The people have scored a “critical victory” against a proposed law that would have created a US$4.9 billion sovereign wealth fund, raising concerns over potential corruption and risks to workers’ pensions.
“The recent decision by Congress to remove the [Social Security System] and the [Government Service Insurance System] as sources of funding in a proposed bill that seeks to create a so-called Maharlika Sovereign Wealth Fund proves the power of dissent,” read a statement from the political group Akbayan.
The group said it was “an important first victory for the Filipino working class against the [administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.], and a resounding rebuke of a measure that would have endangered the future of millions.”
“This is why criticism is essential to a democracy. It does so much more than keep officials in check. Pushing back exposes abuse. It punishes selfish egos, and ensures that the decisions of those in power are directed towards the interests of the public,” said Akbayan.
Philippine lawmakers said on Wednesday, December 7, that they would revise the proposed law creating a sovereign wealth fund.
Congressmen Sandro Marcos and Martin Romualdez — President Marcos’ son and cousin respectively — are among the authors of the bill establishing the “Maharlika Investments Fund,” which was to have been seeded by government-run banks and pension funds.
But Stella Quimbo, another of the bill’s co-authors, said congressional leaders decided to exclude the pension funds as contributors and instead seed the initiative with Philippine central bank profits.
“It’s good that we conducted a series of consultations about the bill,” Quimbo told reporters.
“It validated the concerns of our people, especially the industrious Filipino workers who remit their contributions every month to the GSIS and SSS,” she said, referring to the pension funds by their acronyms.
The proposed law, aimed at raising capital for big-ticket development projects, had stoked anger among activists and opposition figures, as well as concern from business groups.
Conventional sovereign wealth funds are seeded by windfall government profits from natural resources, such as oil or minerals, rather than money from pension funds.
Business groups said the government was already running huge budget deficits and the proposed law risked downgrading its credit rating.
Critics also questioned the plan to designate the president as head of the fund’s board.
Marcos Jr’s late father and namesake was accused of embezzling billions of dollars from the national treasury during his 20-year rule. His estate was also accused of failing to pay US$3.6 billion in taxes.
House leaders have discussed a new version of the bill that was drafted by the president’s economic advisers, which will be tackled by the House appropriations committee on Friday, Quimbo said.
Lawmakers will “put in place safety nets” to ensure government funds are safeguarded, she added.
The word “maharlika,” meaning “nobility”, is widely associated with Marcos Sr, who presided over widespread human rights abuses and corruption during his two decades in power.
He was ousted in 1986 but no one in the clan has been jailed.
Marcos Sr claimed to have led an anti-Japanese guerrilla unit called Ang Mga Maharlika during World War II, but he has been accused of lying about his war record. – with a report from Agence France Presse