BRUSSELS, Belgium – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. broke his silence on the Maharlika Wealth Fund on Sunday, December 11, saying that the controversial proposal is advantageous to the Philippines.
“For sure. I wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise. No, no. It’s very clear that we need added investment. This is another way to get that,” Marcos told reporters aboard the presidential plane en route to Brussels, Belgium.
The bill creating the Maharlika fund, a state-controlled and -managed investment fund, is being deliberated at the House of Representatives at the committee level. Its main author is Marcos’ first cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, while its co-authors include the Speaker’s wife Yedda Romualdez and Marcos’ eldest son, Sandro Marcos.
Before the media interview on Sunday, Marcos expressed approval for the Maharlika fund bill only through his economic managers as well as his relatives and allies at the House of Representatives.
Ever since it was fast-tracked at the House, the Maharlika proposal has turned into one of the biggest controversies facing the five-month-old Marcos administration. The original version of the Maharlika bill sought to source up to P175 billion of its P275-billion seed capital from state pension funds, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS).
Public uproar has forced the House to drop GSIS and SSS from among the Maharlika fund’s sources of seed capital. Instead, the Maharlika Fund will now source its funds from government-owned banks and financial institutions.
Asked about this change, Marcos said: “We’re just doing the regular process of looking at the bill. Well, not we. It’s the legislature. So let them do their jobs. Tama ‘yan. Para gawin nilang perfect (That’s right so that make it perfect).”
Across the globe, most sovereign funds source their seed money from budget surplus or excess in state assets, such as oil and other natural resources. Critics of the bill have pointed out that the Philippines has none of these surplus funds.
Criticism of the fund, however, goes beyond its seed money source. Another major concern is its timing: in the middle of economic turmoil affecting economies around the world and translating to even higher cost of goods in the Philippines.
Marcos refused to talk about concerns about the proposed fund’s timing. “Let’s not debate until we see the final form because we could be debating about provisions that will no longer exist. So antayin natin kung anong gawin ng legislature (So let’s wait for what the legislature comes up with),” he said.
The 19th Congress – both the House and the Senate – are dominated by a “supermajority” allied with President Marcos. Thus far, however, only the House has tackled the Maharlika fund. The President’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos, and other senators have also questioned the proposal.
Economic managers whom Marcos appointed and allies in the House have said that enough safeguards are in place to make sure that the fund is well-managed and shielded from abuse.
House legislators have also decided to change who chairs the board that manages the fund – from the president to the finance chief, who also reports to the president.
While many countries around the world have successfully implemented and grown their sovereign wealth fund, there’s also the Malaysian experience, where government officials were tried and jailed over the mismanagement of the sovereign wealth fund.
Marcos is flying to Brussels, Belgium to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)- European Union (EU) Commemorative Summit. He will also be holding meetings with Europe-based corporations and bilateral talks with counterparts from the European Union. – Rappler.com