THE economic team of the Marcos Jr. administration assured the public that the approved Senate version of the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) — which the House later adopted— contains all the safeguards against abuse and ensures prudent use of the P500-billion fund.
“The Senate leadership has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the bill we bring to the President reflects the administration’s objective of creating a profitable and secure investment fund,” Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said in a statement on Wednesday.
Senate Bill (SB) 2020 was approved on second and on third and final reading at dawn on Wednesday within 7 days after President Marcos Jr. certified it as urgent.
The bill was passed on third reading around 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday after nearly 12 hours of interpolations by senators.
“This is a great stride towards our long-term progress and will boost our efforts for economic growth. Thank you to Senator Mark Villar for leading the debates and to all our senators for staying in session until 2:30 am to thoroughly debate this bill,” Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said.
Present at the extended Senate session were Diokno, Pangandaman, Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin, National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan, and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Felipe M. Medalla.
Separately,Balisacan said the approval of the Maharlika bill signifies “strengthened” investment platforms for the Philippines.
“The fact that it is now passed, I think it strengthens our platforms for investment because…we in the economic team have been saying …we need to augment/complement the platforms that we have in engaging with the private sector, expanding investments in strategic areas,” Balisacan told reporters on the sidelines of the German-Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GPCCI) Forum on Wednesday in Makati City.
Now that it’s signed, Balisacan mentioned “strategic areas that [they] would be interested in,” and these include infrastructure and power, among others. He added that, “we have so much need for capital so we won’t run out of areas for investment.”
An earlier story of the BusinessMirror said that at Tuesday’s period of amendments, senators revised the bill—as suggested by Senator Raffy Tulfo—to explicitly prohibit the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) from investing in the MIF, whether on a mandatory or voluntary basis.
Investments from these agencies had been a major cause for concern among some senators and pensioners. Minority senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros noted that while the House version dropped these institutions from those mandated to provide the MIF seed fund, the prior Senate version had opened a “backdoor” for pension funds to come in on “voluntary” basis—if their boards allowed them to make investments in MIF on a judgment call that such would earn money for their members.
As to the changes made in the MIF, Balisacan said, “It’s fine. We respect the changes.”
Won’t swell debt
Meanwhile, the Socioeconomic Planning Secretary does not see the MIF increasing the national debt.
“No I don’t think so…that’s a small…P125 to P500 billion capitalization that’s not really….Besides, there’s going to be strategic areas that are profitable,” Balisacan said.
“They will be investing those in profitable areas like energy projects are quite profitable,” he added.
Balisacan stressed that, “we are supposed to address those to ensure that there are enough controls there, safeguards.”
Earlier, the Akbayan Party on Wednesday slammed the Senate’s quick passage of the MIF bill on the eve of the adjournment of the First Regular Session of the 19th Congress.
Akbayan Party President Rafaela David said “Safeguards may be in place now, but a law is only as good as its execution. And we should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because these measures exist in the bill. Lalo nga tayong dapat mag-ingat at magbantay [all the more reason for us to be vigilant].”
However, budget chief Pangandaman said, “I think we’ve exhausted all our time and effort in making sure that the law that we’re going to pass is something that is more acceptable.”
She added, partly in Filipino: “There are so many safeguards— we have an audit committee, there’s an advisory board, and there’s a congressional oversight committee. It adheres to the internationally-known Santiago principles, there is a COA [Commission on Audit] as well, and a procurement law, so I think we have enough safeguards.”
No pension funds
One of the contentious issues raised by critics of the MIF was the proposed contribution of the state pension funds to the seed fund, but senators adopted a provision that explicitly barred them and four others from investing in the MIF.
The funding sources for the MIF will now come from the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Development Bank of the Philippines, privatization proceeds, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas dividends, according to Pangandaman.
“The major change from the first one they filed is the pension. They’re no longer there, and then there’s much more safeguards now that they have provided. So I think it will be more acceptable to everyone,” Pangandaman said.