* Toll road project worth an estimated $810 mln
* Move sets aside earlier decision by Public Works committee
* San Miguel had submitted highest bid before
(Adds comments from industry official, competing bidder)
By Rosemarie Francisco
MANILA, July 3 Philippine President Benigno
Aquino has unexpectedly granted San Miguel Corp 30 days
to appeal against its disqualification from bidding for a major
road project worth $810 million, throwing the government's
tender policy into disarray.
The country's most diversified conglomerate was barred last
month from bidding for the Philippines' biggest road
public-private partnership (PPP) deal to date after it submitted
a standby letter of credit for the project that was shorter than
the required 180 days.
The disqualification by a special committee of the Public
Works department came despite San Miguel having put in the
highest bid for the toll road project by far - a 20.1 billion
peso ($460 million) offer compared to the next highest bid of
11.7 billion pesos from Ayala Corp and Aboitiz Equity
In an order dated June 30 and seen by Reuters, the
presidential palace granted San Miguel's request for a review of
its disqualification, ordering it to submit its appeal straight
to Aquino's office within 30 days.
An executive at a major Philippine corporation that has
participated in such tenders said Aquino may have granted the
request as the gap between the bids was so large and as San
Miguel's offer could substantially boost state coffers.
"It can be considered, but government has to weigh it very
carefully," the official said, declining to be identified as he
was not authorised to speak to the media on the matter. "It
should not lead to rewriting how bidders are evaluated and how
bids are assessed," he added.
The project is a 35-year state contract to finance,
construct and operate a 47-kilometre four-lane toll road
connecting two growth areas south of the capital, that is
expected to cost 35.4 billion pesos ($810 million).
It has been delayed by at least three months, partly due to
requests from bidders for more time to complete due diligence.
Stephen Paradies, Aboitiz Equity's chief finance officer,
said on Wednesday that San Miguel's move to seek the president's
intervention was unfortunate as it represented a new setback for
an already delayed project.
"We really need to get this project going. Our country badly
needs infrastructure. We just want to point out that the
integrity of the bidding process is very, very important. It
should not be compromised because you send a wrong signal all
around," he said in a television interview.
Aboitiz's partner in the project, Ayala Corp, also said that
the bidding process needed to be respected.
The government has been keen to speed up infrastructure
spending to help some provinces that were damaged by a typhoon
and to underpin growth after GDP grew slower than expected in
the first quarter.
Aquino's uncle, Eduardo Cojuangco, is the chairman of San
Miguel although their families have had political differences in
($1 = 43.6200 Philippine Pesos)
(Additional reporting by Erik dela Cruz and Siegfrid Alegado;
Editing by Edwina Gibbs)