More questions from lawmakers as Maharlika bill enters crunch time
MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Monday expressed concern over a number of provisions in the controversial bill creating the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), with the measure still changing in form as Congress leaders try to push its approval in the last three or four session days before Congress adjourns on Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said a number of his colleagues had reservations about the uncertainty surrounding the inclusion of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS) in financing the MIF.
“I’m [one] of those members of the Senate, that while most of us are in full support of the idea of coming up with a sovereign fund, we need to put the safeguards because we do not want to put at risk the pension funds,” he noted.
Villanueva made the statement moments before senators convened in a caucus on Monday to discuss the chamber’s agenda for the remaining session days until Wednesday, or possibly Thursday.
He said among the thorny issues of the current version of the MIF bill was the inclusion of state pension funds in the MIF.
“For me that is not acceptable because [GSIS and SSS] are vulnerable to political pressure as a [government-owned corporation], whether we like it or not,” he said.
“I have heard many people expressing their objection to [this and] I also know that the majority of the senators will only support the bill if they are assured that this will not happen,” Villanueva added.
The senator also conceded as “valid” the concern that allowing the MIF management to invest in public infrastructure projects would encroach on Congress’ power of appropriation. (See related story in Business, Page B1.)
For Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, the proposal was “beyond repair” even if its proponents try to squeeze in a number of amendments into Senate Bill No. 2020, which seeks to create the MIF.
“After thorough analysis and careful review, I have come to the conclusion that the overall risk is too great that it outweighs whatever the potential benefits of the measure are, if there is any at all,” Pimentel said.
He said the MIF would require the government to divert resources away from more immediate priorities such as poverty, education, joblessness and health care.
Sen. Imee Marcos, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s sister, shared Pimentel’s doubts, noting that “a country can have a sovereign fund [only] when it hits a jackpot, like in Malampaya when we found reserves of natural gas or oil.”
The senator said she, too, had reservations about the possible inclusion of GSIS and SSS funds that belong to employees into the MIF.