By Wilnard Bacelonia and Leonel Abasola
MANILA– Senator Imee Marcos on Friday expressed reluctance over the idea of putting up a sovereign wealth fund that would raise revenues for the government.
While she has yet to scrutinize House Bill (HB) No. 6398, Marcos said the Maharlika Wealth Fund (MWF) being pushed in the Lower House is making her anxious considering the current economic status of the country and the looming global recession.
“Ako kinakabahan sapagka’t sa panahong ito na ang sama ng ekonomiya pati ang World Bank sabi bagsak na bagsak sa susunod na taon sa 2023. Sa kalagitnaan, lalala pa raw. Diyos ko! Papaano na lang tayo (I’m nervous because at this time, the economy is bad, and even World Bank said economy will drop in 2023. It will get even worse in the middle (of the year). My God, what will happen to us?),” Marcos told reporters after she led the distribution of Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations in Brgy. Valenzuela, Makati City.
She also raised concerns about how the government would manage its finances when the country is faced with heavy foreign and local debt, aside from other obligations to local sectors like the health workers and senior citizens.
“Hindi naman ako ekonomista pero sa tingin ko, nakakatakot yatang ipusta yung retirement fund, yung pension fund ng GSIS. Nakakatakot yata. Wag naman. ‘Invest so-called pero high-risk pa rin (“I’m not an economist but I think it’s scary to bet on the retirement fund, the GSIS pension fund. It’s scary. Don’t do this. ‘Invest so-called but still high-risk),” she added.
HB 6398, authored by Speaker Martin Romualdez, proposes the creation of a PHP250-billion MWF that would mandate government financial institutions to provide initial investments.
The sovereign wealth fund’s initial investment will come from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) (PHP125 billion); the Social Security System (SSS) (PHP50 billion), as well as Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) (P50 billion); and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) (PHP25 billion).
The measure would give these government financial institutions (GFIs) the opportunity to ensure their respective funds’ optimal asset allocation as well as ensure that resources are efficiently channeled to investments that will provide the most value not only to the participating government financial institutions (GFIs) but also to the country.
Marcos admitted that gathering funds from GFIs is a good idea, but they should be invested in the agriculture and energy sectors instead.
“Gamitin sa tamang pamamaraan katulad ng patubig, yung mga dam natin na bulok kaya wala tayong agriculture at magtataasan ang presyo ng mga imported food. Yung ating kuyente ay lumolobo din (Use it in the right way such as irrigation; our dams are rotten, that’s why our agriculture is suffering and the prices of imported food are increasing. [The cost] of our electricity is also increasing), alternative means of energy,” the lawmaker said.
Also, adopting Norway’s model for putting up a sovereign wealth fund may not be applicable to the country, Marcos said.
Norway, which has the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world providing a value of USD250,000 per Norwegian, established its own wealth fund through oil and gas profits.
“Nagkaroon ng sovereign fund nung nagkaroon sila ng (They created a sovereign fund when they got the) North Sea oil and gas profits. They got a windfall. Kumbaga, nanalo sila ng lotto ika nga. Wala naman tayong napapanalunan. Nakakanerbyos (It is like they have won the lottery. We did not win anything. winning the lottery. We did not win anything. It’s nerve-wracking),” she said adding that this idea should be weighed carefully first.
Romualdez said MWF is essential for the government to “improve investment opportunities, promote productivity-enhancing investments and ensure that the Philippines becomes an investment destination” to achieve the objectives of the Agenda for Prosperity and the eight-point socioeconomic roadmap of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the Senate will look into the urgency of the proposed MWF.
Zubiri said he has also tasked concerned committees to look into the proposal of the Speaker, which was already approved at the committee level.
Zubiri said he will ask Senators Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Grace Poe, Mark Villar and Alan Peter Cayetano, who chair the committees on Finance, Ways and Means, Economic Affairs, Banks and Financial Institutions, and Government Owned and controlled Corporation, to study the proposal and come up with their respective position
“We must first ensure the Sovereign Wealth Fund is necessary… If so, we need to ensure that it is managed properly and that safeguards are in place so that it would not be misused or prone to corruption. We must make sure that there is full transparency and efficient utilization of this fund,” Zubiri said in his statement.
Like Marcos, Gatchalian expressed concern over the proposal, adding full transparency, check and balance must be placed should the government want to create the MWF.
“Yung corruption maa-address ‘yan through safeguards. Importante may mga safeguards tayo. Kaya doon sa batas, titignan natin ang safeguards, ‘yung professional management and of course, ‘yung transparency (Corruption can be addressed by safeguards. What is important is to have safeguards. The law must ensure there are safeguards, as well as professional management and transparency),” Gatchalian said in an interview with Senate reporters. (PNA)