MANILA, Philippines — Teachers who have received the overpriced but slow laptops that were recently flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA) may get a proper replacement device, according to the Department of Education (DepEd).
But this would not happen soon as DepEd would need to first evaluate the claim that the laptops, purchased by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) for P2.3 billion, were indeed slow, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said in a press conference on Wednesday.
After the evaluation, he said DepEd would consider “quick fixes” to the issues so that the laptops could still be used when classes resume on Aug. 22.
“We are trying to remedy the situation because the teachers will use the laptops given to them last year for this coming school year,” Poa pointed out.
“[But] if the laptops are confirmed to be really slow and not up to par with what we wanted, then, as far as I understand, they are still covered with warranty and could be replaced,” he added.
“If it is proven that the laptops delivered do not perform as they should be as purchased, we will then consider available legal remedies—which is to invoke the warranty provision,” and DepEd could compel the supplier to fix or replace the laptops, Poa said in a message to reporters.
“If need be, invoking the warranty provision will be done in coordination with PS-DBM, as they are the procuring entity,” he added.
He clarified, however, that there was no order or directive to replace the laptops just yet, pending the evaluation.
The PS-DBM awarded the laptop contract on June 30, 2021, to the joint venture of Sunwest Construction and Development Corp., LDLA Marketing and Trading Inc., and VSTECS Philippines Inc.
The purchase order between the company and PS-DBM showed that the winning bidder supplied 39,583 laptop units (Dell Latitude 3420) worth P58,270 each and amounted to a total of P2,306,501,410.
In its 2021 audit report on DepEd, the COA demanded an explanation from DepEd, noting that the agency paid P58,300 for each laptop even if its approved budget for the contract set a price of only P35,046.50 per unit, or an excess of P23,253.50 each.
Due to the 66-percent price jack-up, the target number of beneficiaries had to be reduced by almost half to just 39,583 from 68,500 teachers.
Auditors were also puzzled by the price difference, noting that in the same month (May 2021) the PS-DBM completed a bidding for midrange laptops with a price tag of only P45,421.20 each.
“Clearly, the price is cheaper and the performance of that computer would be way faster/better than the laptop procured by (DepEd) during that same period,” the audit team pointed out.
The COA also cited records showing DepEd had also purchased on July 16, 2020, laptops with Intel Core i5 processors, which have enough power even for gaming and image and video editing work, at only P32,500, also through the PS-DBM.
By its own canvassing of comparable models in the market, auditors noted that the same model and brand of laptops (Dell) with bigger screens at 15.6 inches were being sold in computer stores in Metro Manila and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) at a much lower price range of only P22,490 to P25,000 each.
“Based on the initial feedback we gathered from the auditors in NCR (National Capital Region) and CAR, they stated that the delivered laptop computers by the winning bidder are too slow because the processor is Intel Celeron which is outdated, and the price is too high based on the specifications,” the COA noted.
The Celeron is the second least-powerful processor that Intel makes after the Atom line, and is generally good only for basic productivity tasks such as document creation and light web browsing. Celerons are entry-level processors designed for cheap laptops.
The COA recommended to the leadership of the PS-DBM to terminate the contract and to blacklist the supplier of the laptops.
Poa said they were closely coordinating with the COA and the new administration of the PS-DBM so that DepEd could answer the audit observation memorandum.
He said DepEd submitted last week the requirements being asked by the COA and were just awaiting feedback from the state auditors.
In a statement sent to reporters, former Education Secretary Leonor Briones also denied a hand in the purchase of the faulty laptops, saying the PS-DBM was to blame.
“The entirety of the procurement was conducted by the PS-DBM. It was the PS-DBM that directly had full control over the procurement, including pricing and item specifications,” she said.
According to Briones, her only involvement was that she was the signatory in the memorandum of agreement between DepEd and PS-DBM, where the latter was the sole procuring entity at an end-to-end capacity.
“The DepEd had no hand in the canvassing, bidding and actual procurement whatsoever,” she explained.
Briones also warned people implicating her in the controversy, saying she was not in hiding and was coordinating with her lawyers should she decide to take legal action against people accusing her of corruption.
The new leadership of the PS-DBM earlier vowed to scrutinize the laptop deal.
“I shall instruct a thorough examination of the cost of the items involved, as well as its technical specifications. Should the records prove that there are indeed instances of noncompliance with the law and procurement rules, rest assured that we will never tolerate it,” PS-DBM Executive Director Dennis Santiago said.