MANILA, Philippines — Five “lucky” companies have been cornering billions of pesos worth of “juicy” contracts to supply the Department of Education (DepEd) with computers for several years, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said on Monday.
Estrada, in a statement, said the practice of awarding the supply contracts to a select group of companies flouted the government procurement law, particularly the prohibition against the “splitting of contracts” and “repeat orders.”
“Why are these suppliers so lucky that they almost always win juicy DepEd contracts that run into billions of pesos over the years?” Estrada asked.
The splitting of contracts refers to the practice of dividing a procurement project into smaller contracts to avoid the mandated public bidding for transactions worth at least P500,000.
According to the senator, he recently got hold of documents showing that Advance Solutions Inc. (ASI), Columbia Technologies, Reddot Imaging Philippines, Techguru Inc., and Girl Teki Inc. secured the bulk of the contracts to supply DepEd with computers.
“[S]ome of the suppliers that bagged… [the] contracts to supply Chinese-made computers to the DepEd do not even have websites, and their offices are located in obscure addresses in Manila,” Estrada said.
When contacted by the Inquirer, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said in a Viber message that the department had no comment on the issue.
Senate inquiry pushed
The senator, who was indicted for plunder and graft over the P10-billion pork barrel scam in 2014, urged his colleagues to investigate the multibillion-peso computer procurement projects of DepEd.
Estrada said he also suspected that the recent controversy over the purchase of P2.4 billion worth of “pricey but outdated” laptops for public school teachers was the handiwork of one of the “lucky” companies, which allegedly lost in the bidding for the deal.
DepEd had granted the supply contract for the laptops worth P58,300 each—up from the initial price of P35,046—to the joint venture of LDLA Marketing and Trading Inc., VSTECS (Philippines) Inc., and Sunwest Construction and Development Corp.
The Senate blue ribbon committee had already opened an inquiry into the questionable transaction, which was first uncovered by the Commission of Audit (COA).
Estrada noted that while the DepEd’s purchase of laptops had been under “intense inquiry,” its favorite suppliers practically escaped the COA’s monitoring.
“For instance, [ASI] and Columbia Technologies have been supplying DepEd for many years and the value of their accumulated contracts amounts to billions [of pesos]. Why were they not scrutinized before?” he asked.
“The same with Reddot Imaging, Girl Teki and Techguru. Why are they not the subjects of investigation or audit report of COA before?” he added.
Estrada said that DepEd had already bought computers from the suppliers more than once, a practice barred by Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
“[T]he effect of [placing] repeat orders is that it dispenses with or forgoes the conduct of competitive public bidding,” he said.
Estrada then warned that this might deter new companies from taking part in the bidding process for government projects.
“We should be more welcoming to new players that would make for better competition,” he said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JANE BAUTISTA