Pathway to corruption, rushed approval?: Why 6 lawmakers voted against the Maharlika Investment Fund bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 16) — Only six members of the House of Representatives rejected the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) bill, which 279 others approved on final reading less than three weeks after the measure was filed.

On Thursday, House Bill 6608 hurdled the lower chamber after being certified as urgent by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Only Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro, Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr., Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel, Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman, and Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman registered their no vote.

Those who voted against the measure cited what they described as rushed approval amid concerns that the country isn't yet ready for the fund and that there aren't enough safeguards to prevent its misuse.

Hataman noted that the bill was filed only on Nov. 28, which means it only took members of the lower chamber 18 calendar days to give their final approval.

“Sa ganang akin, hindi ito sapat na panahon para pagtibayin ang panukala lalo na kung maraming tao at sektor ang nagpahayag ng pagtutol sa maraming probisyon nito,” he said in a statement Friday.

[Translation: I don’t think this is enough time to strengthen a proposal, especially when there are many people and sectors who have expressed their opposition to its several provisions.]

RELATED: House not rushing Maharlika fund bill, safeguards enough to prevent failure, solon says

The lawmakers argued that the country hasn’t yet satisfied the requirements to establish a strong sovereign wealth fund — which is typically financed by surplus revenues or reserves — considering the record high national debt and wide budget deficit.

“Wala tayong ipinagmamalaki sa panukalang Maharlika fund na ito [There’s nothing to be proud about in this proposed Maharlika fund], which once approved would be the smallest and least promising in the world,” Brosas told lawmakers after the bill was passed.

Lagman earlier urged the Marcos administration to invest first in development programs instead of prioritizing the MIF.

Under the proposal, an estimated ₱30 billion to ₱35 billion in dividends of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) would be used as initial investment, along with ₱50 billion from the Landbank of the Philippines and ₱25 billion from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

Castro said there is “conflict of interest,” as the BSP exercises regulatory powers over banks and financial intermediaries, and the Landbank and the DBP are board members of the Maharlika Investment Corporation.

She also believes there would be no truly “independent” members of the board of directors since they will be chosen by the advisory body which is composed of presidential appointees.

Manuel, meanwhile, said the funds can be placed in major programs, such as on infrastructure, which is vulnerable to corruption. He added it is also “vulnerable to the interest of big private investors who can jump into the fund.”

“We cannot afford to take our sparse resources and gamble on the hope that the Maharlika investment fund would be profitable and provide immediate, favorable results,” Bordado also said during the House plenary session.

For his part, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri gave assurance senators will study the proposal with a “fine-tooth comb” to make sure they make the right decision on the matter.

He added that the Senate is awaiting the final House version of the Maharlika fund bill, but that the upper chamber's deliberations won't start until Congress' break ends next month.