Widen Senate laptops probe | Inquirer Opinion
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Widen Senate laptops probe

/ 09:15 AM September 13, 2022

There’s more than meets the eye in the ongoing probe of the P2.4-billion laptops purchase involving the Department of Education (Dep-ed) and the Procurement Service – Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM).

Last Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee revealed serious flaws in government’s big-ticket procurements. This has been happening since time immemorial and it seems we never learn from past mistakes.

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Upon grilling by Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chair Francis Tolentino and Senators Koko Pimentel, Sherwin Gatchalian and Alan Peter Cayetano, Dep-ed and PS-DBM officials admitted that major changes were made into the specifications of the laptops to be purchased. With the addition of software, peripherals, and 3-year onsite warranty, among others, the budget for each laptop jumped to P58,300 from the original budget of P35,046.50 each. And because of such add-ons and higher cost per unit, Dep-ed was able to buy only 39,583 laptops from the original target of 68,500 units.

Testimonies of Dep-ed and PS-DBM officials were quite telling. A certain Sharon Baile, who said she’s been with PS-DBM since 2006, made a stunning admission that the agency has no manual in place to guide its staff in the procurement process. Such wide latitude of discretion has allowed junior staff to ‘cherry pick’ and ask for price quotations from an existing pool of suppliers.

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While no collusion has been shown between the PS-DBM and Dep-ed on the one hand, and the winning bidder, on the other, it’s now incumbent upon members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to widen its probe into other questionable government procurement practices. The objective is to craft legislation that would remove the wide latitude of discretion enjoyed by certain officials involved in spending the people’s money.

And while in the subject of investigating government computer purchases, the Blue-Ribbon Committee might as well include in their probe Dep-ed’s purchase of billions of pesos worth of computer desktops and laptops over the years that were allegedly cornered by only a few chosen suppliers.

According to Dep-ed insiders, there’s an “old boys club” or a small but powerful band of suppliers of Chinese brands that almost always win biddings for computer equipment. And none of them, so far, have been subjected to the same scrutiny as the latest P2.4 billion purchase of laptops for teachers.

Asked to explain, Dep-ed insiders intimated that the winning bidder for the P2.4 billion laptop deal is allegedly a “newbie” and not part of the so-called “old boys club”. Considered a threat by its competitors, this newbie is now in the “hot seat” for simply responding to and winning the competitive bidding for over 39,000 laptops for teachers.

According to the same sources, many of Dep-ed’s computer suppliers even have weird sounding names and obscure addresses. They say that an audit of these suppliers will flush them out and show the true extent and huge number of contracts they have cornered over the years.

In our next column, we will call out these computer suppliers of Dep-ed so the public may know where their taxes go and whether our teachers and students have benefited from this equipment.

Banks want gov’t revisit on e-sabong shutdown

More than three months after former President Rodrigo Duterte terminated online cockfighting operations, interest groups are now clamoring for a reassessment as government needs taxes to solve our pandemic and economic woes.

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PBB President and CEO Roland Avante, an expert banker with over 30 years of experience, says E-sabong has an entire ecosystem that includes banks down to the bettors. Before shutdown, it generated about P650 million per month and its sudden stoppage hit hardest more than 3.2 million Filipinos engaged in Micro and Small Enterprises in and around off-track betting sites.

“E-sabong widely helped many branches of accredited banks to expand with the steady income from the online game, piling up remittances to government’s PAGCOR”. Avante also said, that while financial institutions are prepared for the sudden withdrawal of major clients like
E-sabong, the ecosystem reeled from the effects the $1 billion industry shutdown.

Avante agrees that close and strict regulation of E-sabong must be implemented to address public woes against it, but he hopes government gives a second chance, as the game is proven capable of generating P7 to 8 billion of much needed taxes every year.

What I would like to see are the enactment of very clear laws and regulations from Senators, Congressmen, the Bureau of Internal Revenue for payment of correct taxes, DILG/PNP for peace and order, the DICT and National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for online betting, and PAGCOR for sport regulation and remittances. All must be in sync and coordination with LGU’s ordinances in overseeing day to day operations of off-track betting outlets and mobile betting. And in the end, everything should be above-board.

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TAGS: e-sabong, laptops, Senate
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