By Mario Casayuran
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Economic Affairs Committee, asked President Duterte Thursday to certify a bill that would amend an 80-year-old law that prohibits foreign construction companies from coming into the country as current laws imperil the 2022 timetable for the administration’s ambitious P8-trillion “Build, Build” infrastructure program.
In a briefing for Senate reporters after conducting a public hearing on an economic-related resolution, Gatchalian said the Duterte administration should support his bill to amend Commonwealth Act 541 because the local construction industry cannot undertake all the big-ticket projects funded with P8 trillion of the national budget or General Appropriations Act (GAA).
He said the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) testified that their big projects are delayed because there are no more local contractors that could take on them.
Out of the P8-trillion budget, about P1.5 trillion worth of projects are underway.
Gatchalian said an official of the European Union (EU) testified that there are big European construction companies that want to participate in biddings for government-funded projects, but are barred by this Commonwealth Act.
Under the Act, foreigners are allowed to have a 25-percent share in the joint venture, but it was held that this is not financially tenable to them.
Gatchalian said big foreign companies want to come in without hindrances as they would be coming in with a big amount of capital, technical know-how and want to be able to move freely.
Because of this barrier, the Duterte administration’s ambitious infrastructure program faces delay.
“We have to spend P8 trillion in four years (to coincide with the 2022 end of President Duterte’s one-time six-year term),” Gatchalian said. “There are 25 flagship projects. The “Build, Build” program is the biggest by far in infrastructure program by any administration,” he added.