MANILA, Philippines – Leftist lawmakers filed a petition against the controversial Maharlika fund on Monday, February 13, posing the first legal challenge at the Supreme Court (SC) against President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The Makabayan bloc, an alliance of progressive party-list groups, said the proposed Maharlika sovereign wealth fund is unconstitutional and hastily approved by the House of Representatives.
In a petition for certiorari, the Makabayan bloc requested the High Court to nullify both Marcos’ certification of the Maharlika fund bill as “urgent,” and the bill’s subsequent approval on third and final reading at the House. The petitioners argued, citing the Constitution, that a presidential certification of urgency “must only be exercised in a clearly exceptional situation of public emergency or calamity.”
“We assert that said certification was a grave abuse of discretion since there was no similar certification in the Senate. This particularly belies the presidential claim that there is a need for the ‘immediate enactment’ of the Maharlika bill,” the petition read.
“This is a fatal admission that there is no public emergency or calamity in the nature that triggers the activation of the exception under Article VI, Sec. 26 (2) of the Constitution,” it added.
The first bill on the Maharlika fund was introduced in the House on November 28, 2022, and was fully approved by the House after 17 days – an unusually speedy pace for a measure that was not a carryover from past congresses.
The party-list groups named Marcos, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, and the House of Representatives as respondents. Bersamin was chief justice from November 2018 to October 2019, and most of the SC’s members were appointed by then-president Rodrigo Duterte, a Marcos ally.
The Makabayan petition comes nine months after Marcos won the hotly contested 2022 presidential polls, making him the Philippines’ first majority president after his father’s downfall. Since then, with politicians jumping ship to build a Marcos supermajority in Congress, opposition to Marcos has grown weaker in terms of numbers and forms of protest raised.
With this legal challenge, the Makabayan bloc – whose members fought the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos – is upping the ante against the dictator’s son.
‘Lawmakers without a copy’
In their petition, the Makabayan bloc insisted that the bill was railroaded so much that when the heavily amended bill was approved on final reading three hours after it was passed on second reading, lawmakers voted without a final copy of the bill.
“This rushed voting deprived [lawmakers] of the opportunity to scrutinize the bill and ensure that it contains all the provisions amended and agreed upon in the second reading,” they said.
“While we recognize that baseless certification of urgency have been issued by previous administrations, this is not a justification to continue this constitutionally abominable practice. There must be a better reason than tradition,” the petitioners added.
Three of the five people named as petitioners in the Supreme Court filing are party-list lawmakers who voted against the Maharlika fund bill in the House – ACT Teachers Representative France Castro, Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel. The other two are former congressmen Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, both from Bayan Muna.
The Senate only started to scrutinize the proposed Maharlika fund in February. The bill’s main advocate there is Senator Mark Villar, son of billionaire and former Senate president Manny Villar, whom the Makabayan bloc allied with in 2010 when the latter ran for president and lost to Benigno Aquino III.
Under the proposal, the sovereign wealth fund will get its seed capital – amounting to P110 billion – from the dividends of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as well as investible funds of the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.
Initially, proponents suggested to source the MIF’s funding from pension funds, but they eventually caved in to public pressure, sparing the Government Service Insurance System and Social Security System from the list of fund contributors and reverting the chairmanship to the finance secretary, who still reports to the President.
They also promised sufficient safeguards to protect the fund from fraudulent actors: the number of independent directors has been raised to four, congressional oversight and multiple layers of audit have been included, and jail time would await offenders found guilty. – Rappler.com
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