MANILA, Philippines - It was a face-off that practically everybody saw coming after a protracted word war over the media on the allegedly questionable purchase of laptop computers for a Palace office.
Zambales Rep. Maria Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay called Communications Secretary Ramon “Ricky” Carandang “spoiled brat, arrogant, and immature” to his face at a budget hearing.
This, after Carandang gave apparently sarcastic answers to Magsaysay’s questions over his office’s procurement processes.
It was the turn of Carandang’s Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office to present its budget proposal for 2012 before the appropriations committee. Usually, this is the opportunity lawmakers seize to ask Cabinet members about their own parochial concerns that may not necessarily be budget-related.
The face-off began with Magsaysay, who was registered to be the first interpellator. Magsaysay’s interpellation alone lasted about half an hour, interrupted twice by lawmakers to defuse the tension.
Magsaysay started by asking Carandang questions on the mandate of his office, and how this is different from the functions of Undersecretary Manolo Quezon, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte.
Carandang explained that Lacierda and Valte collaborate with his office. Quezon, on the other hand, is his deputy who also manages the Official Gazette.
Magsaysay then shifted to asking Carandang about his familiarity with the country’s Procurement Law, which ensures transparency in the acquisition of government needs and supplies through open public bidding.
Carandang stressed that not all items go through bidding, citing Commission on Audit (COA) regulations that exempts certain items.
Magsaysay asked him if mobile phones are covered by the rules. Carandang said it depended on whether the volume complied with certain conditions, which would subject it to bidding.
Carandang noted he did his agency’s annual procurement plan in March 2011.
Magsaysay asked how many personnel does his agency have. Carandang said 40.
Magsaysay said she was told that his office got 24 pieces of Blackberry phones. “Someone told me your office has 24 pieces of Blackberry phones. Congress doesn’t buy us 6210. I want to know why you have Blackberrys.”
Carandang explained that the Office of the President has Blackberry phones because of its messaging feature, which is a more secure means of commercial communication. Carandang told Magsaysay that whoever was informing her was wrong, revealing that the phones were given to them as part of the post-paid contract they signed with a telecommunications company. He stressed there was, “No cost to the taxpayer.”
Magsaysay asked for the contract for the phones. Carandang said they will submit before the budget goes to plenary.
Carandang said he has a Blackberry bold phone unit, but the cheapest unit is the Curve. Magsaysay asked for the threshold of the contract.
Carandang said it’s worth P2,700 per person, to which Magsaysay said, “I don’t think Globe will give you a BB curve for P2,700 a month. I’m a Globe subscriber they did not give me a Curve. How come Globe you gave such a special assignment?”
Magsaysay then asked how many personnel have the units. Carandang said 24.
Magsaysay asked for the names. Carandang said he will do his best to produce a list.
Dissastified with the answer, Magsaysay said Carandang’s best is not enough. “You can ask your staff who are behind you, you can ask for a suspension. I want the names before the hearing’s end…. If you can’t give information as simple as these how do you expect me to trust you?!”
Of television sets, paper shredders, aircon units
Presiding officer Rep. Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya later asked Carandang to give the list.
Magsaysay then proceeded to ask about the purchase of 7 LCD TV sets, an electronic billboard, paper shredders, and some air conditioning units.
Carandang said all these went through a bidding.
Magsaysay then asked about the purchase of an oven toaster, a time recorder, and facsimile machines.
Carandang said these were purchased out of administrative funds. Carandang maintained that a small volume procurement doesn’t go through bidding anymore.
Magsaysay then asked about the purchase of 46 swivel chairs, 4 executive chairs and 6 desktop chairs, printers, and other devices. Carandang said these were all bidded out.
Magsaysay then proceeded to ask about the agency’s acquisition of laptop computers. Carandang said they published invitations for bidding in a tabloid. He said biddings were called twice but no one participated.
Magsaysay doubted no one would participate in such a bidding.
Carandang argued he doesn’t know why no one joined the bidding, but he argued that since the purchase value was below P2 million, there was no need to publish the bidding invitation. “We did follow the process.”
He said Magsaysay will have to ask the suppliers why no one participated in the bidding. To which she replied, “Your answer is out of line Mr. Carandang.”
