By Charmaine A. Tadalan

BILLS proposing to amend Republic Act No. 9184, or the “Government Procurement Reform Act,” will likely be filed anew in the next Congress despite tepid legislative interest since 2016, Senate leaders said in recent remarks.

Amending the GPRA was among the priority bills identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council at the beginning of the 17th Congress in mid-2016.

The bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives, however, have remained at the committee level since then even as the current Congress nears its end.

Asked whether he will support the measure in the 18th Congress, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III replied in a mobile phone message on Sunday: “yes, absolutely.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto and reelectionist Senator Aquilino L. Pimentel III, who separately authored bills amending the procurement law, said they plan to refile their respective bills in the next Congress.

“My procurement bill seeks to increase government efficiency and effectiveness,” Mr. Pimentel said in a text message on Saturday.

“The proposed amendments to the GPRA will enable the government to procure high-quality goods, services and infrastructure contracts which it needs to deliver public services by awarding the bidder with the most advantageous and responsive bid. The government will not be required to award the contract to the lowest bidder,” he explained, adding that he will push the reform “if given the chance to continue serving in the Senate.”

Mr. Pimentel said the bill was not tackled in the 17th Congress because it wasn’t backed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) under the leadership of former budget secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, who assumed the helm of the central bank last month. “DBM Sec[retary] Diokno was against touching the procurement law,” he said via text on Sunday.

DBM Officer-in-Charge Janet B. Abuel explained that Mr. Diokno had preferred any changes to be introduced through the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), in order to preserve provisions of the law.

“The procurement law, it’s really a good law. Maybe you can say it needs some updating, but the intention is any updates should as much as possible be incorporated in the IRR,” Ms. Abuel said in an interview on the sidelines of a hearing on the proposed P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget which the House of Representatives Appropriations committee conducted on Monday.

Siguro ang (Perhaps the only) misgivings mo lang, or reservations in having the law amended, is that the other better parts of the law might be amended as well.”

The 17th Congress, now on a Feb. 9-May 19 break for the May 13 midterm elections for all seats in the House and half of the Senate, will have just May 20-June 7 to act on remaining legislative measures. Bills left unapproved by both chambers at the end of that period will have to be refiled in the 18th Congress, which opens on July 22.

Under Senate Bill No. 1713, Mr. Pimentel proposed to introduce the principle of value for money (VfN) to supplant the current “lowest bidder policy” that has at times led to poor quality of projects.

The VfN principle will allow the government to award projects to contractors who are able to meet relevant financial and non-financial requirement in terms of quality of the goods and services, fitness for purpose of the proposal, performance history, flexibility of proposal, and timeliness, among others.

The bill also provides that for projects that will be built in phases, the government office concerned should indicate in the annual procurement plan the total project cost, project description, program of works and approved budget for each phase.

Mr. Pimentel said in his explanatory note that these details are intended to prevent overpricing and awarding of contracts to favored contractors.

Under SB 1423, meanwhile, Mr. Recto proposed to give priority to local infrastructure industry players by adding eligibility requirements that will favor firms located in provinces.

Among others, a bidder with its main office based in the province where the project is located may participate in projects may vie for contracts with approved budget for contract (ABC) of up to P100 million, bidders within the project’s region may vie for contracts with ABC of over P100 million but not more than P200 million, while those located anywhere in the Philippines may participate only in projects with ABC of more than P200 million.

Asked if he is likely to refile the bill in the next Congress, Mr. Recto replied in a mobile phone message, “Yes.”