PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. wants to direct investment into assets that will shore up the Philippines’ national security position, Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said.

“There are certain assets that the President wants to invest in that may be deemed national security matters,” Mr. Zubiri said at a news conference, without elaborating about the President’s specific investment targets.

Citing his “personal opinion,” Mr. Zubiri noted that the power grid is “right now being run by the Chinese… kung magkaroon tayo ng problema sa China, one switch off lang at wala na tayong kuryente sa buong Pilipinas (If we ever run into problems with China, they can easily switch off our power).

“I mean it make sense if (the power grid is) nationalized… that’s my opinion, no one else’s opinion,” he added.

The power grid is operated by the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, a private company whose ownership includes China’s State Grid Corp.

He also called the power grid a suitable investment target for the proposed Maharlika Wealth Fund because “it’s an economically viable business, hindi matatalo ’yung gobyerno diyan kasi natural monopoly ’yung grid eh (the government can’t lose because the grid is a natural monopoly” which would be safe to invest in if in Filipino hands. Investments like that are safe to say where Maharlika funds can actually be utilized.”

The Maharlika Wealth Fund is a sovereign wealth fund proposed by House Bill 6398.

Regarding the debate over the appropriateness of the wealth fund for the Philippines’ financial situation, Mr. Zubiri said, “Ang general sentiment namin dito sa Senado is to wait for the final version ng House, kaya wala pang nagpa-file dito (The Senate’s general sentiment is to wait for the House’s final version, which is why no one has filed a counterpart Senate bill).

Hindi namin minamadali ito, medyo matagal na usapin ito, kailangan namin itong pag-aralan nang mabuti (We are in no hurry and expect the process to take time… we will need to study the matter closely).

He said he warned Mr. Marcos of possible difficulties in the Senate in passing a Maharlika measure.

“I spoke with the President about it two Sundays ago,” he said. “Kasama ko si Speaker Martin (Fernando Martin G. Romualdez). I even mentioned to him, Mr. President, malaking friction sa amin ’yung pagpasok ng pension funds sa aming members sa Senado (The use of pension funds to provide capital to Maharlika is a big source of friction among members of the Senate).”

He was referring to the original Maharlika bill which called for the wealth fund to be provided capital from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS).

“And I think, because of that, the week after, because Speaker Romualdez was there, the House contingent removed the SSS and GSIS from their version of the Maharlika (bill), meaning wala nang pension funds na gagamitin dito sa fund na ito. (Which rules out the use of pension funds for Maharlika).”

“It’s a step on the right direction, but nevertheless we want to see the safeguards; we want to see if CoA can actually access the reports (for) transparency,” he added.

On the role of the major government banks as potential Maharlika funders:

’Yung pera naman ng DBP and LANDBANK nakatengga lang ’yun (the DBP and LANDBANK funds are just sitting there) — in the bank accounts not being utilized. They also don’t have the power to reinvest it elsewhere, under their charter… so you can (mobilize) a portion of LANDBANK’s stored wealth together with DBP and utilize that for investment purposes, for the benefit of the government.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan