Wealth fund set for agriculture, energy, digitalization, climate change

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President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday said he would tell government and business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) that the sovereign wealth fund he seeks to create will make investments in the key areas of agriculture, energy, digitalization and climate change.

“Now we have something to talk about—the sovereign wealth fund,” Marcos, speaking in Filipino, told reporters on board a plane to Switzerland. “I will tell them that we are forming a sovereign wealth fund for investments—for big investments in the basic areas such as agriculture, energy, digitalization [and] climate change.”

In December, the House of Representatives speedily approved on final reading House Bill 6608, which creates the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), after the President certified the measure as urgent.

The Senate, however, has yet to begin discussions on the controversial wealth fund, which has been criticized as untimely.

Early drafts of the bill also came under heavy fire for seeking to channel funds from state-run pension funds into the MIF.

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Mr. Marcos also said he was looking forward to “expanding and expounding” the significant strides achieved by his administration during a question-and-answer event at the 2023 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

He said this kind of forum would give him a better opportunity to expand and expound on the things that the government is doing in the Philippines.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Monday expressed confidence that the President would be able to successfully articulate his administration’s gains, introduce the country’s sovereign wealth fund and promote the Philippines as an investment hub at the WEF.

Romualdez was instrumental in arranging the meeting between President Marcos and WEF founder Dr. Klaus Schwab at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits held in Cambodia, where the latter invited the President to the Davos meeting.

The meeting at Davos will see over 50 heads of state taking part, along with global business leaders, celebrities, and prominent social activists.

“In his previous participation in various global fora, President Marcos has displayed an excellent ability to articulate the interests of the Philippines as well as the significant gains achieved under his administration and the country’s direction for future growth,” Romualdez said.

“I’m confident he would do the same in the WEF, particularly in introducing the Maharlika Wealth Fund to the global stage and in helping our local business leaders explore investment opportunities for the Philippines.”

Romualdez, who is the principal author of the MIF bill, said it includes adequate safeguards against possible abuse and fraud.

“The proposed sovereign wealth fund will help President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. keep the country on the high-growth path. We want to assure the public that the management of the fund will follow best practices and the principles of transparency and accountability,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Filipino-Canadian economist said the WEF was an excellent venue for the President to present the MIF, to gauge the reception of other countries to the proposed sovereign wealth fund.

Dr. Michael Batu, an assistant professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, said once the President has presented the MIF, he can discuss it with WEF participants to get some advice and learn best practices in running sovereign wealth funds.

But Senator Risa Hontiveros said it was premature to present the MIF to the WEF, given that the bill establishing the fund has yet to be passed by the Senate.

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said the plan to present it to the WEF was a ploy to pressure the Senate into passing the controversial bill.

Hontiveros, on the other hand, said there is nothing to present since the bill has not even been discussed in the Senate.

“Isn’t it jumping the gun to be talking about it in front of world economic leaders?” Hontiveros asked.

The senator said that compared to Indonesia, the Philippines lacks wealth windfall from exports to seed the sovereign fund and the portfolio of ready projects to attract investors.

“Indonesia has been touring the international circuit because it has tens of billions of dollars’ worth of ready projects that have been individually structured to attract capital. Indonesia also had a significant windfall from its petroleum and mineral exports — with which it has decided to seed the Indonesian Investment Authority. Unfortunately, we do not have either of these two,” she said.

She also pointed out that the country has been recently buffeted by high food prices and high energy prices.

The situation at home is far from having been stabilized and polls show a very high dissatisfaction rating of how the administration is handling inflation.

Hontiveros said the country has many problems that should be prioritized, including the high cost of goods.

On the other hand, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte called on the people to give the proposed MIF “a chance to prove its worth.”

Villafuerte pointed out that the initial reservations over certain features of the MIF bill, such as the use of Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Social Security System (SSS) pension funds, along with the fund’s board chairmanship by the President, were quickly addressed with the major changes or amendments made last December at the House committee level.

He said that later last month, the measure reported IT excluded the GSIS and SSS pension funds from the MIF’s funding source, and put the Finance secretary as the chairman, in lieu of the President—as proposed in the original bill.

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