MANILA, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Philippine government has chosen four foreign shipyards to proceed to the second stage of bidding to construct two frigates for the navy.
Navantia Sepi - RTR Ventures of Spain is vying for the contract along with Korean shipbuilders Hyundai Heavy Industries, STX Offshore & Shipbuilding and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering.
The Philippine Star newspaper reported that 14 shipbuilders had bought bid documents, but only seven companies submitted bids for the project that could be worth about $408 million.
The ships will boost the Philippines' security in the West Philippine Sea and also will conduct humanitarian missions, the Star report said.
The Department of National Defense said it rejected bids from Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers of India, STX France and Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems.
However, all the companies can file for reconsideration of their bids, the committee said.
The Star reported that the seven firms that bought bid documents but didn't submit offers include Philippines shipyard Rouvia Yachts and Defense.
Other shipyards that didn't submit bids were the French firm Piriou Naval Services, Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards, Italian shipyard Fincantieri, DCNS France, India's Magazon Dock Pipavav Defense and Israel's Stone of David.
The second bidding stage to be completed by the end of this month is for financial proposals and technical documents with an eye to keeping to the government's $408 million budget.
The winning bidder must deliver the ships within four years from opening a letter of credit, the Star reported.
Announcement of the chosen bidders comes after the government mulled buying off-the-shelf frigates from India.
The Star reported in October that Philippine officials had discussed frigate procurement with a visiting delegation from India led by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
India has intensified its engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as part of its "Look East" policy in the past decade.
Khurshid, who met with Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay, said the relationship between the two countries is "extremely important."
The two frigates, either constructed or purchased outright, are on the government's shopping list to upgrade the military in the face of an increasing Chinese naval presence around disputed islands.
About $1.8 billion on military upgrades -- mostly naval -- has been earmarked to protect the country against "bullies" in its territorial waters.
Philippines President Benigno Aquino made the spending pledge during a speech at Fort San Felipe in Cavite in May to mark the navy's 115th anniversary, The Tribune newspaper reported at the time.
"We have a clear message to the world," Aquino said. "The Philippines is for Filipinos and we have the capability to resist bullies entering our backyard."
Apart from the frigates, Aquino said the Philippines will buy by 2017 two anti-submarine helicopters, three fast vessels for coastal patrol and eight amphibious assault craft.
Aquino said the government already had spent nearly $680 million on military modernization over the past three years, including the purchase of two refurbished Hamilton class cutters acquired from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The decommissioned cutters -- formerly the USCGC Hamilton and the USCGC Dallas -- were sold as excess defense articles through the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.