MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — The Department of Education's (DepEd) laptop procurement project in 2021 was overpriced by "at least P979 million," the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee concluded Thursday following months of investigation into the controversial deal.
"The supply and delivery of laptop computers for public school teachers under the 2021 DepEd laptop for teachers project was overpriced by at least P979 million," the dispositive portion of the Senate panel's committee report stated.
The Senate investigation was prompted by the Commission on Audit's 2021 report on the DepEd, which flagged the purchase of P2.4 billion worth of laptops that were deemed "overpriced" and "outdated."
The laptops, purchased by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) on behalf of the DepEd, were intended to aid public schools teachers in carrying out remote learning during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DepEd initially gave an estimate cost of P35,046 per laptop but later accepted the PS-DBM's pricing at P58,300, according to the COA report.
The 197-page Blue Ribbon report found that PS-DBM's "highly irregular" pricing was a result of their "manipulated market survey," which was "accepted and approved by DepEd without question."
The panel recommended filing graft and perjury charges against the following:
- DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla
- DepEd Director for Information and Communications Technology Service Abram Abanil
- Former DepEd Undersecretary Alain del Pascua
- Former DepEd Assistant Secretary Salvador Malana III
- Former PS-DBM Head Lloyd Christopher Lao
- Former PS-DBM Officer-in-Charge Jasonmer Uayan
The panel, meanwhile, absolved former Education Secretary Leonor Briones, with Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Francis Tolentino concluding that "nagamit siya" (she was used).
In an online press conference, DepEd Spokesperson Michael Poa said the agency "appreciate[s] the investigation that was conducted by the Blue Ribbon Committee."
"The DepEd has always said that we are committed to transparency and accountability, and that applies specifically also to the procurement process," he said as an initial reaction to the development, noting that the department has not received a copy of the Senate committee report.
The DepEd will "definitely consider" the report's findings "so that we can also strengthen our internal controls in terms of procurement," Poa said.
Poa added that the DepEd was also waiting for the results of a fraud audit it requested from the COA in relation to the procurement project.
In the report, signed by 12 senators, the committee also recommended to abolish PS-DBM and for government agencies to conduct their own procurement.
The panel also sought the recovery of P979 million "overpayment" to be put in a trust fund for teachers.
In a statement, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said it supported the recommendation to file charges against officials involved in the laptop project, and to recover the amount and allot it for teachers.
ACT also hoped the Senate hearings would prompt the Senate "to take sincere efforts in providing for the teaching needs of our teachers."