Congress approves Maharlika  

Shiela Crisostomo, Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Congress approves Maharlika   
Selfie taken by Sen. Joel Villanueva shows the Senate majority bloc caucus on the Maharlika bill. Joining him are Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Alan Peter Cayetano, Robinhood Padilla, Bong Revilla, Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, JV Ejercito, Ronald dela Rosa, Senate President Migz Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Nancy Binay, Mark Villar, Raffy Tulfo, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Francis Tolentino, Pia Cayetano and Lito Lapid
STAR / File

GSIS, SSS prohibited from investing

MANILA, Philippines —  Before adjourning session last night, Congress officially adopted the proposed measure creating the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF).

The House of Representatives adopted Senate Bill 2020 creating the controversial investment fund, after senators passed on third and final reading early yesterday the MIF bill, which was certified by President Marcos as urgent.

During a plenary session last night, Nueva Ecija Rep. Mikaela Suansing moved for the adoption of the Senate version, although the House approved its own version last December.

“The House and the Senate have approved on third reading House Bill 6608 and Senate Bill 2020, respectively, on the establishment of MIF. We have been informed that the committee on banks and financial intermediaries, the sponsor of HB 6608 as well as the author thereof, are in concurrence of SB2020,” Suansing said.

The motion was approved by Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr.  

After a marathon session lasting till the wee hours, the senators’ version adopted an amendment prohibiting state pension and insurance funds from investing in the sovereign wealth fund.

Voting 19-1-1, the Senate passed the MIF. The voting took place around 2:30 a.m., after almost 12 hours of debate.

President Marcos has assured the public that government will not use state pension funds as seed money for the proposed MIF.

Marcos made the remark as some senators, including his sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, expressed reservations over the use of pension funds as seed capital of the MIF.

“We have no intention of using the money from our pension fund. That’s not the (intention). We will not use it as a seed fund,” Marcos told reporters in an interview after attending the 86th anniversary of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) in Pasay City.

The President, however, said the state insurers could not be prevented from investing in the fund.

“However, a pension fund, which is what pension funds do, is they invest. If the pension fund decides the Maharlika Investment Fund is a good investment, it’s up to them if they want to invest in it,” Marcos said.

Banned from investing in the MIF are the GSIS, the Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhlHealth), Pag-IBIG Fund, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office.

While the bicameral conference committee was intended to thresh out the differing provisions, the measure is now fine-tuned with more provisions meant to secure the fund.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who chairs the lower chamber’s Technical Working Group, said, “MIF is the first but it does not have to be the last sovereign wealth fund (SWF) that the government can create.”

Salceda also expressed expectations that the President would sign the MIF Act into law during his State of the Nation Address on July 24.

In response, House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro raised concerns that the House’s adoption of the Senate version might reinforce the perception that Congress is “indeed just a rubberstamp of Malacañang.”

“In the end, the desires of the Palace prevailed even if they are not in the interest of the majority of the Filipino people,” Castro said.

During last night’s session, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said there is no need for the Senate to ratify the bill because the House already adopted the Senate version.?In an ambush interview yesterday at the plenary, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the adoption of the bill by Congress signals its transmittal to Malacañang for the President’s signature.?According to the Department of Budget and Management, MIF’s funding sources include the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, privatization proceeds, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas dividends.

“Under the scheme, the MIF shall be used to invest in strategic and commercial activities in a manner designed to promote fiscal stability for economic development and strengthen the top-performing government financial institutions through additional investment platforms that will help attain the national government’s priority plans,” the Presidential Communications Office said in a statement. Senate votes

The Senate approved in the wee hours yesterday morning the proposal to create the controversial MIF which its author and principal sponsor, Sen. Mark Villar, said would lead to the creation of more jobs, more infrastructure projects, promote economic growth and a vehicle to reduce poverty and mitigate fiscal pressures during economic downturns.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros voted against the measure, while Sen. Nancy Binay opted to abstain.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, who interpellated Villar for several hours and delivered almost two hours of turno en contra on the MIF, was not present during the voting at the plenary. Neither were Sen. Francis Escudero and Sen. Marcos.

Before adjourning the extended session, Zubiri thanked his colleagues, the economic team, the Senate secretariat and staff for the hard work and doing their job well.

“The MIF is a sovereign wealth fund that will be used to invest in a wide range of assets, including foreign currencies, fixed-income instruments, domestic and foreign corporate bonds, commercial real estate and infrastructure projects. The fund is expected to generate income for the government and help promote economic development,” he said.

Assurances, concerns

As author of Senate Bill No. 2020, Villar assured the public of the benefits of the proposed measure for the country and cited numerous benefits that the country will attain once the MIF bill is passed into law.

“We have carefully studied and analyzed the MIF bill. We made revisions and added more safeguards to ensure that the version will benefit the Filipino people,” said Villar, who elaborated on the benefits of establishing the MIF.

He pointed out that the MIF may be used to invest in sectors such as agriculture and energy.

Pimentel said he was not convinced that the MIF will address the Philippines’ urgent needs, more so the country’s longstanding problem with poverty. He questioned its economic viability, arguing that the MIF will only result in the country incurring more debt.  Escudero said that while he failed to cast his vote due to his absence, he has made his position clear during the plenary debates that the bill may be “constitutionally infirm.”

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano appealed to his colleagues to strike a balance between putting up safeguard provisions of the MIF and ensuring that the law is not too restricted to succeed.

Hontiveros pushed for an amendment that the Maharlika Investment Corp. shall admit into its ranks only those persons unblemished by any hint of corruption, and also that stiff penalties await if corrupt acts are ever perpetrated.

She stressed that Villar and Sen. Sonny Angara should ensure that there would be a 25 percent limit to the investible funds of DBP and the Landbank that would be exposed to the operations of the MIF. — Helen Flores, Janvic Mateo, Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Louise Desiderio, Emmanuel Tupas, Mayen Jaymalin

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