THE SENATE is considering giving equal opportunity to both foreign and domestic bidders for public works projects to introduce new construction technologies and encourage innovation, according to the head of its economic affairs committee.

“There is a concern here that competition should be recognized and that there are valuable technical advantages to allowing foreigners, but of course, there’s great opposition to the entry of foreign contractors to the Philippines,” committee head Senator Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos told a hearing on Tuesday.

“It’s the reality that we’re quite behind in terms of construction technology and it may be well worth the risk to allow much more advanced contractors to come over. I think that’s the universal sentiment,” she added.

Senate Bill 1009 fine-tunes the decades-old in Commonwealth Act 541 by removing the prohibition on foreign contractors to bid for local public works projects. Ms. Marcos cited the need to balance development and protection of the local construction industry.

San Miguel Corp. Infrastructure Assistant Vice-President Melissa R. Encanto-Tagarda said the bill would open doors for new partnerships and joint ventures with foreign contractors.

“While there may be more competitors for contracts for public works, San Miguel may be able to take advantage of the expertise from foreign partners and contractors,” she told the hearing.

But Ms. Marcos said San Miguel is a large contractor and the effect may not be the same for smaller contractors.

“In this case, the foreign bidder can go on their own, without tapping a local contractor,” Ms. Marcos said.

Ms. Tagarda noted that foreign companies usually get a local partner when bidding for big local construction projects. “They would probably still want to get a local partner, one who will know the landscape of the country so that they’ll have a better feel of the regulatory environment of the Philippines.”

The Senate committee had sought inputs from defense agencies on a clause of the bill that gives preference not only to Filipino but also to American contractors, and no one else.

The construction industry contributes 16.6% to Philippine economic output. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan