Sen. Villanueva says Maharlika fund bill not in Marcos Jr.'s list of priority measures

Sherrie Ann Torres and Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 06 2022 08:28 PM

MANILA - Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva rejected claims that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is the one who is really pushing the controversial House Bill 6398 which seeks to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund to be called the “Maharlika Investment Fund.”

According to Villanueva, the Maharlika Investment Fund bill was not in the President’s list of priority measures which they received and tackled in their recent Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting.

“I don’t think so, I was there in the LEDAC meeting. He was very truthful. May mga priority measures kami na gusto nang i-tackle sana sa floor. That’s one of the reasons why we were supposed to hold a caucus yesterday. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time,” Villanueva said.

Asked if the Maharlika fund bill was included in the President’s list of priority bills which they’ve discussed during the LEDAC meeting, Villanueva said: “Wala, wala doon.”

“Wala sa listahan… Dito sa Senado alam naman natin, I’m very sure the President himself knows how it is like here in the Senate. Natutuwa kami na sa LEDAC, pinakita nya sa amin na, he knows the ins and outs of the Senate,” Villanueva said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III in a text message said, a sitting president who really wants to have his or her measure immediately passed by both Houses of Congress, usually takes the necessary steps to ensure this.

“Dapat mayroong overt act. If wala, then he is not behind that thing,” Pimentel said.

The so-called “overt act” can either be a LEDAC invitation and discussion, meeting with legislators or instructing a Cabinet member to lobby for the immediately passage of the measure in the Senate and House of Representatives.

For Pimentel, Marcos Jr.'s continuous silence on the measure is "enough proof that he is not behind it."

Meanwhile, Villanueva said the Maharlika Investment Fund should not include funds from the SSS and GSIS as this act is prohibited by the agencies' respective charters.

"These two funds pension funds to eh, it’s treated different yung purpose ng fund na ito… if you look for example sa GSIS Charter, very specific dun na hindi mo talaga pwedeng i-risk yan eh. Talagang super save yung investments na ginagawa nila,” Villanueva said.

Instead of tapping the SSS and GSIS funds, what the government should use in funding the Maharlika Investment Fund, is to consider using its resources in mining, other non-renewable resources, P38 billion collection in plastics.

“You can always look for other sources other than looking at pension funds,” Villanueva said.

The senator said, “some” of his colleagues are also fearing the idea of using SSS and GSIS resources to risky investments.

“Some are saying they’re scared of even entertain the idea of looking at GSIS and GSIS. Ako wala pa akong narinig na they’re scared of using these non-renewable industries like mining or plastic at i-invest mo dito sa Sovereign Wealth Fund,” Villanueva said.

In a separate statement, former Senate President Franklin Drilon urged his colleagues at the Senate to deliberate the issue on the creation of the Maharlika Wealth Fund, saying he hopes the Senate will listen to the more rational voices in society.

Drilon, who received the Arangkada Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines, questioned if this is the right time to create such fund which would allot around P250 billion from government financial institutions to various investments.

Though the former senator agreed that more funds are needed for various government projects, he said establishing the sovereign wealth fund may not be the time.

Drilon also cited corruption issues hounding sovereign wealth funds abroad.

"I understand the overwhelming constraints pose upon our government and countrymen when weak revenue generation, rampant price inflation, high deficit, the huge and huge public indebtedness. But is this the time to venture into a high risk and untested scheme?" said Drilon.

Furthermore, Drilon said the money can be used for more urgent matters that will directly impact the public.

"The call for the moment is to be conservative. Focus on the basics, especially on increasing welfare, health and education needs of our people," Drilon added.

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