SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Monday expressed confidence President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. could successfully introduce the country’s sovereign wealth fund and promote the Philippines as an investment hub at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
However, his enthusiasm was met with a warning from Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros, who said a public presentation was premature as the law creating the Maharlika Investment Fund had yet to be passed.
“I’m confident he would do the same in the WEF, particularly in introducing the Maharlika Investment Fund to the global stage and in helping our local business leaders explore investment opportunities for the Philippines,” said Romualdez in a statement.
The Speaker is part of Marcos’s official delegation to the WEF.
Romualdez was instrumental in arranging the meeting between President Marcos and WEF founder Dr. Klauss Schwab at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asean Nations (ASEAN) Summits held in Cambodia, where the latter invited the President to the Davos meet.
In airing caution on Monday against a public presentation, especially in a high-profile global stage, Hontiveros said,“a soft launch is premature.”
She added, “There is nothing to present…“Isn’t it jumping the gun to be talking about it in front of world economic leaders?”
“The discussions on the matter are hilaw [raw] and the concept is full of holes.”
The President, she said, will look like an “amateur” in presenting a half-baked concept.
Hontiveros acknowledged that, “indeed, it makes sense to talk to an international audience about a domestically-oriented sovereign development fund if there is already a portfolio of attractive projects that have been assembled.”
However, she stressed, “we don’t have that yet.”
Compared to well-prepared Indonesia, the Philippines “lacks wealth windfall from exports to seed the sovereign fund and the portfolio of ready projects to attract investors,” the senator pointed out.
“Indonesia has been touring the international circuit because it has tens of billions of dollars worth of ready projects that have been individually structured to attract capital. Indonesia also had significant windfall from its petroleum and mineral exports—with which it has decided to seed the Indonesian Investment Authority. Unfortunately, we do not have either of these two,” she emphasized.
50 leaders at Davos
The meeting at Davos will see over 50 heads of state taking part, along with global business leaders, celebrities and prominent social activists.
“In his previous participation in various global fora, President Marcos has displayed an excellent ability to articulate the interests of the Philippines as well as the significant gains achieved under his administration and the country’s direction for future growth,” Romualdez noted.
In an interview during his flight bound for Switzerland, Marcos had told reporters that WEF presents an excellent opportunity to soft launch the Maharlika Investment Fund and promote the Philippines as an investment hub.
“We’ll talk about the Philippines, what the situation is as an investment destination. Now, added to that, we can talk about this sovereign wealth fund,” President Marcos explained when asked how he would introduce the MIF to the WEF participants.
“So, I will say exactly what happened: that we are forming a sovereign wealth fund for big investments in the basic areas such as agriculture, energy, digitalization, and climate change,” the President added.
The House of Representatives approved last December 16, 2022 House Bill (HB) No. 6608, creating the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) bill with the solid support of 90 percent or 282 of the 312 House members who were officially named as co-authors of the measure.
Romualdez, principal author of the measure, said HB 6088 includes adequate safeguard against possible abuse and fraud.
In the same interview, President Marcos bared that a new format adopted for the Davos meet this year opens a wider latitude to communicate the government’s effort to attract foreign investments into the county.
The President said the new WEF format is similar to that in the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Thailand where he, along Schwab and other selected guests were given time to deliver a short speech and answered specific questions from the audience.
He noted that most of the time the best deals are done outside of the forum, in particular during “pull away” engagements where certain parties may conduct talks on the sidelines to discuss business opportunities.
“So we will have a lot of those because there are certain businessmen [attending the WEF], who our own business group want to engage,” President Marcos explained.