MANILA, Dec 12 (The Straits Times/ANN): Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr defended the multibillion-peso sovereign wealth fund that his allies are pushing in Congress, saying the controversial Bill would bring in “needed” investments to the country.
Marcos, speaking to reporters on a flight to Belgium on Sunday night, said the sovereign wealth fund would be advantageous to the government. He is attending the three-day Asean-European Union summit and related events that started on Monday in Brussels.
“For sure. I wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise. It’s very clear we need added investment. This is another way to get that,” said Marcos.
The Philippine leader has been silent for weeks amid the public uproar over the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF).
The Bill’s initial version pushed for a 275 billion peso (S$6.7 billion) fund to be controlled by the state to invest in big-ticket national projects and other assets.
The fund’s name, “maharlika”, means warrior class but is a word largely associated with Marcos’ late dictator father and namesake. Controversy surrounds the late Marcos’ disputed claim that he led a guerilla unit called Maharlika when the Japanese military invaded and occupied the Philippines from 1942 to 1945.
The MIF is swiftly moving in the House of Representatives, where two of its main proponents are Marcos’ relatives – his cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, and his son, Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Sandro Marcos.
The MIF is patterned after the sovereign wealth funds of other countries like Singapore. But instead of sourcing the seed money from the nation’s excess funds – which the Philippines does not have – the MIF instead proposes to take it from government financial institutions.
The Bill was widely criticised over the proposal to source about 175 billion pesos from the pension funds of Filipinos and the provision to appoint the incumbent President as chairman of the MIF’s governing board.
Economists, business groups and opposition legislators warned the MIF would be prone to graft.
Even Marcos’ own sister, Senator Imee Marcos, said the MIF could end up becoming like the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund. The ensuing multibillion-dollar graft scandal sent former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak to jail.
“We all know about our neighbour Malaysia, where their 1MDB was a real disaster where the money was looted,” she said.
The backlash forced Filipino legislators to remove the two controversial provisions.
From 275 billion pesos, the MIF is down to 110 billion in the Bill’s current version. Funds will be sourced from the central bank and other state-run banks. The Finance Secretary also replaced the President as chairman of the board.
Safeguards were also introduced. A director, trustee or officer who would “wilfully or maliciously” violate the guidelines sent by the MIF board may face jail time of one to five years or a fine of 50 thousand pesos to two million pesos.
Marcos, however, urged Filipinos to hold off commenting on the MIF for now, as lawmakers continue reviewing the Bill.
“Let’s not debate until we see the final form because we could be debating about provisions that will no longer exist. Let’s wait for what Congress will decide,” he said. - The Straits Times/ANN