Maharlika: The good and bad news… and the ugly

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THE good news over the Senate’s passing of the Maharlika bill nearly one year into President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration is that it indicates that he still has the very strong support of that Senate, which traditionally easily turns opposition as soon as a president stumbles. After all, each of this gang of egotists thinks that because of their nationwide votes they are all “presidentiables.”

Why, even former president Rodrigo Duterte — whom Marcos has largely ignored and whose equidistant foreign policy vis-à-vis the US and China he has scrapped — seems to have supported the bill, going by the affirmative votes of his trusted lieutenants Christopher Go and Ronaldo de la Rosa (who I hope read the bill). That kind of political support, and I suspect his high satisfaction ratings if a poll is to be taken now, makes him a very powerful president to do what he likes.

The passage of the bill seeking to create a Maharlika Investment Fund (although a final version would have to be formulated by a joint committee of House of Representatives and the Senate) points to an important character of this president. Once he sets his mind on something, he won’t give up. That’s both good and bad. Woe to us if he becomes obstinate on a clearly disastrous policy — as I think his all-out embrace of the US and truculent stance towards China is.

The bad news over the Maharlika fund can be encapsulated in one Filipino word: “Sayang.” In the Indonesian case, the setting up of its sovereign fund was not a stand-alone law. It was just one of the over 70 provisions of a law (called the Omnibus Law on Job Creation) intended to stimulate economic growth, and overhaul the country’s legal system to make it more attractive to local and foreign investments. The Indonesian sovereign fund was therefore just part of a grand plan to grow its economy.

While many provisions of the omnibus law in Indonesia met with stiff resistance from labor groups, mainly over the lifting of minimum wage laws by sector, the very fact that it was formulated and passed into law sent a signal to the global business community that Indonesia had a plan on growing the economy.

Indonesia

Indonesia’s approach would have been more efficient and, well, cheaper for us. Each law passed by Congress, especially those the president has certified as “urgent,” requires the expenditure of political capital and some form of pork barrel. If Marcos just included all the economic laws he wants passed, it would have needed only a one-time use of his political capital, a “wholesale price” as it were. Now he would be buying retail, and it would require many expenditures of political capital for each law he wants passed.

What I may call as the ugly news over the Maharlika bill is that it will hardly contribute to the economy’s growth, and would even draw resources from obviously necessary infrastructure and education programs. Indeed, while three of the biggest broadsheets had as their banner headline the passing of Maharlika, two business dailies bannered the fact that the national government’s debt was at a mind-boggling P14 trillion, an all-time high representing 61 percent of our GDP.

This is hardly the time for overseas government and private funds to invest in a Philippine fund, which would have an initial funding of $5.5 billion, puny compared to existing sovereign funds. Markets have become so volatile, heading south, mainly because of the global impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: why would they invest in a country, which will even be in the crosshairs of economic sanctions by a China angry that suddenly that it agreed to provide the US with a platform for war against it? Perhaps Marcos isn’t telling us the whole story about why he is pushing for the Maharlika Fund: He knows where to get the tens of billions of dollars to invest in it?

An analogy for the Maharlika fund would be if a middle-level executive with maxed-out credit cards, a house mortgage to pay for years, three children going to college was convinced by a glib-tongued “wealth manager” to invest in a mutual fund which invests his money in stocks. I doubt if the Fund can get top-notch finance men to run it. For being so quiet about this fund, even if they know it’s a cockamamie idea at this time, the very highly paid Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Bangko Sentral head Felipe Medalla should be ordered to run it.

Unsinkable aircraft carrier, USS Pilipinas

The US wants two additional sites under the EDCA, one in Subic Bay (Naval Operation Base Subic) and another in Palawan (Forward Operation Base, Ulugan Bay), reliable sources said. This would bring to 11 the Philippine camps that the US would use in case of war mobilization or actual war. Former president Rodrigo Duterte had called them “platforms for war.”

USS Pilipinas. EDCA sites, including possibly two more, the Naval Operation Base Subic and Ulugan Bay Forward Operation Base.

The sources said that the US actually had Subic Bay and Basa Air Base as preferred locations and priority sites under EDCA as they had designed and built Subic and Basa (near the Clark Air base) and used them in an actual war (in Vietnam). Their PR strategists however preferred to announce first the relatively unknown Philippine military facilities so Filipinos could “ease into” the idea of the return of American military bases.

The first batch of EDCA sites announced during the Aquino 3rd’s presidency were: Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija (the country’s biggest camp); Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro; Antonio Bautista Air Base which uses the same airstrip as Puerto Princesa International Airport; Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base, which uses the same airstrip as the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. These were obviously intended as forward operating bases for a war in the South China Sea.

The second batch announced under Marcos, Jr.’s term are: Camilo Osias Naval Base in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor de la Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Balabac island in Palawan; and Cagayan North International Airport Lal-lo, Cagayan. The three in Isabela and Cagayan are for a war over Taiwan.

The US now has a new unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Pacific, the USS Pilipinas, said a sarcastic comment in a tweet by a US navyman.


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    Who says USS Pilipinas is unsinkable? The US does not even care and our leaders do not even know or don’t care either. Just as with the Maharlika Fund, if ever that goes out of hand, only the poor Filipinos and the taxpayers will be affected. That means many of us will have to wait and prepare to suffer the consequences while praying and doing our best efforts to keep our nose submerged.

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