Senate may hold rare Thursday session for Maharlika

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Senate may hold rare Thursday session for Maharlika
Photos shows of senators in opening of the 19th congress at the Senate on July 25, 2022.
STAR / Mong Pintolo.

MANILA, Philippines — Aiming to meet Malacañang’s deadline to approve the bill for the creation of the Maharlika Investment Fund before President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.’s State of the Nation Address in July, the Senate may hold a rare Thursday session to work on passing the proposal and other measures.

Both the Senate and the House typically hold sessions from Monday to Wednesday, but they sometimes hold sessions on a Thursday when they have important matters to tackle, especially when Congress is set to adjourn.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said Monday that while there is no pressure from Malacañang for the chamber to pass Senate Bill 2020 that seeks to create the Maharlika fund, they want to heed Marcos’ call to pass the measure, which he has certified as urgent.

“It’s a priority measure since January. We have talked about it in the (Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.) The president has been talking about this in his foreign trips,” Villanueva told a news briefing at the Senate, adding that they have put other priority measures first before the Maharlika fund.

“Now that the president is calling for Congress to pass this measure, so we’re here to respond and heed the call of the president,” Villanueva added.

Certification unconstitutional?

In his certification message to the Senate, Marcos cited global economic headwinds due to inflation, unstable prices of crude oil due to the war between Ukraine and Russia, and interest rate hikes across the world as among the reasons for the urgent approval of the Maharlika fund.

“There is a compelling need for a sustainable national investment fund as a new growth catalyst to accelerate the implementation of strategic and high-impact large infrastructure projects that will stimulate economic activity and development,” he said in a May 22 letter.

With Marcos’ certification, the Senate bill can be passed on second and third readings on the same day, bypassing the constitutional rule that three days must pass between the second and third readings.

But Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III has raised the constitutionality of Marcos’ certification of the Maharlika bill as urgent, saying there is no calamity or emergency that necessitates its immediate passage.

Villaenuva, however, said Marcos’ certification of the bill as urgent is “in order” as the president has the power to define what a calamity or emergency is.

Sen. Imee Marcos, the president’s older sister, told reporters at the Senate that the country is still in a state of emergency as it rises from the pandemic-induced economic downturn.

No rush in passing

But even with a certification from her brother, Sen. Marcos said the Maharlika fund should not be rushed through the Senate.

“If it is rushed, I will not allow that because that is a huge sum of money. Our children will get buried,” she said in Filipino. “If all the paperwork is completed, then the bill is not rushed because all our questions were answered. But if it’s still lacking, then we should scrutinize it.”

Sen. Francis Escudero also cautioned against rushing the Maharlika fund, which he said economic managers have yet to certify its economic viability.

“My advice is that anything which is rushed will not result in any good. It’s better if we go slowly, as long as we progress. Even if it is not perfect, at least it has a fighting chance,” Escudero told reporters at the Senate.

Villanueva denied that the Senate is rushing the Maharlika fund bill as the chamber has been discussing the measure for three months.

“If you’re the minority, you’re in the opposition, then definitely you would always say that everything’s being rushed. It’s natural for them to say it. I respect their views, I respect where they’re coming from,” he said.

He added: “I think as a responsible member of the Senate, we have seen the intricacies of this measure, the salient features, the safeguards and all the intention of this measure to really help not just create jobs but also help spur our economic activities in the country.”

Senators are still debating in plenary on the Maharlika fund, which the two-member minority bloc led by Pimentel vows to oppose.

During Monday’s session, Pimentel once again questioned the presence of a quorum, in an apparent bid to end the proceedings.

Under Senate rules, questions on quorum are privileged motions and must prompt the presiding officer to call the roll of members, but the session was suspended for roughly 30 minutes before it resumed again with 15 members responding to the roll call, allowing debates to resume.

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