Senate to fast-track Maharlika fund bill approval after Marcos nudge: Zubiri

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 25 2023 01:00 PM | Updated as of May 25 2023 07:50 PM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Thursday vowed to speed up the chamber’s approval of the controversial bill to establish the Maharlika Investment Fund after President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. marked it as “urgent.”

The bill is currently pending at the Senate plenary and is being scrutinized by senators.

“The plan is to approve it by 2nd and 3rd reading next week. We are accommodating the last few members who want to interpellate on Monday then we can open the period of amendments immediately after,” Zubiri said. 

“As a certified measure we can close and approve the bill on that same week,” he added. 

When a bill is certified as urgent, the Senate or Congress may approve it on second and third reading on the same day, and there is no need to wait for the three-day period between the second and third readings before getting it passed.

The House of Representatives approved the measure last year. 

Zubiri said he hoped members of the House of Representatives would concede and adopt their version of the bill.

“Hopefully, the House can adopt our version which we improved with more safeguards in place to avoid possible misuse,” he said. 

But members of the Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives rejected Zubiri's request as they called for the bill's outright rejection by lawmakers.

"Tingin natin naging worse pa nga itong version ng Senate dahil sa possibility na mailagak yung pwedeng maglagak ng kaniyang mga board of directors of board governance," Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said.

Castro was also wary that the fund may become a safe haven for ill-gotten wealth.

"Kasi dahil sa pagpasok din ng real and personal money dito ay ma-equate natin dito sa ill gotten wealth. Halimbawa kung may pondo ang politiko o sinuman sa ibang bansa at ipasok lang dito sa MIF," Castro explained.

Castro also said that the bill would affect the function of the Central Bank to curb inflation even as there is no assurance that it will make money.

Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas also called out the President for certifying the bill as urgent.

"Sa dami ng mga batas na dapat na i-certify as urgent tulad ng wage increase, Maharlika Investment Fund pa na bulnerable sa korapsyon," Brosas said.

Separately, Bayan Muna chairman and former congressman Neri Colmenares warned of corruption, cronyism and the dangers of Maharlika to billions in public funds and urged the Senate to vote no on the bill.

“The Maharlika Corporation is allowed to invest its P500 billion fund in local corporations, such as mining, real estate, energy, infrastructure, corporate bonds and unlisted equities, which opens it up to cronyism if MIC favors certain crony businesses," he said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also questioned Marcos' move, saying his "justification for the immediate passage of the Maharlika Fund is too convoluted and vague."

Hontiveros said the administration should instead prioritize measures addressing "more pressing" national issues.

"There’s nothing more urgent than prioritizing funding our social services, agriculture, transport sector, and energy sector. Maraming pamilyang Pilipino ang namamaluktot na sa maiksing kumot. We must not allow our economy to sink deeper because of unreasonable spending," she said.

In a letter to the Senate dated May 22, 2023, Marcos cited a "compelling need for a sustainable national investment fund" amid "the downgrade of the global growth projection".

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—With a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News