February 6, 2023

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Review Maharlika bill | The Juan Kabayan

CHIEF Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile has urged President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to “carefully” review a bill seeking to create the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) amid growing fears of the public over possible misuse of government funds.

In an interview over Sonshine Media Network International over the weekend, Enrile said measures should be in place to ensure the integrity of the planned P275-billion sovereign wealth fund.

“Kaya sabi ko sa ating Presidente, ‘Mr. Presidente, pag-aralan nating mabuti ‘yan’ dahil (That’s why I told the President, Mr. President, let’s study it carefully because) that will be written during your time. Maybe your successor would not understand your good aspirations and squander the fund then you would be blamed because you signed the law,” he added.

“If you don’t mind, we’ll have to discuss it and put all the safeguards. Nang sa ganun, hindi makapalag ‘yung mga hahawak niyan at pananagutan nila kung magkaroon ng problema (In that way, those managing the fund will be held responsible if there is a problem),” Enrile said.

He clarified that he is not against the proposed MIF, but said he wanted to make sure that the creation of the sovereign wealth fund would not “damage” the President’s reputation.

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“I’m not against it, but I want to be sure that the President will not be historically damaged. That is my duty to him as his legal counsel,” Enrile added.

The House of Representatives on Monday approved amendments to House Bill 6398 which seeks to establish the Maharlika Investment Fund.

Some of the amendments are the naming of the Finance secretary as chairman of the board of directors and the naming of four board of directors from the private sector.

Enrile, however, said that instead of creating an MIF, it is “safer” to use funds from the P5.268-trillion proposed national budget for 2023.

He also said while he trusts Marcos’ current Cabinet members, he doubted if he could give the same trust to Cabinet members of the next administrations.

“Why not take it from the general fund and let it be a responsibility of the government and tighten the responsibility of the directors?” he added.

On Sunday, Marcos expressed support for the proposed sovereign wealth fund, saying it would be “another way” to get additional investments.

“It’s very clear that we need added investments. This is another way to get that,” the President told reporters.

The proposed MIF sought an initial investment of P250 billion from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS), Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, and a P25-billion allocation from the national government.

Lawmakers have since scrapped the budget allotment and the GSIS and the SSS as funding sources after a public backlash on the use of pension funds for the plan.

Initially, the President was to head the board that would manage the fund, but proponents of the bill also decided to replace the Chief Executive with the Finance secretary.

Critics have assailed administration allies for rushing the passage of the bill filed by Speaker Martin Romualdez, the President’s son Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Alexander “Sandro” Marcos, and other administration lawmakers.

When asked to comment on concerns over the proposal, Marcos said it is up to Congress to make necessary refinements.

“Let them do their jobs. Tama ‘yan, para gawin nilang perfect (That’s right, so they can make it perfect),” the President added.

“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 (let’s wait for what the legislature will do),” he said.