Senate report on DepEd laptop probe still one signature short
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate blue ribbon committee report on its investigation of the controversial laptop purchases of the Department of Education (DepEd) was stalled on Wednesday after failing to obtain the required number of signatures that would authorize its release.
Sen. Francis Tolentino, chair of the antigraft panel, said the 197-page report lacked one more signature from its 21 members before he could publicly disclose the findings on the Senate’s last session day this year.
Tolentino was tight-lipped on the findings of the investigation committee report, but expressed optimism he would get the needed number of signatures of the majority of the members.
“I could not release that today because I still lack one signature… which I failed to secure yesterday because I had to leave for another engagement but I have here 197 pages. I could not reveal the names of the signatories,” he said.
Tolentino earlier committed that the blue ribbon committee would release on Wednesday its findings on the P2.4-billion laptop controversy, arising from DepEd’s purchase agreement with the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).
He earlier intimated that the report would recommend the indictment of unnamed former and current officers and personnel of government agencies for their involvement in the purchase of “pricey and outdated” laptops.
Tolentino clarified that none of the senators who had signed manifested their reservations on the findings in the report, but signified their intention to interpellate once it is reported out in plenary.
At the end of the 18th Congress in May this year, the Senate blue ribbon committee, then chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, also failed to report out the findings on its inquiry into the anomalous deals amounting to P11.5 billion involving the PS-DBM and Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Inc., an undercapitalized company reportedly linked to allies of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
On Feb. 1, Gordon released the draft report on the investigation of the government’s use of pandemic funds and its transactions with Pharmally and recommended the filing of plunder, graft, and other criminal charges against several Pharmally officials as well as then Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, former PS-DBM head Christopher Lao and Chinese businessman Michael Yang.
The report required the signatures of at least 11 of the 20 members of the panel to be accepted as an official committee report before it could be submitted for plenary deliberation in the Senate. However, only eight senators aside from Gordon signed the report.
But Tolentino expressed confidence that his committee’s report would get the needed signature any day now, even after Congress on Wednesday adjourned for its year-end recess, which was supposed to officially start on Dec. 17 and end on Jan. 23, 2023.
The investigation stemmed from a resolution filed by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III for the Senate to probe the 2021 findings of a Commission on Audit (COA) report which flagged DepEd for its purchase of laptops that were costlier by more than 50 percent.
The questioned laptop purchases, funding of which was sourced from Republic Act No. 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, were part of the transactions that DepEd was allowed to undertake to enable teachers to adapt to the distance learning modality during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COA report found that the PS-DBM bought laptops at P58,300 per unit even when these were initially priced at P35,046.50 each, and with the consent of DepEd.
The difference of P23,253.50 per unit price would have allowed the government to buy an additional 28,917 laptops, or the same number of teachers who could have been helped in performing their tasks in the blended learning setup during the pandemic, the senator said.
During the hearings, the Senate panel found that DepEd altered the purpose of the P2.4-billion funds and used this to buy laptops instead of distributing this to senior high school students to buy cell phone data load credits.
The committee also found that in some areas, the laptops, which were intended to be used by classroom teachers to allow them to continue teaching under an online learning setup during the pandemic, were given to nonteaching personnel, including some regional directors.
The PS-DBM went ahead with the purchase of pricier laptops even without a valid memorandum of agreement that would have authorized the transfer of funds from DepEd to the procurement agency.
The blue ribbon panel also scrutinized the legality of the award of the supply contract to the winning bidder—a joint venture among Sunwest Construction and Development Corp. (SCDC), LDLA Marketing and Trading Inc. (LDLA), and VST ECS Philippines Inc.
During the Oct. 20 hearing, a COA official revealed that as of August 2022, the team has found that 1,678 of these computers have been gathering dust at the DepEd central office warehouse.