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Koko says Maharlika bill likely unconstitutional, warns Marcos vs. signing

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Thursday warned President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against signing the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) Bill, saying there is "high chance" that it is unconstitutional.

“The enrolled bill being sent to him is not the version properly and formally approved by Congress. Meron provision po dyan na ginalaw (There is a provision there that was changed) without plenary authority. Malaking tsansa na unconstitutional ang Maharlika Law (There’s a high chance that Maharlika Law is unconstitutional),” Pimentel said in a statement.

The minority chief issued the remark shortly after Marcos, in a media interview in Makati City, said he will “immediately sign” the MIF bill once it reaches his office.

The MIF seeks the creation of a sovereign wealth fund that the government can use to make investments. The bill was certified urgent by Marcos.

Veto the bill

In his statement, Pimentel reiterated his call for Marcos to veto the proposed legislation, noting that it is an “ill-conceived” law as the country has no surplus windfall profits.

Pimentel argued anew that the MIF bill is not timely as the world economy and the geopolitical situation are bad and added that this kind of legislation needs more time to be discussed by the Filipino themselves in the spirit of fairness.

The senator also said Congress did not give the President the MIF bill that the administration wanted.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri signed the ratified version of the MIF bill on Wednesday

 The Senate version of the bill, which was eventually adopted by the House of Representatives, included two sections on the prescriptive period.

The draft bill passed on the Senate floor provides a 10-year prescriptive period for crimes punishable under the measure, while another section in the same bill provides for a 20-year prescriptive period.

Several senators, including Pimentel, Senator Francis Escudero, and Senator Risa Hontiveros, asserted that the bill should be sent back to the Senate plenary in order for lawmakers to fix the bill.

Bill 'fixed'

But this has already been fixed by merging the two sections and retaining the 10-year period for prescription, Senate Secretary Renato Bantug Jr. said in a phone interview with reporters on Wednesday.

The merging of sections, which essentially dropped the 20-year prescriptive period, was based on the transcript of the Senate deliberations on the bill, according to Bantug.

"Sections 50 and 51 of Maharlika bill were merged. 'Yung 51 was not actually deleted... Inangat lang siya doon sa para isang section lang sa prescription of crimes/offenses," Bantug said.

(Section 51 was not deleted. It was moved up so that there would only be one section on the prescription of crimes and offenses.)

"In combining it, yung section title of the surviving section, which is section 50, prescription of crimes/offenses... Clear talaga sa proceedings na 10 lang," he added.

Bantug said this move is classified as amendments in “style” and not in content.

“So that’s classified as style because they’re just the same. The difference is, one is the prescription of crimes, and the other is the prescription of offenses. So, that’s what the Secretariat just did – ‘prescription of crimes/offenses,’” he explained.

'Sad day for Senate'

But this move by the Senate leadership did not sit well with Pimentel.

“Very sad day for the 100 plus year-old Senate as an institution. We are slowly but surely being reduced to a samahang barkadahan. The Constitution is no longer being read and followed. Our rules are meaningless and worthless,” Pimentel said when asked to react to Zubiri's signing of the MIF bill.

Pimentel took a swipe at the Senate's passage of the law which he sees as a move to apparently please Marcos.

Apart from Pimentel, the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives also expressed dismay on Zubiri’s signing of the MIF bill

'Inordinate rush'

While Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros said she will leave it to constitutional lawyers to determine whether there are constitutional issues on the MIF bill, she pointed out that the flaws of the measure were a result of the “inordinate rush to pass the bill.”

“Pero sa totoo lang, above and beyond the specific technical issue, what this speaks volumes about is the inordinate rush to pass a bill just to acquiesce to the wishes of the Executive. Nagkandaugaga kaya tuloy andaming palpak,” Hontiveros said.

The lawmaker also emphasized that the majority bloc had the chance to correct this immediately after the third reading vote and during the bicameral conference committee that did not push through.

“Hindi ito ginawa ng Senate and House leadership, and if history will take the legislature of the 19th congress to task for it, then so be it,” she said.

In an interview with reporters, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda made an assurance that the bill, which will be sent for Marcos’ signature, is reflective of what happened during the Senate deliberations.

“We refer to the transcript of records and we ensure that the bill that will be enacted into law will be faithful to the discussions on the floor,” Legarda said. —KBK, GMA Integrated News