Most political talk as December rolled in had been on one piece of legislation: the proposed sovereign wealth fund, or Maharlika Wealth Fund, some P275 billion that the government would pool from pension funds and banks to invest in big-ticket national projects and other assets.
Everyone has thrown in their two centavos in the discourse. One former senator found himself dragged into the discourse, as allies of the administration – in a bid to minimize the concerns of critics of the proposal – pointed to a bill he once pushed.
But there is at least one major figure who’s been notably quiet about the Maharlika fund: President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who supposedly gave the greenlight to the project.
The word “supposed” here is used loosely, of course – the bill is backed by no less than the President’s relatives in the House of Representatives, all of whom hold leadership roles: the President’s first-degree cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez; Romualdez’s wife, accounts committee chairperson Representative Yedda Romualdez; and presidential son, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Ferdinand Alexander Marcos. Co-authors of the bill also include Majority Floor Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe and appropriations committee vice chairperson Stella Quimbo.
An amendment to House Bill No. 6398 in fact designates the Philippine president as chairperson of the government corporation that would manage the Maharlika fund.
In a media release, the budget department said the economic team endorsed the proposed legislation, with Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman saying it would help the Marcos administration realize its “Agenda for Prosperity.” Economic managers also said checks and systems in the bill would make sure the fund would not be mismanaged.
The most the Palace has spoken about the controversial bill – through the Office of the Press Secretary – is via a press release that quoted not the President, but an endorsement from Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and general manager Arnulfo “Wick” Veloso.
“We would like to let the public know that this is an opportunity for us to be able to push the country to grow, and again I reiterate that whatever investments we make here are going to accrue to the members of the Government Service Insurance System, and we are there at the Maharlika Board to make sure the investments are protected while at the same time help in nation-building,” said Veloso over state-run Radyo Pilipinas.
Veloso, like the bill’s authors and supporters, is correct in defining what the fund is – it’s a long-term investment that aims to increase the country’s wealth. Worldwide, sovereign funds are not unusual. But what makes the proposed Maharlika fund different is its source: the pensions of Filipinos.
Globally, most sovereign funds get their funding from surplus from a country’s budget or the proceeds from its assets – oil, especially, in the case of oil-producing countries.
Critics have pointed out that the proposed Maharlika fund puts pensions at risk – at a time when the economy, worldwide and especially domestically, is taking a downturn.
The proposal is being deliberated at the committee level in the Marcos-allied House, where its passage seems to be going at record time. Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda has said the target is to pass it on third reading before 2022 ends, but Manila 5th District Representative Irwin Tieng, who chairs the committee tackling the legislation, says there is no timeline for its passage. – Rappler.com