Zubiri: Senate approving ‘Maharlika’ next week
The Senate leadership will push for the passage of the law creating the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) before Congress adjourns on June 2, provided both chambers agree to skip deliberations in the bicameral conference committee, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Thursday.
“Yes, the plan is to approve it on second and third reading next week,” Zubiri said a day after Malacañang certified the MIF bill as urgent, which will allow Congress to pass the measure on second and third readings on the same day.
Zubiri’s pledge to pass the Maharlika bill comes three months after he vowed that senators would not rush its passage and amid talks that his hold on his one-year Senate presidency hinged on the approval of the measure before the 2nd State of the Nation Address of President Marcos in July.
“We in the Senate will not rush this measure and will make sure that all points are covered to make sure we don’t make mistakes,” he had told Senate reporters in February.
Zubiri declined to comment on reports that his presidency hinged on the passage of the MIF.
“I serve at the pleasure of my colleagues. I will just keep on working,” he said in a Viber message to reporters.
But with the MIF now certified by President Marcos as an urgent measure, Zubiri said the Senate could allow for amendments and pass it even with only three remaining session days until Wednesday next week.
“We are accommodating the last few members who want to interpellate on Monday, then we can open the period of amendments immediately after,” Zubiri said in a Viber message to reporters.
In a letter to Zubiri, Marcos, in certifying Senate Bill No. 2020 as an urgent measure, cited “the downgrade of the global growth projection this year on account of debilitating inflation, fluctuating and unstable prices of crude oil and other fuels due to the protracted conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and continuing interest rate hikes in the international financial sector.”
“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 activity and development,” he said in his May 22 letter, which was read out to senators during Wednesday’s session.
Still unconvinced Maharlika is essential
According to Zubiri, the MIF would immediately become an enrolled bill and need not go through the bicameral conference committee if the House of Representatives would agree to adopt the Senate-approved version.
“Hopefully, the House can adopt our version which we improved with more safeguards in place to avoid possible misuse,” he said.
But even with Zubiri’s assurance of “additional safeguards,” the Senate minority is not convinced that the MIF is an essential piece of legislation needed by the country at this time.
“We (in the minority) will interpellate, deliver our (turno en) contra speech, then vote no,” said Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III.
By legislative tradition, the opposition delivers the turno en contra speech to express the bloc’s objection to a bill. Under the Senate’s rules, the turno en contra speech will come before the period of amendments, Pimentel said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Malacañang’s justification for the immediate passage of the Maharlika Fund was “too convoluted and vague.”
“It is still being pushed despite the fact that there is nothing left of the income from the Malampaya oil and gas fields, and the law that would have raised the government’s income from opening mines has not yet been passed,” she said.
Hontiveros expressed concern over the MIF proponents’ plan to tap the “highly profitable funds” of Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines.
“This would be a huge loss to farmers and small businesses that cannot afford to [take out] loans from private commercial banks,” she said.
She also dismissed Malacañang’s citing the “deteriorating condition” of trade and banks around the world.
“This would necessitate the use of Bangko Sentral funds, which are our most reliable safeguard against peso depreciation, price increases, and loan interest rate increases,” Hontiveros warned.
Instead of focusing on the setting up of an investment fund, the government should prioritize funding the country’s social services, agriculture, transport sector and energy sector, Hontiveros said in a statement.
Some administration senators also saw the need to tweak parts of the proposed measure during the period of amendments.
During Wednesday’s interpellations, Senators Joel Villanueva, Sherwin Gatchalian and Francis Escudero said they would introduce changes to the bill.
Labor groups and trade unions on Thursday also denounced the President’s certifying as urgent the Maharlika Investment Fund bill and urged the Senate to “exercise utmost prudence” before approving the proposed measure.
The labor groups demanded that the bill go through further public consultation because the workers’ hard-earned wages were at stake.
The sovereign wealth fund, they stressed, would “take away billions” from government institutions that are better spent on improving social services and funding salary increase and support mechanisms for health-care workers, teachers, farmers and micro, small and medium enterprises.
“This government is willing to allot an insane amount of money for ‘strategic investments,’ which is not even expected to merit income and profits until after several years,” they said.
Among the labor organizations who signed the statement were Kilusang Mayo Uno, Federation of Free Workers, Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa, Partido Manggagawa, Nagkaisa Labor Coalition, UNI Global Union-Philippine Liaison Council, Education International, Building and Wood Workers’ International and Pagkakaisa ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide. —WITH A REPORT FROM KATHLEEN DE VILLA
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