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Maharlika Fund bill co-author eyes House 2nd reading nod before Christmas break

The proposed Maharlika Wealth Fund bill is likely to pass its second reading at the House of Representatives before the end of the month, a House leader said Wednesday.

“We don’t have a definite timeline but my estimate, probably second reading by this December. Hanggang doon lang [That is all I can say],” House Majority Leader and Zamboanga City Representative Manuel Jose "Mannix" Dalipe, one of the authors of House Bill 6398, said in a chance interview.

The bill, which seeks to create a sovereign wealth fund sourced mainly from government institutions including state pension funds, was also authored by Speaker Martin Romualdez of Leyte, Ilocos Norte Representative Sandro Marcos, Tingog party-list Representative and House accounts panel chairperson Yedda Romualdez, Marikina City Representative and House appropriations panel senior vice chairperson Stella Quimbo, and Tingog Sinirangan Representative Jude Acidre.

Dalipe said he could not say if the House will approve the Maharlika Wealth Fund bill on third and final reading this year.

“In so far as the Committee of Rules is concerned, aabot siya ng second reading ngayong [it will reach second reading this] December. There are no specific instructions from the Speaker,” he added.

Under House Rules, a measure approved on second reading can be approved on third reading after three session days.

The Philippine Congress only holds session days on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

In the event that the bill is certified urgent by the President, Congress can pass the measure on second and third and final reading on the same session day.

'So many red flags'

On the same day that Dalipe announced the timeline, groups led by the Makabayan bloc lawmakers protested against the proposed sovereign wealth fund in front of the Batasang Pambansa complex, saying that the government should not game the pension funds of the public for supposed investments for nation-building projects.

"This Maharlika Wealth Fund is an unpopular measure because do we even have wealth? Do we have surplus? Ang mga manggagawa, empleyado, humihingi ng dagdag sweldo, benepisyo pero hindi mapagbigyan. Tapos maaapektuhan ang pension ng wealth fund na ito? There are just so many red flags," Castro said.

(Workers and employees have been asking for higher wages and benefits but do not get them. And then you will affect their pensions with this wealth fund?)

“This Maharlika fund will be funded by the contributions of SSS, GSIS members, as well as the Landbank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines which primarily serves the farmers and small businesses. Isinusugal ng gobyernong ito ang pondo natin sa Maharlika Wealth Fund,” she added.

(The government is gambling away our money.)

“Sugal ito. Puedeng manalo, puedeng matalo. Ano na ang mangyayari sa mga pension, sa mga nakalagak na pondo [sa gobyerno] pag natalo?,” Castro added.

(This is a gamble. We can win or lose. What happens to our pensions, our government funds, if we lose?)

In closing, Castro said the people’s opposition would weigh a lot more, given the small number of opposition lawmakers.

“We should not let up on protesting because the opposition, Makabayan...we don’t have enough numbers [to oppose it] once it is put into vote. That is why the voice of the people is important, the voice of the pensioners, contributors, employees, is crucial in stopping this measure,” she added.

Veteran lawmaker Edcel Lagman of Albay, for his part, said the Maharlika Wealth Fund should not be rushed or else it would lead to wastage of public coffers.

“The Maharlika proposal must pass the furnace of exhaustive legislative debates and searching scrutiny. Fast-tracking for “record” breaking objectives will be counterproductive as errors and pitfalls are bound to infest a statute which is enacted with ordinate alacrity,” Lagman said in a separate statement.

Lagman then cited overwhelming issues on the Maharlika wealth proposal such as its fiscal propriety, economic timeliness, legal constraints, protection of pensioners’ and depositors’ benefits, excessive emoluments and allowances of officials, precipitate investments, tax exemptions, and magnet for corruption.

These issues must be totally ventilated not only in the Congress but also in extensive consultations with the affected public and the concerned multi-sectoral groups,” Lagman added.

Business groups have also expressed their concerns about the proposed sovereign wealth fund, with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry—the country’s largest business group—saying it could affect the Philippines’ credit standing. — BM, GMA Integrated News