SC seen as next arena for ‘Maharlika’ critics
The Supreme Court is expected to be the next arena for groups opposing the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), after Congress approved on Wednesday, May 31, the bill creating it before it adjourned sine die.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III on Thursday declared his readiness to help those who would seek to challenge the validity of the MIF law, noting that legal questions have emerged following its hasty passage.
For instance, Pimentel said the Senate leadership has to explain why it did not seek to ratify the bicameral conference committee report on Senate Bill No. 2020, or the MIF law, which supposedly contained the concurrence of the House contingent to adopt the Senate version.
“Yes, the Maharlika law can be challenged before the courts and for those planning to do this, I will make myself available as a source of some facts, information, arguments,” Pimentel said in a Viber message to reporters.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Thursday insisted there was no need for a ratification of the committee report as the House panel had supposedly agreed to adopt entirely the Senate version.
The day before, however, he said it had to be ratified by either Houses of Congress to set in motion the crafting of the bill to be submitted for the President’s signature.
“Yes, it would have to be ratified because of one amendment on style, misspelling,” Zubiri had told reporters.
Pimentel noted that he could be an active participant in any suit challenging the MIF before the Supreme Court because he took no part in the crafting of the proposed law.
He said he gave the majority a free hand in the MIF bill as the minority had “always maintained that the entire proposal is unjustified and the bill unsalvageable.”
“Hence, I had absolutely no hand in the drafting of that final Senate version. I boycotted the amendment period,” Pimentel pointed out.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who voted against the measure, also said she “will certainly support any action to raise this to the Supreme Court.”
Hontiveros said she would await the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations of the MIF law “and will be watching intently to ensure that the prohibitions we put in place and the wins we were able to secure during the plenary deliberations are not lost.”
Conflicting provisions on Maharlika bill
In a statement on Thursday, Zubiri gave assurance that the Maharlika bill “went through the toughest scrutiny, line-by-line,” because “we want this sovereign fund to benefit its major investor, the sovereign Filipino people.”
The Senate leader said the numerous amendments made by the Senate were their way of “conducting due diligence before this mega-fund is launched to the world.”
“And the version of the measure that we have approved meets the high bar for transparency and accountability,” Zubiri said.
The final copy of the enrolled bill released to the media, however, showed conflicting provisions in Sections 49 and 50 covering the prescriptive period for crimes punishable under the MIF law.
Section 49 mandates that crimes punishable under the MIF law shall prescribe in 10 years, while Section 50 sets it at 20 years.
Administration Sen. Francis Escudero said the conflicting provisions on the enrolled bill were “what haste usually produces.”
According to Escudero, who also did not take part in the voting on SB 2020 on Wednesday, if the President signs the enrolled bill in toto (in its entirety), the errors would become part of the law and could only be rectified by amending it following the enrolled bill doctrine.
“In other jurisdictions, the contents of the approved [or] signed bill from Congress was altered without the knowledge and consent of all the members and was considered falsification [however well-meaning they were],” he said.
But if Congress would admit to its oversight on the erroneous entries, both Houses could pass a joint resolution correcting the “conflicting duplicity” in the provisions, Escudero said, noting that the passage of the resolution would have to go through the same procedure as a bill.
The first legal challenge to the MIF was made by the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives when it filed last February 13 a petition asking the high tribunal to nullify the presidential certification of the MIF bill as an urgent measure and to void the MIF’s approval on third reading in the Lower House.
The petitioners told the Supreme Court that it should issue a guideline on when a bill could be certified as urgent because several administrations have abused such a prerogative.
Last April, however, the high court dismissed the plea after noting that the petitioners failed to present to the court any fact establishing the existence of an actual case or controversy ripe for adjudication.
The court noted that it was important to provide concrete facts “to enable the court to adjudicate the issues presented intelligently” and since no law had been passed at that time, they had no reason to rule on the merits of a “premature” petition.
In the Lower House, Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas has described the MIF as a “Marcosian gamble,” claiming it was reminiscent of how President Marcos’ late father risked public funds for private gain amid widespread poverty in the country.
Kabataan party list Rep. Raoul Manuel, in objecting to the MIF bill on late Wednesday afternoon’s plenary session, likewise questioned the adoption by the House of Representatives of the “very different” Senate version of the measure creating the P500-billion sovereign wealth fund, which was much higher than the chamber’s P75 billion.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE