‘Maharlika Wealth Fund’? Or the Funneling of Wealth?
The former President/Dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, is once heard to have said: “Of what good is democracy if it is not for the poor?”, ironically, following his ousting after the EDSA revolution of 1986 - which subsequently installed Corazon Aquino as the 11th President of the Republic of the Philippines. This would set the basis, or rather the reinstallation, of a democratic system in the Philippines following 21 years of dictatorship.
In a twist of events, on the 22nd of June 2020, the son of the late Dictator, now President Marcos Jr., won an arguably unexpected presidential victory following a chaotic presidential race. The 8th October, 2020 marks the first hundred days of the new presidency.
it was made apparent by notable critics of the regime - such as veteran journalist & Martial Law survivor, Luis Teodoro - that the lack of significant policy change and social impact within the time span was much too early to assume that the country was receding back into a form of dictatorial government which many Filipinos alike had assumed would take place.
Indeed, hundred days is a significantly short time to prove any point in a system where the presidential candidacy spans a total of six years.
However, recent moves by the presidential cabinet in early December have signaled the beginning of major economic-political moves from President Marco Jr’s side - the creation of a bill that would create the ‘Maharlika Wealth Fund.’
From an objective standpoint, it would seem that a P275 billion government fund (equating roughly to €4,7.- billion), funded by government pension funds and backs in order to further invest in large national development projects, would be a positive sight of change: a spark of light above a presidency shrouded with darkness. However, diving deeper into the facts behind the bill reveals a common trend found within the former dictatorship’s mishandling of political power.
Three notable aspects stick out as peculiar in the bill: (1) the people behind the drafting of the bill, (2) the speed of bill approval throughout the bureaucratic stages, and (3) the source of the allocated money in which the fund will be sourced.
Created upon the request of the President, the bill itself is co-authored by many within the President’s own family: the cousin of the president, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, his wife List Representative Yedda Romualdez (Tingong Party), and presidential son Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos. It should be noted that their notable opposition comes in the form of the presidential sister, Senator Imee Marcos. However, it is clear that President Marcos himself has fully committed to the implementation of the bill, declaring it as “utos ng pangulo” (an order of the President). The bill was hastily approved by the House banks committee on the 1st December, with the House of Representatives passing the bill as of the 15th of December. Controversially, the reading of the bill took only a matter of hours following the review of the 3rd revision of the Bill, by-passing the legally mandated three-day review period of the bill.
A survey conducted by the research firm Tangere, involving 2.400 subjects from the 8th-10th of December, concluded that 54.08% of the subjects supported the bill, with 21.34% remaining neutral and 24.58% against the passing of the Bill into law. 6/10 of respondents that were aware of the Maharlika Wealth Fund Bill support making President Marcos Jr. head of management of the fund upon legal establishment (Inquirer.Net).
Indeed, Philippine politics can often be viewed as an exacerbated telenovela (a form of TV program, often with a large emphasis on drama and internal politics amongst the cast), with separate factions within a powerful family vying for influence and approval from the “man on top.”
Following upon the second point, it is clear that money intended for the funding of the Maharlika Wealth Fund is set to come from governmental financial institutions. These include national funds and national banks alike. However, the largest segment of funding comes controversially from sources of pension funds: the Government Insurance System (GSIS) is set to allocate P125 billion (€2,1.- billion) and P50 billion (€855.- million) from the Social Security System (SSS). Combined, allocated funds from social-systems make up around 63.6% of the total Fund. The intention of the Fund is to invest money into the investments that would otherwise be neglected after passing through Congressional national budget meetings. Further investments would include a list of “allowable” lucrative investment opportunities (such as Financial derivatives, Islamic investments, loans & guarantees, and a further list). Experts fear that such high-risk investments would endanger the fund.
It is one thing to endanger a fund of this magnitude with such prospects of risky investments, but it is another to endanger the pension funds of the average Filipino who’s funds are, without their own discretion, at the risk of market flows.
Furthermore, the only safety-net of the Maharlika Wealth Fund is the President itself (acting as the foresitter) and the addition of the Maharlika Wealth Fund Commission's 15 board of directors. Questions should be asked on whether having the President as a 1st layer of assurance and at the head of the Fund is politically justifiable. In a country that has experienced time and time again repeated government scandals regarding government-funded money embezzlement and corruption: with examples such as the Coco Levy scandal under Marcos Sr. in the 70s & 80s, and that of PhilHealth as recently as 2021 under the former President Duterte.
Acting as Marcos Sr.’s press censor and propagandist in the 70s during martial law, Primitovo Mijares revealed to the world the atrocities of the regime, stating before a commission in the United States: “What President Marcos [Sr.] is doing in the Philippines, it has now dawned on me, is in accordance with a long-studied, methodically prepared plan to take over an entire country politically and economically for himself, his family and his cronies, preparatory to setting up an empire”. Whilst this recent introduction of the Maharlika Wealth Fund bill is nothing compared to martial law, the similarities between Mijares’ words from more than forty years ago bear resemblance to the actions of President Marcos Jr. in our present day. It is not to state that this is the solid evidence needed to sound the alarms, but rather a nod towards a dark past - a past that should, at all costs, not be repeated.