MANILA -- Senators on Wednesday defended their approval of the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) bill, saying their version had "all the safeguards that possibly could be placed in this measure."
"I am very proud of this measure, I am very proud of the Senate version, because of the safeguards that we put in place," Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said in an ambush interview.
The Senate passed on third and final reading their version of the bill early morning Wednesday following hours of debate and revisions from senators.
Nineteen senators voted to pass the bill, while 1 senator voted against it and another one abstained.
Notably, the Senate version of the bill explicitly prohibits agencies handling pension funds from investing in the Maharlika fund.
"Bawal na bawal po mag-contribute [sa Maharlika] ang GSIS, and SSS, ang Philhealth and Pag-IBIG and PVAO, 'yun 'yung veterans fund at 'yung OWWA fund... It is explicitly said twice in the bill, and there is an explicit ban on the use of these funds for Maharlika," Zubiri said.
The Senate leader said these amendments should allay the fears of people who worry that the fund would be misused.
"Kaya nananawagan ako sa ating mga kababayan, 'wag sila mag alala, lahat na ng safeguards na mailalagay po namin, nailagay namin," Zubiri said.
"So let’s give it a chance," he added.
Sen. Grace Poe, who voted in favor of the bill, said their version has "adequate safeguards to ensure effective and transparent governance of funds."
"As an added protection of the fund, we increased the fines, imposed imprisonment and included perpetual disqualification from public office as part of penalties against officials who will tolerate graft, act as intermediaries for corrupt acts, and those who will be found erring during fund audits," she said.
Sen. Mark Villar, who sponsored the measure, said establishing a sovereign wealth fund right now is a "timely" move and would the country recover from the pandemic.
"Maganda ang timing dahil kailangan natin ng investment... Malaki ang effect ng pandemic sa atin [at] makakatulong talaga ang Maharlika," he said.
President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. earlier certified the Maharlika bill as urgent despite criticism from some lawmakers, economists and other groups.