Some officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Wednesday appealed to lawmakers to “strengthen” programs that can alleviate poverty rather than enact a new one.
“There are already existing programs that aim to benefit Filipinos. Why not strengthen these instead of establishing another one that is already suspicious from the very start,” said Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP’s public affairs commission.
On May 31, Philippine lawmakers approved the creation of an $8.9 billion sovereign wealth fund – the Maharlika Investment Fund – to boost growth and cut poverty.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr had called for a swift passage of the bill, filed by his son and cousin late last year, to enable the debt-laden government to earn extra funds to finance infrastructure projects.
The national government will be the biggest contributor to the 500-billion-peso Investment fund, drawing seed funds from the central bank, gaming revenue, and two government-owned banks.
Caritas Philippines, the social action and development arm of the CBCP, reiterated its position against the proposed measure saying “it is not the right time” for it.
Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, president of Caritas Philippines, said, “The time is not right for a sovereign wealth fund especially since there is no surplus or extra funds that can be allocated to it.”
The prelate said it can be seen in the government’s “insufficient responses” to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis in our education, and the high prices of basic goods in the market.
Fr. Antonio Labiao Jr., executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, described the proposed measure as “dangerous” because “there are no regulatory restrictions, it is too risky and vulnerable to corruption.”
“It is also not sure that it will make money right away, the chance that it will fail is very big and we can’t afford it now that our fiscal deficit and national debt are so big,” the priest said.
The word “maharlika” is widely associated with Marcos Jr’s late dictator father and namesake, who presided over widespread human rights abuses and corruption during his two decades in power. He was ousted in 1986.
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 reports from AFP