Romualdez: US businessmen interested in Maharlika fund

Warren De Guzman, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2023 09:24 PM

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez on Thursday said he has received a positive response to the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund.

"Well I think the United States business people, when they heard about it, are pleased with it because they see that as another opportunity for the Philippines. As you know we are not the only ones which have had this idea. Indonesia has had one, and many others, and it has been very successful. So the sovereign wealth fund is definitely a welcome development as far as the economic activity of the Philippines is concerned. We are waiting for developments in that area. The American businessman said that would be an opportunity for investments," Romualdez said.

When asked to give concrete examples of serious interest in the MIF, Romualdez said “The American Chamber for instance where we always interact with. They told me that they were very pleased with what they heard about the sovereign wealth fund. Of course they are waiting for more clarity on exactly when this sovereign wealth fund will really be put into place."

Romualdez was speaking on the sidelines of an event hosted by the Makati Business Club, which has issued a public statement opposing the Maharlika fund.

Former Philippine Ambassador to the United States and current MBC Trustee Jose Cuisia was quick to reiterate his opposition to the Maharlika fund.

“It is not necessary to have a Maharlika Fund. When you look at what is the nature of a sovereign wealth fund. They use excess funds from the sale of say oil or minerals and so on, which they are using really for the future generation. Unfortunately the Philippines does not have excess funds, in fact we have deficits. We are borrowing so much money. So how can we invest excess funds when we are precisely borrowing so much money. It just goes against the nature of a sovereign wealth fund. If you take money from DBP, Landbank, they cannot perform their objective, their functions as a development bank or as a bank to aid agriculture, the farmers and so on, if their capital is depleted or because they are putting their money in the Maharlika fund," Cuisia said.

Cuisia said he himself has not heard of any American interest in the fund. “No, I have not heard of anyone. And there will be a lot of questions, and that is why it is good that the Senate is going to scrutinize it. I think the House was too hasty in passing the bill, they did not really study it very carefully and now they are making all sorts of changes."

Romualdez said the government will continue to adjust the proposal, taking into consideration all the inputs from stakeholders. 

“The issues, as long as they are legitimate issues they are raising, It is something that will be addressed by the government. It is not something that is being rammed down the throats of the Filipinos. It is something that is being studied carefully, and all are welcome to put in their own ideas. But at the end of the day, if the majority of our people really believe it will be good for the country, we will push it through."

US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson did not discuss the Maharlika fund at the MBC event which discussed opportunities for enhanced cooperation, but she said the US remains very much bullish on the Philippines as an investment destination.

"A relatively stable peso makes the Philippines an attractive investment destination for American companies. I recently met with executives from one American company who said they are planning to invest in a Philippines-based service center that will create over 1,000 jobs. They credited, in their words, the 'positive tone' of the relationship – particularly President Marcos’s outreach – as one reason for their investment plans,” Carlson said.

Meanwhile, Aboitiz InfraCapital President Cosette Canilao said the aggressive investment roadshow of the Marcos Economic team is a positive for local business as well.

“It is a very good signal from the government that they are again willing to work with the private sector to build infrastructure and other similar facilities right? From our end, from Aboitiz InfraCapital, we are actually looking forward to move the unsolicited proposals we have submitted under the previous administration. So we are working and talking with the government to move those proposals forward, and we are looking forward to the others that they are going to bid out."

Canilao shared they are prioritizing airports, transport, mobility, and digital economy infrastructure projects.

The economic team was in Frankfurt, Germany on Monday, with NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan sharing with prospective investors that they have 206 flagship infrastructure projects in the pipeline with an estimated value of $159B which may be bid out as PPPs. He said there were another 87 projects worth an estimated $54B which will definitely be bid out as PPP projects. The investment roadshow will move to London on Thursday.