Senate panel: Laptops overpriced by P979M
The Senate’s antigraft panel on Thursday recommended that criminal charges be filed against at least eight former and current officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) who allegedly conspired to purchase overpriced laptops amounting to about P2.4 billion at the height of the pandemic.
It was the second major purchase irregularity involving pandemic response funds that the PS-DBM had been tied to. It was first embroiled in the alleged irregular purchase of P42-billion worth of pandemic supplies for the Department of Health that included P11.5 billion it had procured from just one small trading company, Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
The Senate blue ribbon committee’s recommendations in its 195-page report followed five hearings last year that inquired into a Commission on Audit (COA) finding that the laptops purchased by the DepEd through the PS-DBM were “pricey and outdated.”
“There is sufficient basis to believe that there was a conspiracy to facilitate and/or generate an overprice which indicates manifest partiality, evident bad faith and/or gross inexcusable neglect on the part of senior officials and staff of the DepEd and PS-DBM,” the committee said in its report.
“While they may seemingly act separately, concerted acts were evident to create an opportunity for favored bidders to submit bloated and excessive bids…” it added.
The laptops were supposed to be used by public school teachers to conduct online or remote classes when the country was under varying degrees of quarantine restrictions.
According to the blue ribbon committee, the laptops were overpriced by at least P979 million.
With P2.4 billion, DepEd acquired 39,583 laptops, less than the 68,500 at P35,046.50 each that had been initially budgeted. The higher price of around P58,300 per unit was “generated from a manipulated market survey,” the report said.
“Not only were these procurement attended by a substantial number of irregularities, it clearly appears that the government paid a lot more than what it was supposed to,” the panel report said.
The senators also learned that not all of the purchased laptops were distributed to teachers as some were handed over to nonteaching DepEd staff, including regional directors.
The blue ribbon committee recommended filing graft and administrative charges against several DepEd officials, namely, Undersecretary for Finance Analyn Sevilla, former Undersecretary Alain Del Pascua, former Assistant Secretary Salvador Malana III, and information and communications technology director Abram Abanil.
The committee said PS-DBM officers in charge Lloyd Christopher Lao and Jaysonmer Uayan, bids and awards committee chair Ulysses Mora, and other committee members and their staff should be slapped with the same charges.
Corporate officers of the joint venture who may be found to have colluded with DepEd and PS-DBM officials also face criminal liabilities. The joint venture companies were identified by the committee as Sunwest Construction and Development Corp., LDLA Marketing and Trading and VST ECS (Philippines) Inc.
The panel also recommended filing separate counts of falsification of public documents against Sevilla and her former executive assistant Alec Ladanga, plus perjury charges also against Sevilla, Del Pascua, Malana, Lao and Uayan for allegedly giving false testimonies to the committee.
The money used to buy the laptops were allocated from the funds appropriated for Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act.
The blue ribbon panel found that there were “repeated changes” in the DepEd’s use of its P2.4-billion allocation, from acquiring tablets to mobile connectivity loads for students before finally deciding to get laptops for teachers.
These changes were “highly arbitrary, unjustified, improper and not beneficial to DepEd teachers and students,” it said.
The report was signed by committee chair Sen. Francis Tolentino, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, Senators Ronald dela Rosa (with reservations), Sherwin Gatchalian, Imee Marcos, Raffy Tulfo, JV Ejercito, Grace Poe and Risa Hontiveros.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada deferred signing until more officials “who conspired in awarding contracts to favored suppliers” were included.
The committee members who have not signed the report as of Tuesday included Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Senators Sonny Angara, Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, Mark Villar, Robinhood Padilla and Lito Lapid.
The committee also recommended that the government take steps to recover the overprice amount declared as proceeds of corruption from Sevilla, Del Pascua and Malana. Any amount that is recovered should then be placed in a “special national teacher’s trust fund,” it said.
DepEd and teachers’ groups welcomed the results of the blue ribbon inquiry.
“We appreciate the investigation conducted by the blue ribbon committee,” said DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa. “As to their findings and recommendations, we will definitely consider those so that we can also strengthen our internal controls in terms of procurement in DepEd.”
He said the charges against the officials allegedly involved in the irregularities would be for the Ombudsman to consider, but added that DepEd would cooperate in its proceedings.
“DepEd has always said that we are committed to transparency and accountability. That applies specifically also to the procurement process,” he said.
Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also the DepEd secretary, issued an order on Jan. 9 creating a separate unit for procurement, which was formerly under the administration office. This new office would be headed by lawyer Gerard Chan.
Benjo Basas, chair of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition, said they “expected” the Senate committee’s findings.
“The officials involved will now have their chance to defend themselves in the proper forum,” he said.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) supported the recommendations of the committee to file charges against the officials involved in the procurement, recover the overpriced amount and allocate it for teacher support.
The misuse of the funds was a “grave injustice” to public school teachers who were forced to take out loans to buy laptops so that they could continue teaching, said ACT chair Vladimer Quetua.
“We hope that this will be a start to unearthing more anomalies in the use of public funds so that more of taxpayer money will be utilized for social services, and discourage public officials from engaging in corrupt practices,” he said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JANE BAUTISTA
Senate panel recommends recovery of P979M in overpriced DepEd laptops
COA flags DepEd purchase of ‘pricey, outdated’ laptops
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