August 25, 2022

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DepEd, procurement officials admit errors in laptop contracts

A FORMER Education assistant secretary has admitted to committing a mistake by signing as a witness to a hastily prepared agreement with a government procurement agency for the purchase of what turned out to be allegedly overpriced laptops.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, pointed out at a hearing on Tuesday that the memorandum of agreement between the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Procurement Service under the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) included a law relating to food and drugs. 

“What I see here is that the lawyers seemed to be in a hurry and adopted a template contract, forgetting to remove the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” Mr. Tolentino said. “It’s good thing that the contract did not mention face masks since we are talking about laptops.”

Former Assistant Secretary Salvador C. Malana III, in response, said:

“I would admit that there were mistakes, not on the part of the legal department, but the lawyers involved in crafting the document. But I do take responsibility for having signed as a witness.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Martin D. Pimentel III also questioned why the PS-DBM failed to note specifics on what the chosen market operator should comply with.

“There are other entries where you divulged the base speed of the other products, laptops, that you surveyed, but when it comes to this… you did not divulge, you only put the shortcut, saying comply,” he said.

Procurement Service Special Bids and Awards Committee Provisional Member Marwan O. Amil, one of those who signed the document, admitted that they had “missed out.”

Mr. Pimentel said there is supposed to be an established review system such that ‘missed out’ items could be addressed, but this seems to have been neglected even by the DepEd.

“The requesting entity (DepEd)… also confirmed, trusting the entire system, that the system works but the system does not work,” he said. “This is the problem.”

On the other hand, former PS-DBM head Lloyd Christopher Lao, who initially denied involvement in the contracts, eventually justified the supposedly overpriced laptops purchased by the agency.

“Based on my recollection, although there’s disparity in the technical specification, there are also add-ons in the requirement of DepEd, the warranty, servicing software, I’m not familiar with that, so that’s the reason why when they conducted it, the prices went up,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino

He added that in “2020 and 2021, the laptops of DBM-PS ran out because all agencies were requesting for laptops. Also, laptops in the market ran out because most offices transferred to online processes.”

The former budget undersecretary was previously ordered arrested by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in the 18th Congress after being cited in contempt for skipping hearings on the procurement of allegedly overpriced medical supplies for the Department of Health.

Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel countered Mr. Lao’s claims, citing that the Commission on Audit had canvassed comparable models in the market to the ones procured by the PS-DBM DepEd, and they found that the same brand and model with bigger screens were being sold in Metro Manila and the Cordillera Administrative Region at a much lower price.

“Some things still don’t square here in the latest statement of former Usec Lao,” she said.

Before the hearing began, Mr. Lao had asked the committee to excuse him from the investigation.

“I would just like to manifest I am no longer the PS-DBM executive director regarding the DepEd laptops so I am requesting if I may be excused from the hearing because I’m no longer executive director,” he said.

But this was denied by Mr. Tolentino who noted that Mr. Lao’s signature was found on some documents related to the procurement of the laptops.

The hearing was held to investigate the PS-DBM’s purchase of laptops flagged by state auditors. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan