Senator questions Maharlika fund managers' exemption from salary standardization

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 17) — Senator Pia Cayetano on Wednesday protested a provision in the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund bill that exempts fund managers from the Salary Standardization Law.

On Day 3 of plenary debates in the Senate, Cayetano questioned this privilege sought for officials of the Maharlika Investment Corporation (MIC), when health workers have been deprived of higher pay for so long due to the government pay scale.

"If I am going to provide for one exemption it will be for health workers, your honor. Hindi ba dapat yun ang unahin natin? Bakit itong fund pwedeng may exemption samantalang yun, pahirapan? [Shouldn't we prioritize that? Why is there exemption for this fund when it's difficult to do the same for health workers?]" the senator said.

Cayetano asked if bill sponsor Senator Mark Villar would be open to removing the exemption. Villar, however, said the MIC would have to offer competitive rates to hire the "best people" to manage the Maharlika fund and "give the government the best return on its capital."

"Ang solusyon sa mababang sweldo ang kailangan natin payamanin ang ating bayan, kailangan natin ng mga income-generating sources. And sa tingin ko ang Maharlika po ay isang income-generating source para sa gobyerno," Villar added.

[Translation: We need income-generating sources to make our country wealthier and help address low wages. And I think the Maharlika fund is an income-generating source for the government.]

Cayetano said she hopes no government owned and controlled corporation involved in social services would invest in the Maharlika fund, stressing it is not risk-free.

She noted that the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) has specialty savings worth ₱75 billion deposited with the Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines. In effect, it would be part of the pool where the Maharlika fund's initial capitalization would come from, she said. Land Bank will contribute ₱50 billion, while the DBP will lodge ₱25 billion.

"Ikaiiyak ba nila kung naging super successful ang Maharlika bill, sasabihin ba ng board ng SSS, GSIS na sayang…Yes maybe, pero naman, ikalaluluhod nila at ikamamatay nila kung malugi yun," Cayetano said.

[Translation: Will they cry if the Maharlika bill becomes super successful? Will the board of the SSS, GSIS express regret? Yes maybe, but it will be the death of them if there will be losses.]

Villar, meanwhile, maintained that he thinks the proposed Maharlika fund is a good investment.

"If there's an appetite for that, I don't think we should ban funds for putting a little investment for the Maharlika fund," he said.

The Maharlika bill has been certified as urgent by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., but the Senate leadership has promised not to rush its proceedings.