She also noted Carandang wanted a negotiated bid, but ended up buying Apple Mac Pros.
Carandang argued the laptops were purchased according to his 3 specifications: not susceptible to viruses, long battery time, and easily portable.
Magsaysay asked Carandang if they asked around for more computers. Carandang said they did, but that the laptops they found were not within the threshold allowed by regulations.
Carandang argued his office does graphics work for the Office of the President.
Magsaysay said other laptops can do the same thing .“The problem is, many of you came from the private sector. In your case, instead of buying a laptop that can do same function at P46,000 you decided for Apple Mac Pro at P66,000. You’re now known as the Imelda Marcos of laptop computers. Is that kind of message you want? The message did not come from me.”
Magsaysay then said she expects courtesy even from adversaries but said some are too arrogant. She then asked Carandang about his messaging functions as well as the falling survey numbers of President Aquino.
Magsaysay noted that both the President and his sister Kris have separately said that the problem maybe related to messaging. Carandang then retorted, “was that a rhetorical question or do you want me to answer that?”
This remark further got Magsaysay fired up, “Don’t be arrogant. I’m warning you, you’re not in ABS-CBN. If you had the temerity to insult public officials when you were in ABS-CBN, sad to say [you’re not there anymore]. If you’re going to be arrogant, don’t be in public service.”
She added: “How can you be arrogant to say that? You have a long way to go as far as maturity and wisdom is concerned. Your kind of breed of public servant has no place in public service. Kami pag upo namin dito hiniram lang namin ito wala kaming karapatan maging arogante. Appointed official ka lang, ano karapatan mo maging arogante? Iwan mo pagiging spoiled brat mo sa bahay mo matuto ka maging humble!”
Abaya then reminded Magsaysay she was already at the 28th-minute mark. As a member of the minority, she should have had only 10 minutes of interpellation time.
Magsaysay, however, continued, “Lahat tayo dito professional, except them. Kahit kailan di mo maririnig na ganito tayo.You didn’t answer my question, compel him to answer.”
Abaya then compelled Carandang to answer.
Carandang said, “I’m in charge of messaging. I note Cong Magsaysay's comment…I believe we can do a better job in our office.”
Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas tried to defuse the tension by asking Carandang, “Tell us I have no intention to offend.”
Carandang said, “It’s been a rather tense morning, [there is] no intent on my part to offend anybody.”
‘I’m not attacking your character’
Magsaysay went on to say, however, “I’m holding my punches. I’m not even attacking your character, you’re the one drawing me to do that.”
Magsaysay asked Carandang about his supposedly scathing statement against her with regards to the issue of the laptop purchase. “The name of Sec Carandang was never brought out in any minority presscon. It was in a blind item. Lagman mentioned the blind item. I was surprised you came out with a scathing statement with regards to my person.”
Magsaysay asked Carandang who did the statement. Carandang said, his office, and ultimately, he himself did it.
Magsaysay then said, “May I ask you one more time. Has it been proven? Do you know the difference between facts and perception? What were you trying to put in this statement, was it fact or propaganda? Opinions have no place if not sanctioned by the president. Did the President sanction you?”
Carandang said, “I wrote it myself . He also maintained his statement was “appropriate”
Magsaysay said, “you represent the president…Put that in your coconut. Your emotions took better of you. Naurot ka lang ng media and you came up with a scathing statement like this. You didn’t double check your facts…”
Carandang then replied, “I regret the harsh exchange has led to animosity. I will refrain from making any inflammatory statements.”
Magsaysay went on, “I never fired any shot. Ako pa hihingi apology sa iyo? Sobra ka naman. Don’t you think you owe someone an apology?”
Carandang stood his ground, “I regret the exchange with media has led to atmosphere of animosity. I was trying to defend my office against the allegation…If defense was rather aggressive, I’ve learned sometimes very aggressive defense doesn’t solve the problem.”
Magsaysay said, “Is that an apology?”
Carandang replied, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
The hall broke into applause.
Magsaysay said, “I don’t know if the apology is sincere or not. Di naman lahat ng anak natin perfect.”
Fariñas, however, retorted: “If that were not sincere I’d nominate him for [a] FAMAS.”