The Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) has been the talk of the country for months now.
With the Congress’ approval, the only step remaining for the MIF to become law is Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s signature. Last June 22, he confirmed, “I will sign it as soon as I get it.”
But what actually is the Maharlika Investment Fund and why are Filipinos worried and skeptical?
The MIF is to be a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) of the Philippines.
It is a pool of funds owned by the state to invest in various assets like foreign currencies, domestic and corporate bonds, and infrastructure projects.
Ideally, an SWF is used to boost the economy.
The pool of resources for an SWF in other countries usually comes from either the state’s revenue from natural resources, a budget surplus, or a general amalgamation of a country’s wealth.
In other words, sobrang pera.
The question is, may sobrang pera ba ang Pilipinas?
This is answered by the sources of our SWF funding.
Instead of using a budget surplus, the MIF will get money from government banks.
In fact, in an earlier version of the bill, they also wanted to source out money from our pension funds in SSS and GSIS.
This specifically was a really controversial issue. The citizens were so adamantly against it that the Senate scrapped it.
However, Diwa Guinigundo, former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deputy governor, remains skeptical despite the amendments.
According to his statement, since the SWF will come from public money supposedly for the national budget, we will have to raise more money to replace it–either through raising taxes or borrowing even more money.
It appears that we can genuinely afford to source an SWF.
Naming the SWF ‘Maharlika’ has also garnered criticism.
Maharlika was known as the warrior class in precolonial Tagalog society. However, after Marcos Sr.’s elaborate myth-making, it also became closely tied to his image.
Ferdinand Marcos Sr. claimed he led an anti-Japanese guerilla unit during World War II called “Maharlika.”
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has disproved the claim that he was a guerilla leader many times over. Additionally, the U.S. government does not recognize this guerilla unit.
There was also a claim on Facebook in recent years that there used to be a “Maharlika Kingdom” made up of the Philippines, Brunei, South Borneo, Hawaii, the Spratly Islands, and Sabah.
It was allegedly ruled by the Tallano royal family and Marcos Sr. was their lawyer. According to the post, he was paid in gold popularizing the term “Tallano gold.”
“Maharlika” has been co-opted as a propaganda tool of the Marcoses for a long time.
Semantics aside, people are asking, do we need the bill right now?
A letter from Marcos Jr. dated May 22 was sent to the Senate. It instructs them to expedite the passage of the bill. According to the president, the bill is urgent. However, Koko Pimentel countered that this was unconstitutional as the Constitution states a bill can only be deemed urgent if there is a public emergency or calamity.
Additionally, doesn’t any investment require a lot of waiting time for its return? Even if the MIF is signed, its return to ordinary citizens will take time.
So really, what is the rush?
An inquiry in relation to urgency is its necessity, do we need it at all?
As Sonny Africa from IBON wrote, if we have an excess in budget, then we are better off spending it on public services.
Programs that would immediately help citizens. It would be better spent on “urgent ayuda, wage subsidies, small business support, and public schools and hospitals.”
Why can’t we support agriculture and industrialization better too if we do have the budget for it?
Allocating the budget to our different sectors (with matching effective programs, of course) will have more tangible benefits to the average Filipino.
A sovereign wealth fund can also be prone to corruption.
Malaysia has 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), their state-owned investment fund.
Allegedly, a huge amount of the money raised for it was stolen under Prime Minister Najib Razak.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, it has been spent on bribes, a luxury yacht, and fine art.
With a vague plan for the MIF, it remains vulnerable to corruption as well.
For one, infrastructure projects which they want to invest on has always been prone to corruption.
Additionally, according to Abrea, the success of an SWF would depend on the absence of corruption.
And. according to the 2022 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), the Philippines ranked 116 out of 180.
With all of these criticisms, we continue to ask, do we really need the Maharlika Investment Fund? What will it give to the average Filipino?