Senate minority loses, Maharlika bills stay with Mark Villar's committee on banks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) – The Senate has yet to conduct committee hearings on the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund but the controversial proposal already sparked a debate in the plenary.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III on Wednesday questioned the referral of the House and Senate Maharlika bills to the Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies. The referral means the hearings will be conducted by the committee chaired by Sen. Mark Villar - who also filed the Senate bill.

Pimentel explained that the bill creates the Maharlika Investment Fund Corporation, a government owned and controlled corporation (GOCC), to manage the fund.

"I think the correct and proper committee to be the primary committee would be our Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises. Because undoubtedly, the two bills create a GOCC, but it does not create a bank, it is not about currency," Pimentel said during the plenary session.

Currently, the government corporations panel is the secondary committee.

But for Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, the establishment of the fund is the "primordial concern," making it "more appropriate" for the committee on banks.

"The government corporations (panel) will be more or less if we create a new GOCC and create a charter. We're not creating a charter in this Maharlika Investment Fund," he added.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Senate Committee on Finance chairman Sonny Angara expressed support for the move to retain the bills under Villar's committee.

He said the MIF is "not an ordinary government corporation."

"It's a government corporation that is explicitly or specifically created to invest financially in financial instruments, which is the goal or the role of the sovereign wealth fund," Angara told The Final Word.

"It gets public monies and it invests in financial instruments, so hence the referral to the committee on banks and financial intermediaries," he added.

As more lawmakers weighed in, the issue was put to a vote. Only the two-member minority bloc of Pimentel and Sen. Risa Hontiveros supported the motion to transfer the Maharlika bills to the banks committee.

An overwhelming 19 senators voted against it, while Sen. Pia Cayetano abstained. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who chairs the Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises, was not present during the voting.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva earlier said senators will meet with economic managers on Jan. 30 to discuss the proposed investment fund, which was passed by the House of Representatives in December.