Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri is planning to file a bill that would limit the involvement of foreign contractors in government infrastructure projects.

zubiri - Zubiri wants to limit entry of foreign contractors and compel them to hire Filipino workers
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri (Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The proposal would also include a provision that mandates entering foreign contractors to have a workforce consisting mostly of Filipinos, at least 90 percent.

In an online presser Thursday, Zubiri said he seeks to amend the Republic Act No. 4566 or the Contractors Licensing Law after the Supreme Court’s March 10 ruling that eased the restriction for the grant of licenses to foreign players in the construction industry.

Under the law’s implementing rules and regulations, foreign companies are only entitled to special contractor licenses, which only allow them to participate in a single project. The tribunal, however, said the law did not provide for such a restriction.

Zubiri said the decision essentially paves the way for the entry of foreign contractors in infrastructure projects, regardless of their size.

“It will now allow, technically, contractors from different countries, China, India, na pumasok dito sa ating bansa (to enter our country) and participate sa maski na maliliit na mga projects sa mga barangay, munisipyo at siyudad (even  in the smallest projects in the barangay, municipality, and cities),” he told reporters.

“Imagine ‘yong paggawa ng kanal pwede nilang apply-an, pwede po sila sumama sa bidding, paggawa ng maliliit na kalsada, farm-to-market roads sa rural areas (they can apply and participate in the bidding even for the construction of canals, narrow roads, farm-to-market roads in rural areas),” he added.

“I don’t want to happen that all projects of DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) na pasukan nila ng mga foreign contractors (to be taken over by foreign contractors), which will obviously ease out local contractors,” he pointed out, saying DPWH projects are the “biggest stimulus” for the development of the countryside and also create employment for local residents.

Zubiri said he is mulling to propose a “cap” on the government projects wherein the services of foreign contractors can be tapped.

“We will limit it to maybe projects that are P2 billion and above, for example a highly technical bridge, a bridge connecting Iloilo, Negros and Guimaras. So these are big projects that may need foreign intervention, foreign assistance. Okay po sa amin ‘yon, walang problema (That’s okay with us, we have no problem),” he said.

But Zubiri said the bill would specify that their participation in large government projects comes with the requirement that they should prioritize the hiring of Filipinos. “Their workforce should be at least 80 to 90 percent Filipino,” he said.

“Kung hindi po [natin lilimithan], baka sa buong Pilipinas, Chinese na po ang nagtatrabaho nga mga kanal, ng mga kalsada, ng maglalagay po ng water system sa mga barangay, baka Intsik na po ang papasok na yan at hindi na po Pilipino. Anong klaseng pump-priming ng ekonomiya yan kung iyan po ang nangyari? Wala naman po tayong pakinabang doon. So we have to make sure that the entry of all these foreign workers [are limited],” he explained.

As for small, local projects, Zubiri said: “Leave the smaller projects to the Filipinos. Leave the smaller projects to the locals.”

During the Senate’s hearing on the proposed 2021 budget of the DPWH on Wednesday, senators noted the supposed preferential treatment given to foreign workers in foreign-funded and assisted projects.

While the DPWH denied this, the senators urged the agency to hire more Filipinos over foreigners, saying the country is reeling from the recessionary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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