MANILA—Two senators are offering their help to those who plan to challenge the legality of the Maharlika Investment Fund Act of 2023 before the Supreme Court if it becomes a law.
This offer comes amid concerns being raised by various groups on the sovereign wealth fund’s possible effect on the nation, its prime movers' motivation, and who will suffer the brunt if the Maharlika fund fails.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s certified bill have breezed through both Houses of Congress with less than a year of deliberation. But Sen. Francis Escudero advised the public to also read the reason behind his fellow senators’ decision to bar the would-be Maharlika Investment Corporation (MIC) from accessing pension funds from government institutions.
These include the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance Corporation (GSIS), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Home Development Mutual Fund, Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
“Kung talagang bilib sila sa MIC, bakit nila pinagbawalan ang mga pension fund na mag-invest diyan? Dahil sa ngayon, hindi ko sinasabing duda sila, na marahil hindi pa sila ganun kakumbinsido na kikita sila at baka maapektuhan ang mga pension fund tulad ng SSS, GSIS, PhilHealth, OWWA, Home Mutual Guarantee at 'yung Veterans,” Escudero pointed out during his interview with Teleradyo on Wednesday night.
Escudero’s views were somewhat in contrast to Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian’s take on the MIF’s significance.
Gatchalian is one of the 19 senators who voted for the bill. He said the environment for the sovereign wealth fund has already evolved.
“This type of fund has evolved throughout the years. Not all countries would have resources. Not all countries are like Norway who has unlimited funds, or oil in some Middle Eastern countries. But it doesn’t mean that if you don’t have resources, you cannot put up sovereign wealth funds,” Gatchalian said.
“In fact, one of the objectives of the sovereign wealth fund, based on my research is to multiply the capital that was invested ... meaning you can attract private capital to come in and double, triple the fund.”
OTHER MAHARLIKA SAFEGUARDS
In the Congress-adopted Maharlika fund bill, aside from excluding pension funds, the MIC is also only allowed to access up to 25 percent of the fund of the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), and government financial institutions (GIFs).
Part of the safeguards is requiring an MIC special audit every five years, monitoring by the MIF Joint Congressional Oversight Committee, and vetting of MIC Board of Directors.
As for bonds, Section 10 or the "Issuance of Bonds" of the bill states: “In no instance shall the Philippine government guarantee any bonds issued by the MIC.”
Section 54 of the bill – or the Corporate Term of the OIC.” also underlines MIC’s life span, which incidentally, can be adjusted.
“The MIC shall exist for a term of thirty-five (35) years from the date of the effectivity of this act, unless sooner repealed or extended by Congress,” the provision states.
Despite attention from legislators, the MIF bill has inconsistencies, as shown by Section 49 of the “Prescription of Crimes,” which states that “crimes punishable under this act shall prescribe in ten (10) years.”
The succeeding provision, however, stated a longer prescriptive period.
“Sec 50. Prescription of offenses. – all offenses punishable under this act shall prescribe in twenty (20) years,” according to the bill.
“This is what haste usually produces… if the president signs it _in toto_ it becomes part of the law and can only be rectified by amending it following the enrolled bill doctrine... If Congress admits to its oversight in this regard, it can pass, when we resume, a joint resolution (which goes through the same procedure as a bill and which has the force and effect of law) correcting this “conflicting duplicity” in the provisions,” Senator Escudero said in a text message.
Sought for reaction on the discrepancy issue, Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel said the majority must shed light on the discrepancy.
“I left the majority to craft what they consider their priority urgent legislation, which is the creation of the Maharlika fund. I have 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. Let the majority explain what they did to the bill and how to understand and interpret their final version,” Pimentel said.
Maharlika bill author Sen. Mark Villar has yet to reply to the observations.
But in an interview Wednesday, he vigorously defended the bill.
“I think that the safeguards that are in the bill are numerous and that the bill will at the Maharlika fund will be very secure. Secured po ang. Pera ng taumbayan dahil marami pong safeguards,“ Villar said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Nancy Binay who opted to abstain during the Maharlika voting in the Senate, said she entered such a vote, seeing the measure’s “lack of balance.”
“Although the final bill has undergone many amendments up to the last hour of the deliberations—the content still lacks balance. I found no compelling reason either to say 'yes,' the MIF is a better medicine for the country.. Kapos ito sa mga batayang dapat magsusulong sa interes ng taumbayan, at magbibigay proteksyon sa pondo na dapat pangalagaan,” Binay said.
"Personally, I have concerns about the Maharlika Investment Fund not falling within the necessary operational safety nets And parameters. We don't want the 'big if' in the Maharlika fund be dragged onto the 'big unknown,'” she added.
QUESTIONING THE MAHARLIKA FUND’S LEGALITY
This early, Sen. Risa Hontiveros is offering her support to those who will challenge the legality of the Maharlika bill before the Supreme Court.
“I will certainly support any action to raise this to the Supreme Court. According to Section 16, Article xii of the 1987 Constitution, GOCCs must pass the test of economic viability and our economic experts have raised plenty of arguments that cast doubt on whether the MWF has passed or even be subjected to this test,” Hontiveros in a text statement said.
Pimentel is also willing to help would-be court petitioners.
“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, and arguments,” Pimentel said.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has said that the MIF "can stand the test of judicial scrutiny by the Supreme Court.”