DepEd, DBM execs admit slips in pricey laptop deal
Officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) on Thursday owned up to errors in the documents for the purchase of laptops worth P2.4 billion for public school teachers, a deal that was flagged earlier by state auditors for being “pricey but outdated.”
After the five-hour hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee, several senators believed that the lapses were too glaring for these to be due to carelessness, with Senators JV Ejercito and Risa Hontiveros pointing out that the PS-DBM had been repeatedly involved in allegedly anomalous government purchase contracts.
“[These are] intentional. You don’t commit lapses or small mistakes for contracts worth billions [of pesos],” Ejercito told the Inquirer.
Hontiveros noted that the Commission of Audit (COA) had put to task the PS-DBM for its questionable purchases for other state agencies, such as the multibillion-peso deals for the government’s pandemic supplies that were awarded to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
“According to the [antigraft law], interest for personal gain shall be presumed against public officers responsible for the approval of inequitable or irregular transactions,” Hontiveros said.
READ: COA flags DepEd purchase of ‘pricey, outdated’ laptops
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who filed the resolution seeking an inquiry into the controversy, said he was certain that the public officials behind the procurement project did not commit an honest mistake, but “honest corruption.”
“There was collusion,” Cayetano told reporters after the hearing.
“It’s impossible that there’s no connivance (among the DepEd and PS-DBM officials). Common sense will dictate that when PS-DBM increased the price for the laptops, DepEd should have rejected the price of more than P58,000,” he added.
Quizzed by Sen. Francis Tolentino, who presided over the hearing as committee chair, Education Assistant Secretary Salvador Malana III admitted that there was a “big mistake” in the memorandum of agreement signed by then Education Secretary Leonor Briones delegating the PS-DBM to buy the gadgets.
This was after Tolentino noticed that a portion of the document mentioned that the agreement should comply with the “Food and Drug Law.”
At the time, the DBM’s procurement agency was still headed by Lloyd Christopher Lao, one of the central figures in the Pharmally corruption scandal.
READ: DepEd: DBM-PS bought teachers’ laptops, not us
Tolentino surmised that the agreement might have just been a pro forma document that the PS-DBM had prepared as template for all contracts it entered into involving the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“I almost fell off my chair after reading this,” Tolentino said. “Why was the Food and Drug Administration mentioned here? We are talking about laptops, not PPEs. Those are not medical devices. These are not medicines.”
“Or is it because you thought you were buying tablets?” he quipped, referring to computer tablets.
Malana immediately recognized the error, but said he was “not privy” to the drafting of the agreement.
When Tolentino told him that he signed the document as one of the witnesses, Malana responded: “I agree with you that this could be a big mistake.”
“It was a mistake to have included the Food and Drugs Law. I would also mention that this emanated from a pro forma contract from the PS-DBM,” he added.
Malana said there were also “mistakes” committed by the lawyers who wrote the contents of the agreement.
“But I do take responsibility for having signed as a witness,” he said. “We apologize. We do admit that there was a mistake.”
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III also asked the PS-DBM officials for their basis in labeling as “complied” the specifications of the product of one of the prospective suppliers even if the laptop clearly did not meet the minimum requirements set by DepEd.
Marwan Amil, a member of the PS-DBM’s bids and awards committee, acknowledged that they merely encoded the word “comply” based on the documents submitted to them by the companies that the PS-DBM had approached to supply the laptops.
“We missed out on the statement of compliance of the [prospective] supplier. We did not see it directly. We made a mistake,” Amil said. “We mistakenly did not see it.”
READ: ‘Revolting’: 29,000 teachers left out after PS-DBM bought pricey, outdated laptops
Visibly stumped by Amil’s confession, Pimentel asked PS-DBM executive director Dennis Santiago regarding the qualifications of the personnel tasked with handling procurement projects amounting to billions of pesos in taxpayer money.
“Did you just really ‘miss out?’ We should be particular with the details. We cannot miss out [on the specifications of the laptops],” he told Amil.
“Theoretically,” Pimentel said, “(The PS-DBM) has a system allowing for a review so that the things that may be ‘missed out’ will not be ‘missed out.’
“But the system does not work,” he said, raising his voice.
Pimentel also rebuked the senior officials of the PS-DBM after he noticed that Sharon Baile, the procurement officer who should have reviewed the document that Amil prepared, was just represented by another official who signed the document in her behalf.
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