AS reported on Thursday by an enthusiastic Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Carlos Sorreta, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. plans to "introduce" the proposed Maharlika Wealth Fund (MWF) to world business and political leaders when he makes his first visit to the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland this coming week. If so, this would be the wrong message to deliver to that exclusive forum, a regrettable waste of a rather costly opportunity to advance the country's interests.The WEF will be held from January 16 to 23 in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos, and is expected to attract the usual crowd of business magnates, political leaders and global organizations.

Sorreta related the President's comments to the media following a pre-departure briefing in Malacañang, quoting the President as having said, "Let's talk about the sovereign wealth fund that's being set up." Sorreta explained that the WEF is often a place for participants to launch key business policies, citing Microsoft founder and large-scale philanthropist Bill Gates as one example — notwithstanding the detail that Mr. Gates is not actually the leader of a climate-vulnerable, emerging economy in Asia but rather one of the world's richest individuals — and expressed regret that he hadn't thought of the idea of bringing up the MWF before the President did.

Perhaps the simplest among many reasons why President Marcos should not "introduce" the MWF in Davos is that there is, in fact, nothing to introduce. While uncritically eager politicians in the House of Representatives railroaded the bill to passage — even comprehensively revising its original version — in about 17 days, passage in the Senate, which has yet to take up the matter, is not at all assured.

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And for good reason; a considerable number of economic, finance and business experts have uncovered a number of serious flaws in the measure. These include the Philippines lacking the essential financial resources, usually surpluses from trade or mineral wealth, considered necessary for creating a sovereign wealth fund, questions about the legality of tapping dividends from the government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, and unanswered questions about evident shortcomings in the proposed fund's safeguards. Even if it is passed by the Senate, it will almost certainly be challenged in the Supreme Court, which could delay rollout of the fund for a considerable amount of time, or prevent it altogether.

There is also the dubious timing of the initiative to create a sovereign wealth fund, whether Marcos raises the topic in Davos or not. Globally, sovereign wealth funds suffered "historic" losses in 2022, according to a year-end report published about two weeks ago by market monitor Global SWF — $900 billion for sovereign wealth funds, with another $1.3-trillion lost by public pension funds. As the market conditions responsible for that have prevailed into 2023 and are forecast by multiple analyses to continue for the foreseeable future, it seems an inopportune time to launch a new sovereign wealth fund. It will almost certainly seem so to the experienced and influential crowd in Davos, particularly when the fund in question is intended to be launched with the relatively paltry stake of about $1.37 billion, although more funds would presumably follow later from dividends of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Attending the WEF is a costly undertaking; government representatives are generally not charged admission, but even without that, estimates of the per-person costs range from about $40,000 to several hundred thousand dollars. That can nonetheless be a valuable investment, but only if the opportunity the forum presents is maximized.

That means promoting the Philippines as a destination for investment, rather than the other way around. Or as explained by Malacañang press briefer Daphne Oseña-Paez, who seems to have a firmer grasp of reality than the officials around her, using the opportunity "to forward our priorities on food and energy security, digitalization, climate action, attracting investments and promoting beneficial trade addressing inequality, and providing accessible social services; and to partner with other countries, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders to this end, as well as to collaborate with the World Economic Forum on several of their initiatives." In this instance, we sincerely hope the President will take his own spokesperson's advice.