'Triumph of the Senate': Zubiri touts Maharlika bill's safeguards

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri hailed the passage of the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) bill as a "triumph of the Senate," while touting its sufficient safeguards.

"[B]ecause we improved the House version tremendously, we thank the House for accepting the Senate version with all the safeguards. Pwede po natin ipaglaban ito sa Plaza Miranda [We can fight for it in Plaza Miranda]," Zubiri told the media on Wednesday, referring to the place in Manila known for democratic activities.

After seven days of plenary discussions, senators swiftly approved its version of the controversial bill early Wednesday morning. The House of Representatives adopted the Senate version hours later.

It will now be sent to Malacañang for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s signature. The president has repeatedly endorsed the bill and had certified it as urgent.

READ: Maharlika bill now up for Marcos' signature

The final version of the measure prohibits the use of government pension money from Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS), the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) to bankroll the sovereign wealth account.

“Wala na kayong kakabahan pa. Kasi ang haka-haka, baka i-pasok daw yung GSIS, SSS, wala na po ‘yan. It is explicitly said twice in the bill, and there is an explicit ban on the use of these funds for Maharlika,” Zubiri said.

[Translation: You don't have to worry anymore. Because the speculation is, maybe the GSIS, SSS will be included. That's gone.]

READ: Senate bars investment of state pension funds in Maharlika, okays key changes in bill's final version

The previous plan to get initial investments from state pension funds was abandoned after earning the ire of several groups who argued that doing so may put Filipinos' pension at risk.

READ: Marcos: State pension funds not to be used as seed capital for Maharlika

The latest version of the MIF bill also cut down the number of directors of the Maharlika Investment Corporation board from 15 to 9, and its members cannot include those with pending cases relating to fraud, corruption, tax evasion, and other similar charges.

The penalties for misuse of the Maharlika fund are also more stringent with imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to ₱10 million.