MANILA, Philippines – Just how fast is the House of Representatives trying to pass the proposed establishment of the controversial Maharlika Wealth Fund?
House Bill No. 6398, filed by six lawmakers led by Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos on November 28, was read on the same day, approved at the committee level on December 1, and if one ranking leader is to be believed, is expected to fully hurdle the House before it goes on a holiday break.
The swift journey of the bill was a crucial key point raised by concerned groups during the House banks committee’s first public consultation on the proposed sovereign wealth fund on Monday, December 6.
“Why do we need to rush this? Can’t we look into this further, conduct more public consultations?” Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares asked after raising a number of alleged red flags, such as law exemptions that would complicate efforts to check on the utilization of the fund, and pinpoint corruption schemes.
De La Salle University professor David Michael San Juan, whose online petition against the bill has garnered over 35,000 signatures, also lamented how the Government Service Insurance System and Social Security System manifested their support for the bill despite the lack of sufficient consultation with its members.
Seed capital of the Maharlika Wealth Fund – totaling at least P275 billion – will come from government pension funds and government banks.
“Elevate it to the plenary next year. Consult with the sectors first, especially with workers, employees, and taxpayers who will be affected the most,” San Juan said.
It was Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda, the House ways and means panel chairperson, who previously committed to bring the bill to the plenary and have it approved on second reading by Wednesday, December 7.
He also targeted a December 12 deadline for the proposal’s passage on third reading.
Banks panel chairperson Manila 5th District Representative Irwin Tieng distanced the panel from the targets set by Salceda.
“I guess he has some personal deadline, but that is not the stand of my committee,” he told Rappler after the hearing. “There is no timeline produced.”
Sudden influx of hearings
Monday afternoon was the third time that the House banks committee convened since November 28. All meetings had the proposed Maharlika fund on top of the agenda.
Prior to November 28, the said panel had only publicly met twice since the 19th Congress opened session in July: first on August 30, then on November 17.
Tieng disputed allegations of railroading, saying the bill has a long way to go before it is signed into law.
“The Senate has not started taking this up. This bill will not move if the Senate does not move,” he said.
Before the bill reaches the plenary, it is still expected to hurdle the appropriations committee and Salceda’s ways and means committee.
Marikina 2nd District Representative Stella Quimbo, one of the bill’s authors, told Rappler after the hearing that the appropriations panel – of which she is vice chairperson – has yet to set a schedule for the proposal’s deliberations.
Like Tieng, Quimbo shrugged off claims that the proposal’s passage was being rushed.
Most of the authors of HB 6398 are either relatives of or have close ties to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“Did we tell them to stop talking? We did not. You saw the long list of resource persons. We admitted everyone who wanted to speak. We did not tell them there is a time limit, so I don’t really know where that is coming from,” Quimbo told Rappler. “It just happens to be one of the priority measures of the Speaker.”
Salceda insisted that “now is the best time” to push for the creation of a sovereign wealth fund.
“It presents an excellent opportunity for the Philippine government to attract investments and maximize its investment decisions while securing the economic future of the country and its citizens,” he said in a FAQs sheet sent to the media.
“The returns that [the] Maharlika Wealth Fund will generate will be used to fund big ticket and critical infrastructure programs in support of national economic development which will ultimately benefit the Filipino,” he added.
Economic experts have pointed out that government-managed funds have been plagued with corruption scandals, such as the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, the Social Security System, and the coco levy fund.
But proponents have guaranteed that this will not suffer the same fate as the 1MBD scandal in Malaysia, as the Maharlika Wealth Fund Corporation will be managed by a 15-member board led by the president. – With reports from Lance Yu/Rappler.com