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Villanueva: Maharlika fund not in LEDAC talks on priority measures

The proposed Maharlika Wealth Fund was not among the priority measures Marcos administration officials raised with congressional leaders when they met at the first Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting in October.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva thus said when asked to comment on whether President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr., himself was pushing for the sovereign wealth fund measure.

"I don't think so. I was there during the LEDAC meeting which is very fruitful may mga priority measures kami na gusto nang i-tackle sana sa floor," Villanueva said.

"Wala. Wala do'n. Wala sa listahan. So we'll see," he added.

The LEDAC meeting was conducted on October 10 where Marcos and the lawmakers from both chambers discussed at least 26 bills tagged as priority.

Albay Representative Joey Salceda has said Marcos himself wanted Congress to pass a law establishing the Maharlika fund.

"The President wanted a fund kasi ‘pag may GAA, ‘pag naglagay sila ng pera para sa dams, tinatanggal natin. ‘Pag naglagay tayo ng pera para sa NBN, tinatanggal natin dahil pagkalalaki. ‘Pag naglalagay tayo ng pera para sa grid, tinatanggal natin,” Salceda said.

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno also said the establishment of the Maharlika Wealth Fund “has been the imprimatur of the President.”

The proposal, contained in House Bill 6398, aims to maximize investible state assets for the improvement of social services.

On Nov. 29, the bill, whose authors include Speaker Martin Romualdez and Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos, breezed through the House committee on banks and financial intermediaries a day after it was filed.

Other authors of the measure are House Majority Leader Manuel Jose “Mannix” M. Dalipe, senior Deputy Majority Leader Ferdinand Alexander A. Marcos, Tingog party-list Reps. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez and Jude A. Acidre, and Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo.

Villanueva expressed support for the idea of creating a sovereign wealth fund.

However, he said the funds to be invested should not come from the pension in the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS).

"Para sa akin hanggat maaari wag na natin isama ang GSIS at SSS...These two funds, pension funds ito. It's treated  different yung purpose ng fund na ito," he said.

"Why not look at the idea of looking [at] our fiscal regime sa mining, 'yung mga non-renewable industries like mining," he suggested.

Citing reports from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Villanueva said that revenues from mining are at P93 billion while there are P38 billion from plastic use.

Earlier, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the Senate would look into the necessity of the proposed MIF as he emphasized the need for full transparency and efficient utilization of taxpayers' money should the government push for its creation.

In a statement on Tuesday, minority Senator Risa Hontiveros said the proposed sovereign wealth fund is "counterproductive to the nation's economic growth."

She said the budget could be better used in responding to urgent needs such as education, healthcare, and agriculture.

“An SWF is meant to come from excess funds we just don’t have, as seen by our trillions-worth of debt. We don’t need an SWF and we clearly can’t afford it anyway. Kakain lang itong SWF sa budget na kailangan natin para tugunan ang mga krisis. Dapat unahin ang mga urgent priorities natin. Just like the misplaced confidential funds, an SWF is an unnecessary and unjustified move,” she said.

“Lalo lang aakyat ang presyo ng bilihin kung itutulak natin ito. Hirap na hirap na yung mga kababayan natin bumili ng pagkain at gamot sa ngayon. Instead of helping Filipinos afford everyday needs, we will be making it even harder for everyone,” she added.

Unlike Indonesia, Hontiveros said this type of investment fund will falter in an oil-dependent nation like the Philippines.

“Indonesia has those super profits from their coal and oil exports. We, on the other hand, have super trade deficits. So, considering today’s economic uncertainty, setting up the Maharlika Fund has neither rhyme nor rhythm. How can we set something aside for the rainy days, when our national budget itself is deficit-funded?,” Hontiveros said.

“And even with Indonesia’s oil commodity boom, 90 percent of their SWF capitalization will be sourced from foreign institutional investors. We are not at this level at all."

Further, Hontiveros mentioned that Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Felipe Medalla warned that the Philippines suddenly need more dollar reserves in the foreseeable future, not less.

“These are the most difficult times for central bankers, like Gov. Medalla. Gumegewang ang piso. Malinaw na walang sobrang dollar reserves na pwedeng i-subi para sa gustong Maharlika Fund. I do hope we get to keep him on board, even after he has publicly disagreed with the DOF Secretary” she said.

“[Finance Sec. Benjamin] Diokno said that he is wishing for a Philippine commodity boom in copper, nickel, and other minerals that are presently in great demand. But we have yet to see any change on the horizon. Wala pa naman iyon,” the senator added.

She then urged Diokno to spend his time developing bankable and investment-grade projects with the private sector, particularly in housing, transport, and renewable energy which will attract idle domestic and foreign funds.

"This is the better option to gambling the hard-earned pension of Filipinos in high-risk investments,” she said.

“I will be sure to bring these points up on the Senate floor at the proper time. For now, this so-called Maharlika fund is setting off many alarm bells. Long-term consequences will be felt if we establish a sovereign wealth fund prematurely,” she added.

GMA News Online asked Diokno to comment on Hontiveros' statement but he has yet to respond as of posting time. —NB, GMA Integrated News