Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Tuesday the upper house will heed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s call for it to carefully study the proposal to create the Maharlika Investment Fund.
In a text message shared to reporters, Zubiri said the Senate will tackle the Maharlika fund “one step at a time but will not delay the process.”
“We will start with the House version and propose perfecting amendments to it. We will consult with all sectors and lay the premise on why the fund is necessary and if it is, what are the proper safeguards to keep it away from corruption and mismanagement,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva told reporters in a chance interview that senators will be meeting with the country’s economic managers to discuss the Maharlika fund on January 30.
Villanueva added that Marcos’ call is a “welcome development.”
“You know the president came from the Senate, so he knows very well how senators work and we will definitely scrutinise and see to it that this is needed, the funds of the government are protected, if funding for this would really come from the public sector,” Villanueva said partly in Filipino.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said in a separate text message that while Marcos was correct to advise the upper chamber to review the proposed Maharlika fund, the proposal should not be forced if there are no reasons or funding sources for it.
“If the Maharlika fund will only result in debt, spending and waste, let us not waste our time on it,” Pimentel said, adding that the government should just concentrate on food production and lowering inflation.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, called the Maharlika fund “premature” as she pointed out that the country lacks windfalls to finance it.
“There are so many other problems that need to be prioritised before this very rough draft and premature idea of a sovereign wealth fund,” Hontiveros said partly in Filipino on ABS-CBN News Channel’s “Headstart.”
“It’s not something I could vote for yet. Because as we were talking about earlier, there are other problems including agriculture, inflation, workers and employees wages, the implementation of the universal healthcare,” Hontiveros added.
In a roundtable interview with broadcast outlets on Monday, Marcos told the Senate to carefully examine the Maharlika fund and not rush in passing it, although he said that it would be better if deliberations on the bill are finished as soon as possible.
“Examine it well so the law will be very good. Examine it well. Of course, it would be better if it is finished as soon as possible. But this should not be rushed because every word that you put in the law has meaning,” Marcos said in Filipino.
‘Better right than quick’
Zubiri previously said that the Senate might finish committee deliberation on the bill before it goes on a six-week break beginning March 25 and then pass it in plenary on the first or second week of May.
“That would be good,” Marcos said. “But, for me, it’s more important to be right than to be quick. We need to get it right.”
All eyes are on the Senate, an institution now dominated by Marcos allies that traditionally sought to be independent from the executive, as the controversial proposal has reached the chamber through Sen. Mark Villar.
Villar is a close ally of Marcos who ran under his ticket during the 2022 polls. He was part of the delegation that accompanied the president to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where the Maharlika fund was presented to foreign investors.
Rep. Joey Salceda (Albay) previously claimed that a “re-engineered” version of the Maharlika fund was presented by Marcos at Davos which supposedly stripped the bill of provisions requiring the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Development Bank of the Philippines to contribute dividends for its seed money.
Salceda also said that among the changes that are being pushed was for the Maharlika fund to only involve the securitisation of around P44.33 billion in annual dividends from government corporations.
But Marcos said this was just a proposal floated at Davos which his administration is “a little lukewarm” to as dividends from government corporations are used to finance the national budget.
“I don’t think that’s a viable proposition, at least not for us,” Marcos said.