Senate rejects motion to refer Maharlika bill from Villar to Cayetano’s panel

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri

The supermajority in the Senate once again proved that there is power in numbers as they outvoted the minority block during the chamber’s session on Wednesday.

A total of 19 senators rejected Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III’s motion to change the referral of Senate Bill No. 1670, or the proposed measure seeking the creation of Maharlika Investment Fund, from Senator Mark Villar’s Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies to the Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

Villar, a close ally of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is the author of Senate Bill No. 1670, the counterpart of House Bill No. 660, which was passed by the House of Representatives last December.

Of the 24 senators, only Pimentel and Senator Risa Hontiveros voted in favor of the motion.

Senator Pia Cayetano, sister of Alan Peter, abstained.

Pia explained that she abstained because she was not sure whether his brother would be happy to take on more workload.

“He did not say anything to me. I don’t know if he will be mad at me because it will cause him more workload or not. So I abstained,” she said.

‘Pimentel vs others’

Pimentel said the Senate panel on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises should be the primary committee to deliberate on the proposed measures since the two bills are seeking to create a government-owned and controlled corporation or GOOC.

“I think the correct and proper committee to be the primary committee would be our committee and government corporations and public enterprises because undoubtedly the two bills create a GOOC,” he argued.

“It does not create a bank, it is not about currency, but is it about the third subject matter of financial institution under the committee that we referred to? No,” he added.

The minority leader also pointed out that by definition of “financial institution,” the proposed Fund will fall under the supervision of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

“That is a quasi-bank or institution similar to a bank. That is an institution which deals with the public so that money collected from the public is directed to those in need of funding,” he added.

‘No charter for Maharlika’

Before the chamber started with their voting, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri explained that the bills were referred to the committee chaired by Villar since its counterpart in the lower house led the deliberation on the said bill.

Zubiri also noted that the Maharlika Investment Fund is a government financial institution, which he said could be used as a funding mechanism.

“On the face of it all, it seems more appropriate [if] we’ll leave it with the committee on financial institutions,” he said.

He also stressed that a charter is needed for a GOOC, which the chamber is not willing to take up for the proposed sovereign wealth fund.

In response, Pimentel said the Senate is not bound by the actions of its counterpart in the lower house.

He reiterated his point that it would be safer to refer it to the panel “where it is clearly under”, which he said is the Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises.

Citing Senate rules and certain provisions of the measure, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said the bill was referred to the “right” committee.

“If you look at the rules of the jurisdiction of the committee on banks, financial institutions, and currencies, it says all matters relating to banks financial institutions, government and private currencies, capital markets, mutual funds, securitization, coinage, and circulation of money,” Villanueva said.

Pimentel responded to Villanueva, saying that it is “precisely” the proof that the bill is seeking a create a new government corporation.

Zubiri then answered Pimentel and said that the establishment of the fund is the “primordial concern,” and only followed by the creation of the investment corporation.

“If you look at the priorities, the establishment of the fund, therefore, the primary committee really to handle this is banks and financial institutions, the secondary is government-owned and controlled corporations,” he said.

Senator Francis Tolentino likewise cited Senate rules to argue that there is no government corporation that will handle the Maharlika Investment Fund, which is under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises.

Pimentel responded to Tolentino’s statement, saying what is more important in the bill is the corporation itself rather than the actual creation of the fund.

“You can say it’s a fund but the fund will not function without decision-makers, and the more critical here actually is the Maharlika Investment Corporation. If there is a fund [but] nobody manages the fund, what happens?” he asked.

In the end, the motion was still rejected as 19 senators voted against it.

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