The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has pre-qualified all five groups potentially bidding for its P19-billion Davao Sasa Port Modernization Project, the Aquino administration’s first seaport public-private partnership deal.

A bid bulletin dated Aug. 18, 2015 showed that the DOTC evaluated and qualified the San Miguel Holdings Corp.-APM Terminals Management (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. Consortium; Enrique Razon Jr.’s International Container Terminal Services Inc.; Asian Terminals Inc.-DP World FZE Consortium; Portek International Pte. Ltd.-National Marine Corp. Consortium, and Bollore Africa Logistics.

This means those five groups will be allowed to submit technical and financial offers for the port project by the fourth quarter of 2015.

The project is expected to be awarded by April 2016, shortly before President Aquino steps down in mid-2016, the DOTC, which is implementing the project, said.

Once the first phases of the project are completed in 2018, the Sasa Port will be comparable to the country’s top ports in terms of speed and quality of service, cutting down cargo unloading from three days to three hours by using modern ship-to-shore cranes and port operating systems, the DOTC said.

Information on the PPP Center’s website showed that the private partner will finance the construction and modernization of the existing port. This includes the new apron, linear quay, expansion of the back-up area, container yards, warehouses and the installation of new equipment like ship-to-shore cranes and rubber-tyred gantries over the pre-agreed concession period.

The private partner will also be responsible in operating and maintaining the port for a period of 30 years.

The Davao region thrives on banana exports, making the country the second largest banana exporter in the world. A study conducted by the International Finance Corp. (IFC) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) shows that container traffic in the region is projected to increase by at least 6 percent annually over the next 25 years.

Without the added capacity of a modernized Sasa Port, there will be a strong chance of shortage in port capacity for Davao Bay which may affect small-medium banana growers which may not be able to export their bananas, the DOTC said.

Apart from added capacity, the proximity of the Sasa Port to banana plantations will help growers save at least P8,000 in trucking costs per delivery, the DOTC said.