Sick and tired?

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

When we tackled the controversy and opposition building up against the MWF or Maharlika Wealth Fund, our guest on AGENDA (Cignal TV) Atty. Terry Ridon, convener of Infra Watch, emphasized that for the first time in the longest while, the business sector and their many organizations have come out in strong and open opposition to a proposed bill sponsored or encouraged by the Marcos administration. Is it possible that businessmen are “sick and tired” of letting the BBM crew have their way?

It reminds me of US politics where adherence to democracy and respect for rule of law initially drove opponents to a Trump presidency to watch in silence. But when Trump policies started to hurt the economy and create a greater and more violent social divide, the silent majority chose to be “silent no more” that resulted in wins at the polls for the Biden group.

Looking back on what has happened from the start of the BBM administration, we recall that the first EO of PBBM was to veto the bill providing for the establishment of the Bulacan province economic zone that was to be set up next to the San Miguel Corporation Bulacan Airport. That first VETO move shocked businessmen and created the impression that PBBM was either anti-SMC or anti-business. That forced Malacañang to explain themselves out of the mess.

Even before the dust settled from the last election, people were shocked how so many political dynasties took over practically every elective local position in the provinces and greedily put up other family members to win in “partylist” positions. When the PBBM administration and their allies won the election they did not waste time dividing up the spoils among political supporters who got various positions in Congress and the Senate.

Even their corporate contributors and supporters managed to have their executives nominated or appointed to critical positions related to the industry or lobbies they were associated with, such as Aboitiz officials who now sit as Secretary of the DOE, and another the chairperson of the ERC. Whatever their leanings and professional character may be, there is no denying that a recent ERC decision against SMC Power and Meralco has caught the headlines, irritated business groups and investors and landed the parties in court.

Even before the ERC-SMC/Meralco problem cropped up, there was also the dream deal between TV5 and ABS-CBN that would have revived the broadcast industry and respective interests of the parties involved. But it turned out that even under the “new presidency” old and unsettled scores continue.

People have been philosophical about it all, often quoting the phrase: “To the victor go the spoils.” Perhaps all this convinced the Romualdez-Marcos tandem in Congress that they could get away with whatever they wanted, like the Maharlika Wealth Fund. But now one pushback after another has happened. SMC took the ERC to court and got a TRO and major business groups and civil society groups have bashed the proposed MWF bill.

The major “pushback” from various business organizations was so loud and clear that Congress has reversed itself by declaring the MWF will no longer tap into SSS and GSIS funds but will focus on the “investible funds” of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas or BSP. That, of course, has not silenced the restless natives as well as the academicians, economists and opinion makers. In the last 48 hours, netizens on social media have called for people to protest against the MWF bill.

The single most effective and efficient unit of government that has managed to stabilize the Philippines and its exchange rate is the BSP.

Instead of shooting to P60 to $1 as doomies were predicting, the exchange rate has started to claw its way back to the P55/56 to $1 region and that’s all because of our healthy foreign reserves that the BSP has zealously protected. Allowing sticky fingers to dip into the fund could have destabilizing effects on the peso, especially if so much of the reserves are stuck in some investment outside the country.

Senator Koko Pimentel was right to point out that even before the money is placed on the table, fund managers will already be collecting two percent from billions to trillions of pesos, depending on how much money is collected from the BSP, Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines. Aside from professional fees and management fees, we can only imagine how many millions will be collected by various government officials who will have a “job” or role to perform to watch over or decide on placement options.

There is even the suspicion that the measured withdrawal or redirection of the MWF fund source was always part of the plan. Shoot for the moon but all the while they were aiming for the BSP. Including the SSS and GSIS was just to have a bargaining chip that congressmen can now trade in exchange for the real pot of gold: the BSP investible funds!

A veteran fund manager revealed that the BSP has “trillions” in investible funds and the strategy of the MWF may be to take control or management of all that money away from BSP experts and place it in the hands of private managers. Whoever makes it happen could get a percentage of the action or a commission. We will all have to read the revised MWF line by line/word for word to determine if the final law is actually tailor fit for only one or two companies or groups to qualify. So many government biddings have been done this way and with billions or trillions at stake, the only victors should be the Filipino people!

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