A P979-million conspiracy | Inquirer Opinion

A P979-million conspiracy

/ 05:15 AM January 27, 2023

In a fitting conclusion to its series of hearings last year, the Senate blue ribbon committee last week recommended criminal charges against several former and current officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), for allegedly conspiring in the purchase of overpriced laptops meant for blended learning during the COVID-19 crisis.


With a P2.4-billion funding secured through Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, the DepEd bought laptops for public school teachers originally priced at P35,046.50 each through the PS-DBM, which, however, procured them from a favored supplier at a “bloated” cost of P58,300 per unit, the Senate report said. The overprice of at least P979 million meant that the DepEd budget could only purchase 39,583 laptop units instead of the intended 68,500, thus depriving thousands of teachers this most useful tool during the pandemic.

According to the Senate antigraft panel report, the procurement was “attended by a substantial number of irregularities,” with the Commission on Audit earlier flagging the laptops as “pricey and outdated.”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 report said. “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.

In 2021, the PS-DBM was similarly embroiled in the alleged irregular purchase of P42-billion worth of pandemic supplies for the health department, which included P11.5-billion worth of items procured from the undercapitalized trading firm, Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.

While no official nor individual involved in the Pharmally mess was haled to court despite the Senate report’s recommendation, this latest swindle of public funds should prompt the Ombudsman to pursue graft charges against the culpable DepEd and PS-DBM officials in the Senate list. They include DepEd officials Undersecretary for Finance Analyn Sevilla, former undersecretary Alain Del Pascua, former assistant secretary Salvador Malana III, and information and communications technology director Abram Abanil.

Aside from graft charges, the panel also recommended the filing of separate counts of falsification of public documents against the DepEd officials, and PS-DBM officers in charge Lloyd Christopher Lao and Jaysonmer Uayan for allegedly giving false testimonies to the committee. PS-DBM’s bids and awards committee chair Ulysses Mora, and other committee members and their staff, should be slapped with the same graft charges, the report added.

But curiously, the Senate committee went soft on then Education Secretary Leonor Briones who was merely “admonished.” Whatever happened to command responsibility? Isn’t the head of the department ultimately accountable for the use of the public funds, let alone a multibillion purchase at that, that she herself approved?

As well as charging the DepEd and PS-DBM officials, the government should promptly move to recover the overprice, which is almost a whopping P1 billion. With such a dismal state of Philippine education, this huge amount will go a long way in addressing some of the most urgent needs of teachers and students in the public school system.

Malacañang should also heed calls to abolish the PS-DBM, which has been at the center of corruption cases involving pandemic funds. The Senate panel has proposed its abolition anew, which would then require government offices to conduct their own procurement needs. As the Pharmally and DepEd laptop scams showed, the PS-DBM has “centralized” graft and corruption by mishandling the government’s massive procurement budgets in cahoots with equally corrupt and questionable suppliers.


But without transparency in the government’s procurement processes, there will always be opportunities for corruption as demonstrated in the PS-DBM, DepEd, and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

With the thorough Senate report detailing how officials of the two agencies—DepEd and PS-DBM—have unscrupulously misused the government’s procurement process to siphon off crucial funds at the height of the pandemic, and the same individual—PS-DBM’s Lao—figuring in yet another anomalous transaction, surely the Ombudsman can already move to investigate and file charges against him for the two corruption cases.

DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said the agency would “strengthen [its] internal controls in terms of procurement,” and “cooperate” with the Office of the Ombudsman should it file cases against the guilty officials and personnel. What are the concerned authorities waiting for?

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TAGS: Department of Budget and Management, DepEd, procurement law
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