Senate denies Pimentel's move to further question Maharlika bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 30) — A heated debate erupted in the Senate Tuesday midnight after Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) bill sponsor Senator Mark Villar blocked Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel's move to further question the proposed measure.

After more than two hours of questioning focused on the Maharlika Investment Corp., its board of directors, and details on the implementation of the investment fund, Pimentel asked Senate President Migz Zubiri to suspend his period of interpellation and continue in the next session. 

"This is a good point in the measure to suspend the interpellation so we can start tomorrow on a new topic, which is now the fund. So tapos na tayo sa (Now we're done with) corporation, then we need to talk about the fund, which is being managed by the corporation," Pimentel said.

"I object. I think we've debated this extensively and I've answered all the interpellations. And without prejudice to the amendments being proposed, I'd like to object and move to close interpellation," Villar said, cutting off Pimentel.

Zubiri immediately backed Villar's objection.

Zubiri told Pimentel the next session is for the senators' turno en contra (privilege speech), period of amendments, and the bill's possible approval on second and third reading.

"Sayang, we're getting into the meat of the measure," Pimentel said, addressing Villar before proceeding to also object to the latter's move to stop the interpellation.

RELATED: Pimentel: No one accountable if Maharlika fund fails

Zubiri then started insisting that Villar, as the bill's sponsor, had control over the floor and had the right to deny answers to questions about the bill.

Pimentel urged Zubiri to read out loud the Senate rules which state that Villar could refuse the move to extend the interpellation period.

"The desire of the minority is just to be educated...The rule must be clearly governing the actual parliamentary. What is the section, Mr. President? And we will read it with you," Pimentel said.

Zubiri read out a rule indicating that the bill’s sponsor can opt out of the interpellation, but Pimentel read the same rule, including sentences pointing out that the rule only applies to Senate debate and not for interpellation.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva then requested to open the session to a vote and Zubiri agreed to divide the chamber.

Before the vote, Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros offered a manifestation and pleaded with Villar to allow the minority to continue asking questions about the MIF bill.

"There's at least one sovereign wealth fund elsewhere in the world, dinebate po nila (they debated it) for years. And here, we're not even asking for a year. We have just been hearing, interpellating, debating for some months," she said.

Villar answered: "I think I've covered every square inch of this bill. This is the third week that I've opened myself up to all questions. To be fair to me, I really endeavored to answer to the best of my ability and now I'd like to exercise my right."

He then reassured the minority that he would be willing to discuss the bill further in the period of amendments and said he "welcomes" the senators to propose changes.

Before the Senate closed the session with a vote, Zubiri addressed the minority and said there are other pending priority bills and the Senate only wanted to take the MIF bill "off the table."

Voting 2-11, the Senate declared Pimentel's motion to continue the inquiry on the MIF bill lost and closed the period of interpellation. Only Pimentel and Hontiveros voted in favor of the motion.

Zubiri earlier said the Senate eyes the passage of the MIF bill before the Senate adjourns on June 2 for a two-week break.