By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

THE HOUSE of Representatives on Wednesday adopted the Senate version of the proposed sovereign wealth fund bill, after the Senate approved the measure in the wee hours after 12 hours of debates. 

The Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) bill will now be sent to Malacañang just a week after President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. declared it an urgent measure.

“On behalf of the Congress panel, we accept the Senate version in principle, subject to style,” House Banks and Financial Intermediaries Committee Chairman and Manila Rep. Irwin C. Tieng said during the Bicameral Conference Committee meeting at the Manila Golf and Country Club in Makati City.

Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, one of the members of the Bicameral Conference Committee, said he expects the President to announce that he has signed the MIF bill into law at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.

“The House has decided to adopt the Senate version, so that the Executive can begin crafting the rules and regulations — which no doubt will be as significant as the law itself,” Mr. Salceda said in a statement.

Under the bill, the initial capital for the MIF will come from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), which will invest P50 billion. The Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) will infuse P25 billion, while the P50 billion will come from the National Government.

The Senate included a provision in the bill that explicitly prohibits government pension funds to contribute seed capital for the MIF. These include the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS), and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The measure also requires the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to contribute 100% of its dividends to the MIF in its first two years.

Mr. Marcos on Wednesday said the pension funds should not contribute to the sovereign wealth fund.

“We have no intention of… getting money [from the] pension fund. That’s not the (intention). We will not use it as a seed fund,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the 87th anniversary of the GSIS on Wednesday.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the economic team respects the senators’ decision to change portions of the MIF bill.

“The changes made in the bill were supposed to address those concerns to ensure there are enough controls and safeguards. The fact that it is now passed I think it strengthens our platforms for investments because we in the economic team have been saying that we need to augment, to compliment the platforms that we have,” he said on the sidelines of a forum in Makati City on Wednesday.

Mr. Balisacan said the MIF should focus on investing in strategic areas that are also profitable.

“They will be investing in profitable areas, like energy. We have so much need for capital so we will not run out of areas for investment,” he added.

Mr. Balisacan also noted that there are a number of interested overseas investors in the Philippines’ first sovereign wealth fund.

In a phone interview, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President George T. Barcelon said it would be up to the government how to “sell” this fund locally and internationally.

IBON Foundation Executive Director Jose Enrique A. Africa said the latest version of the bill still makes the MIF vulnerable to misuse, corruption, and undue influence.

“The haste in pushing the Maharlika fund is dubious with Congress and the economic managers unfortunately acting on political compulsion rather than based on the better development interests of the nation,” Mr. Africa said in a Viber chat.

“The need to spend more on cash assistance, wage subsidies, agriculture and MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) today is so large that setting funds aside is unjustifiable,” he added.

David Michael M. San Juan, a professor at De La Salle University and convener at the Professionals for the Progressive Economy, said the MIF is backed by the government and the taxpayers’ money.

“Its investments are not guaranteed to reap profits and there’s a possibility that the fund would lose money,” he said via e-mail. — with Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson