Controversial Maharlika bill clinches final Senate approval
MANILA, Philippines — A heavily reconstructed version of the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund bill secured the nod of the Senate on its third and final reading, nine days after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had certified the measure as urgent.
Straight out of the period of amendments, Senate Bill No, 2020, or the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund Act, was approved in the upper chamber on second reading, and immediately after, on third reading during a session that extended until the wee hours of Wednesday.
For measures certified as urgent by the President, Congress is allowed to forgo the usual three-day interval between the second and third reading as required in the 1987 Constitution.
The MIF bill got 19 votes in the affirmative, one negative, and one abstention.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros voted against the measure, while Senator Nancy Binay abstained.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, Senator Francis Escudero, and Senator Imee Marcos were not present on the floor to cast their votes.
Reforming MIF bill
During the hours-long period of amendments for the MIF bill, the Senate explicitly banned investments in the proposed MIF from the Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Home Development Mutual Fund, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and Philippine Veterans Affairs Office.
Senators Raffy Tulfo, Ronald dela Rosa, Pia Cayetano, and Joel Villanueva were among the lawmakers who pushed for the change, which bill sponsor Senator Mark Villar accepted.
This is a shift from Villar’s position on Monday when he said he was unconvinced of the need to completely close the investment window for state-run pension funds.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian sought to remove Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas dividends as funding sources for the proposed MIF during the first two years after its creation.
But Villar rejected the amendment, noting that it is a priority of the Marcos administration’s economic team to use BSP dividends for the investment fund.
Among the changes in the MIF bill that Villar accepted was the proposal of Hontiveros to disqualify from the MIF Board of Directors any person, who within five years before being appointed, has a pending administrative or judicial case relating to fraud, plunder, corrupt practices, money laundering, tax evasion or any similar crimes involving misuse of money or breach of trust.
The Senate-approved MIF proposal also imposes heavier penalties for anomalous activities concerning the investment fund.
Senator Robin Padilla had urged to make available all documents relating to the MIF and Maharlika Investment Corp. (MIC) in both English and Filipino. He argued that dissenters of the controversial measure might not be able to understand what the bill would intend to do.
This was an amendment Villar likewise accepted.
All reports of the MIC will be made available to the public through its website, as proposed by Gatchalian.
The rigorous discussions on the amendments to the hotly debated MIF bill led to the early morning vote and eventual approval of the proposed legislation.
‘Road to debt, debt, more debt’
Prior to the bill’s passage in the upper chamber, Pimentel delivered a turno en contra speech to criticize the “totally unjustified” bid to establish the controversial fund.
“The MIF’s promised land full of bread, honey, and wine may or may not happen. But what is certain is the MIF will lead us to the road to debt, debt, and more debt. Like as if we are not yet swimming in an ocean of debt of more than P13 trillion,” he said.
Pimentel expressed certainty that the creation of the MIF “will be built with the blood, sweat, and tears in the form of the hard-earned taxes paid by every Filipino.”
President Marcos certified the MIF bill as urgent in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, allowing Congress to approve the measure in just a few months since the contentious proposal first came to light.
In his certification letter addressed to the Senate, Marcos cited global inflation, economic consequences of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and continuing interest rate hikes in the international financial sector as “compelling” grounds to tag the MIF bill as high priority.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said a bicameral committee would meet at 11 a.m. on Wednesday to reconcile the disagreeing provisions between the chambers’ versions of the measure.
After this, Congress can immediately transmit the bill to Marcos for his signature.