allayed the fears of the public over possible misuse of government funds due to alleged questionable provisions in the bill, dismissing criticisms about the timing of the proposal.
“Let’s not debate until we see the final form because we could be debating about provisions that will no longer exist. So let’s just wait for what the legislature will do,” he said.
According to the president, he would let lawmakers come up with a “perfect” version of the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said the president’s comment supporting the MIF was a signal to his allies in Congress to back the measure.
“The president is backing up the concept of the sovereign wealth fund, but not the details,” Pimentel told reporters on Monday.
“The president is right in saying that we have to do our work and part of our work is to question whether we need this at this time,” he said.
In the Lower House, lawmakers continued to approve more changes to the Maharlika bill, now known as HB 6608, the latest variant that lawmakers said has 216 coauthors from different political parties, or nearly 90 percent of the House membership.
Among others, the proposed Maharlika fund would have 20 percent of its profits allotted to social welfare projects, while imposing penalties on those who would violate the fund’s investment policies.
The House banks and financial intermediaries committee released a copy of its report on the draft substitute measure creating the MIF.
Panel chair and Manila Rep. Irwin Tieng said his committee held an executive session in the morning to approve several amendments to the bill.
The report was signed by Tieng, appropriations panel chair Rep. Elizaldy Co, and ways and means committee chair Rep. Joey Salceda.
“Investments… shall be limited to National Economic and Development Authority Board-approved major capital projects to ensure that these are in line with the socioeconomic development program of the government,” the bill said.
Tieng’s panel also approved the earlier changes during the executive session on Monday, including the designation of the finance secretary as chair of the fund’s board, and the inclusion of four independent directors.
He also assured the public that lawmakers were trying their best to include “all possible safeguards” into the bill, contrary to the claim of national scientist Raul Fabella that the measure was “beyond repair.”
House Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Paul Daza said he was now inclined to support the Maharlika bill after the House leadership introduced improvements.
“It’s now a much better bill,” Daza said.
However, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman urged Romualdez to see to it that the measure would be thoroughly debated in the lower chamber.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri also reiterated on Monday that senators would scrutinize the proposal.
In Bacolod City, retired Commissioner Rowena Guanzon of the Commission on Elections called on Filipinos to oppose the Maharlika bill through social media before it is too late.
She said the public could express their sentiments through photos or TikTok dance to let their lawmakers know how they feel.
“You can do it any way you want but please make your objections known to your representatives and senators by posting your opinions and objections on social media,” said Guanzon, also a former mayor of Cadiz City in Negros Occidental.