Maharlika bill up for vote next week
BY JAVIER JE ISMAEL AND BERNADETTE TAMAYO
The Manila Times
SENATE President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri on Thursday said the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) Act could be voted on next week before ConGRESS ADJOURNS SINE DIE ON JUNE 2. “Yes, the plan is to approve it by second and third reading next week. We are accommodating the last few members who want to interpellate on Monday, then we can open the period of amendments immediately after,” said Zubiri in a message to reporters. “Since it is a certified measure, we can close and approve the bill in that same week. Hopefully, the House can adopt our version which we improved with more safeguards in place to avoid possible misuse,” he said. On Wednesday, Zubiri invited the economic managers of the Marcos administration to attend the debates on the measure (Senate Bill 2020) being shepherded by Sen. Mark Villar, chairman of the Senate banks and financial institutions committee. They are Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, National Economic and Development Authority Director-General Arsenio Balisacan, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman and Trade and Industry Secretary Alfredo Pascual. National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon, who was present during the Senate floor debate, helped Villar defend the MIF bill. The bill was certified as urgent by President Ferdinand “Bongbong’’ Marcos Jr. on Wednesday. During the plenary session, Villar answered questions from his colleagues, including queries if the Maharlika Investment Fund and the Maharlika Investment Corporation are indeed necessary, among others. “When you look at it from a whole-of-nation approach, it is deemed that there is a need to prime the economy at this time, especially given that we are recovering from Covid-19,” the deputy majority leader said. “Primarily, our source of funding is through debt and the Maharlika [Investment Fund] will allow us to fund it through equity, giving us additional fiscal space and improving the overall economic condition of our country,” Villar said. On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd said he will reject SB 2020, despite it being certified as urgent. But the Senate minority group will not support the plan to pass the measure. Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros is the other member of the opposition bloc. “We will interpellate, deliver our contra speech, vote ‘no.’ Per rules contra speech is before amendments,” Pimentel said in a text message. In a separate statement, Hontiveros said, “The justification for the immediate passage of the Maharlika Fund is too convoluted and vague.” “It is still being pushed, despite the fact that there is nothing left of the income from the Malampaya oil and gas fields, and the law that would have raised the government’s income from opening mines has not yet been passed,” she said. Hontiveros said that since there is no excess “wealth,” they are now “interested in taking the highly profitable funds” of the Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines. “This would be a huge loss to farmers and small businesses that cannot afford to borrow from private commercial banks,” she said. She said the deteriorating condition of trade and banks around the world was also used as a “pretext to act urgently.” However, this would necessitate the use of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas funds, which are “our most reliable safeguard against peso depreciation, price increases, and loan interest rate increases.” Meanwhile, Hontiveros said Malacañang refuses to disclose where the funds will be allocated. “Will it be for drivers and operators who don’t have the capital for jeepney modernization?” “Will it be for the onion farmers or for fisherfolk without cold storage for their products?” she said. “Or for new power plants and solar power storage required to prevent brownouts? I suppose not,” Hontiveros said. “There’s nothing more urgent than prioritizing funding our social services, agriculture, transport sector, and energy sector.” Hontiveros added, “But we must not allow our economy to sink deeper because of unreasonable spending.” Asked whether SB 2020 can be approved before Congress adjourns on June 2, Sen. Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero said, “Unless the House adopts the Senate version sans bicam.” “Per Sen[ator] Mark Villar the DoF, BTr have a lot of amendments which still has to be introduced as Committee amendments. I will await for a clean copy [of the bill],” Escudero said in a text message.