‘Revolting’: 29,000 teachers left out after PS-DBM bought pricey, outdated laptops
MANILA, Philippines—“Sad and even revolting.”
This was how the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) described the purchase of “outdated and pricey” laptops, which the Department of Education (DepEd) received from the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
“While our teachers are forced to take loans to buy their own laptops, it hurts to know that the government has funds that end up buying overpriced and outdated laptops that cannot be used in teaching,” the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition said.
This, as the DepEd confirmed that it received an Audit Observation Memorandum from the Commission on Audit (COA) last March regarding the purchase of P2.4 billion worth of laptops for teachers.
While the DepEd said it was “taking steps” to address recommendations made by the COA, it stressed that the PS-DBM should be the one to answer questions and suspicions over the expensive, outdated laptops meant to help teachers cope with distance learning.
In response, PS-DBM executive director Dennis Santiago said his office would cooperate with the COA over its findings and recommendations.
Santiago said he would direct a “thorough examination” of the cost of the laptops and their specifications, stressing that the PS-DBM is expected to ensure no irregularities in procurement procedures.
“Should the records prove that there are indeed instances of non-compliance with the law and procurement rules, rest assured that we will never tolerate it,” he said.
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, it was deemed necessary for the DepEd to procure laptops for public school teachers so at least P2.4 billion was set aside for it in allocations provided for by Republic Act No. 11494—the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.
However, the COA said in its report that the laptops, which the DepEd bought through the PS-DBM, were “pricey for an entry-level type.”
The commission observed that the DepEd’s Agency Procurement Request (APR) reflected that one unit should only cost P35,046 each, while the laptops procured by the PS-DBM were worth P58,300 each but of questionable quality.
It said 28,917 teachers had been “deprived” as the overpriced laptops “adversely decreased the number of intended beneficiaries from 68,500 to 39,583 public school teachers,” or nearly half.
The difference of P23,253 per unit resulted in a significant decrease in purchased laptops— 28,917 units—which were expected to be distributed to recipient teachers to help them cope with blended learning.
The COA also said DepEd’s spending of P4.5 billion funds for the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan had been marred by procurement irregularities.
As a response, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said “we will look at what really happened,” while stressing that there were really instances of delay in procurement because of the surge in COVID-19 cases last year.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) expressed disappointment, saying that some teachers did not receive laptops, while those who were able to get one cannot use them because of their “outdated” specs.
“Most public school teachers are processing loans in the Government Service Insurance System to own a laptop that is good enough,” ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio told One News.
Last year, the National Research Council of the Philippines (NCRP)-Department of Science and Technology said that in most cases, teachers “used their personal resources” on devices and services needed for distance learning.
The study “Emergency Remote Teaching Experiences” surveyed 28,859 teachers from kindergarten to senior high school about their experiences and 60 to 63 percent had said that they used personal money to buy laptops for online learning.
Basilio stressed that “it’s really disappointing” to hear that the government bought low-end yet costly laptops.
This, as the laptops also had “outdated” Intel Celeron processors that are apparently “too slow” for online learning. Based on a list from laptop dealer PC Express, laptops with Intel Celeron processors only cost P15,000 to P22,000 each.
Based on PS-DBM’s Public Bidding No. 21-074-7, the budget for the contract was P540,907,400 for 9,278 units, P735,746,000 for 12,620 units, P520,444,100 for 8,927 units and P510,591,400 for 8,758 units:
• 9,278 units: Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon
• 12,620 units: Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol Region
• 8,927 units: Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas
• 8,758 units: Caraga Region, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, Soccsksargen
The PS-DBM specs were clear—DepEd laptops for public school teachers should have these specifications:
• Processor: 1.9ghz Base Speed, 2MB Cache
• Memory: 8GB DDR4 RAM
• Display: 14” Screen size, 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) Resolution, Anti-Glare Non-Touch
• Storage: 1TB SATA HDD
• Audio: 6 Ω/1W Speaker x 2 Built-in Speakers, ɸ 3.5mm standard headphone jack
• Camera: Built-in
• Connectivity: Wireless LAN 802.11, Bluetooth, Built-in wireless screen mirroring
• Ports: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB type C, 1 x headset port, 1 x HDMI
• Keyboard: US English Layout, Standard Size, Backlit
• Mouse: Optical, wireless
• Headset: Over-the-Head, 3.5mm audio jack connection
• Touchpad: Multi-touch or Touch Pad with 2 Buttons
• Power Adapter: Type-C or Standard AC/DC Adapter
• Security: Built-in chassis security lock slot
However, the COA said the laptops bought by PS-DBM for DepEd “are too slow because the processor is outdated” and “pricey for an entry-level type of laptop.”
Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers), citing data from the COA, said the winning bidder offered a Dell Latitude 3420, which is equipped with an 11th Generation Intel Core Celeron that has 1.8ghz Base Speed and 4MB cache.
“The technical working group of the Special Bids and Awards Committee found that the Dell Latitude 3420 is non-compliant with the 1.9ghz clock speed requirement […] Despite this, the PS-DBM procured the said model of laptop.”
Castro, Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela) and Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan) filed on Monday (Aug. 8) a resolution directing the House of Representatives to investigate the procurement.
“Not only did the government waste the people’s money for purchasing expensive, yet outdated laptops, it also deprived thousands of teachers of gadgets that could have helped them implement distance learning.”
The Makabayan lawmakers also pointed out that this is not the first time the PS-DBM “purchased overpriced goods” because in 2020, the COA likewise found that the agency awarded billions of pesos worth of contracts to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp, which was then undercapitalized and a newly-set up company.
Better laptops available
GizGuidePH, a technology-based website, shared on Facebook a graphic that compared the specifications of an Intel Celeron laptop to a MacBook Air, which is worth P57,990.
The Macbook Air has a 13-inch Retina display with True Tone Apple M1 chip with 8-Core CPU and 7-Core GPU, 8GB Unified Memory, 256GB SSD Storage, 30W USB-C Power Adapter, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, and Force Touch Trackpad.
In a separate article, GizGuidePH likewise listed these laptop models that are worth almost the same as the one that DepEd bought through the PS-DBM:
• ASUS TUF Dash F15 with 11th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, RTX 3060 GPU, and a 144Hz FHD screen (P57,995)
• MateBook D16 with a large 16-inch FHD+ screen, 12th Gen Intel Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and 60WHr battery (P55,999)
Based on COA research, the same model and brand of laptops with bigger screens—15.6inches—are being sold in computer stores in Metro Manila and CAR at a much lower price range of only P22,490 to P25,000 each.
State auditors also noted that changes in the requirements were disadvantageous to DepEd as the agency was able to buy, also through the PS-DBM, laptop units that were cheaper at P45,431.20, faster and better, in May 2021.
In June 2020, DepEd also engaged the services of the PS-DBM for the procurement of brand-new laptops with faster processors at P32,500 each.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.