Villafuerte pitches for broad popular support for MIF ahead of PBBM’s ‘soft launch’ in Davos

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A lawmaker has said the broad popular support for President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s pet initiative Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) should convince its critics to give this House-approved investment vehicle a chance to prove its worth as soon as the Senate passes its own version after the 19th Congress reopens this January following its month-long year-end recess.

Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte issued the statement as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Carlos Sorreta earlier bared the plan by President Marcos to “soft launch” the MIF during his trip to Davos, Switzerland to attend the 2023 World Economic Forum (WEF).

In a pre-departure briefing, Sorreta said the President would present the “broad strokes” of the MIF before his fellow national leaders at this year’s WEF summit.

Given the Marcos administration’s limited fiscal space resulting mainly from the enormous spending by the previous government on Covid-19 response, Villafuerte earlier called for support behind the President’s appeal for all Filipinos to give House Bill (HB) 6608—the MIF bill—a chance and wait for the Congress to hammer out what Mr. Marcos described as the “perfect” version of this investment vehicle.

“With one in every two Filipinos who are aware of the MIF actually supportive of this President-endorsed HB 6608, there is reason for even the doubting Thomases to give this proposal a chance to prove its worth once the Senate further tweaks and passes this year its own version that would likely address other concerns, if any, raised by skeptics and other critics,” Villafuerte said.

He was referring to the December mobile-based nationwide survey by market research and opinion pollster Tangere that showed that of the 83.75 percent of Filipinos who are aware of the MIF, 54.08 percent of them support its passage into law.

“The Tangere survey results illustrated that aside from having the backing of various business groups and leaders as well as of international institutions like the ADB [Asian Development Bank], this investment vehicle plan already green-lighted by the House enjoys broad support among Filipinos from all over the country,” Villafuerte, a co-author of HB 6608, said.

He noted that President Marcos was correct in asking the people last December to wait for the final version of the MIF bill to be drawn up by Congress, “considering that the MIF will still go through refinements after HB 6608 is transmitted to the Senate. At the Senate, it will again go through further refinements before the final, consolidated measure is hammered out at the bicam [bicameral] negotiations before being ratified by both Houses and then submitted to Malacañang Palace for the President’s signing into law.”

Villafuerte said that the initial reservations over certain features of the MIF bill, such as the use of Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Social Security System (SSS) pension funds, along with the Fund’s board chairmanship by the President, were quickly addressed with the major changes or amendments made last December at the House committee level.

He said that later last month, the measure reported out and signed by the respective chairmen of the House committees on banks and financial intermediaries, on appropriations and on ways and means already excluded the GSIS and SSS pension funds from the MIF’s funding source, and put the Finance Secretary (Benjamin Diokno) as the chairman,  in lieu of the President—as proposed in the original bill—of the would-be Maharlika Investment Fund Corp. (MIC).

In the House-approved version, he said the number of independent directors in the MIC Board was also raised from the original two to the current 5 independent directors to increase private-sector participation.

Villafuerte said HB 6608 provides that the initial investment will come only from the investible funds of the  Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) and  Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), gaming revenues of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and other state-run gaming operators and dividends of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

The respective chairmen of the banks, appropriations and ways committees are Reps. Irwin Tieng (Manila), Elizaldy Co (Ako Bicol) and Joey Salceda (Albay).

Villafuerte  said investments from the proposed MIF would also be limited to big-ticket projects approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Board, which is chaired by the President, to make sure such ventures are in support of the Marcos administration’s socio-economic development program.

He noted that the final House bill also has punitive measures—ranging from a prison term of six years to 20 years and/or a fine of P10,000 to P5 million—against future violators of investment guidelines and policies to be drawn up by the MIC Board.