After laptops and pandemic supplies scandals, PS-DBM faces new abolition call from senators

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Senators from the majority and minority blocs are firming up a consensus to abolish the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget Management (PS-DBM) after the investigating Blue Ribbon Committee released its report on the overpriced laptops deal between PS-DBM and the Department of Education (DepEd).

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros affirmed her fellow senators’ determination to go after the erring officials involved to send a clear message that “no one will be spared.”

“I welcome the recommendation to file criminal charges against [former PS-DBM chief Christopher] Lao and other PS-DBM officials,” she said.

At the same time, the senator added, “Moving forward, beyond the filing of charges, it is also important to plug the holes through which these anomalies passed, hindi lang sa laptops pero sa Pharmally din at iba pa [not just with the laptops case, but also with Pharmally and other incidents].”

She was recalling to the earlier Blue Ribbon investigation into pandemic fund alleged misuse involving Pharmally, an unproven player in pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, which bagged over P10 billion in contracts to supply face masks, shields, among others, to the Department of Health at the height of the pandemic.

The Blue Ribbon inquiry in the 18th Senate, chaired by then-chairman Sen. Richard J. Gordon, had traced the controversial role of PS-DBM, to which the Department of Health (DOH) outsourced its procurement tasks, and of its former PS-DBM chief Lao.

Lao is among those recommended for prosecution by the current Blue Ribbon leadership under Sen. Francis Tolentino.

Hontiveros recalled that way back, she had already been “calling for the abolition of PS-DBM.”

Undeterred, the senator signaled she would propose anew its abolition “during the period of amendments” in the plenary.

Moreover, she stressed that “above all, we need to do all we can to make sure that we are not shortchanging our teachers. Suklian naman natin ang sakripisyo nila [Let’s repay their sacrifice] by providing them with the tools they need to do their jobs well.”

The Blue Ribbon earlier recommended the filing of graft and corruption charges against Lao, along with several former and current DepEd officials, over the procurement of what state auditors called “overpriced” laptops bought in 2021.

Twelve senators signed the draft committee report; 11 voted for and one dissented, according to panel chairman Tolentino. He, however, declined to name the dissenter.

The report established the amount of overprice of the laptops—procured by DepEd through the PS-DBM in 2021—at P979 million, with Tolentino noting this amount came from the Commission on Audit.

Blue Ribbon probers said based on evidence turned up in five committee hearings, there are an apparent conspiracy between DepEd and PS-DBM officials to pad the contract.

Besides Lao, who was also investigated in the 18th Congress by the Blue Ribbon probers under then-chairman Senator Gordon over procurement of pandemic supplies, the other PS-DBM and DepEd officials recommended to be charged are:

Former PS-DBM officer-in-charge executive director Jasonmer Uayan, Bids and Awards Committee chair Ulysses Mora, Engr. Marwan Amil, former DepEd Undersecretary Alain Pascua, former DepEd Assistant Secretary Salvador Malana III, DepEd Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla, DepEd director for Information and Communications Technology Service Abram Abanil.

Tolentino said former DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones was not included among those recommended to be charged, saying she was apparently “used” to approve the changes in the procurement contract for the overpriced laptops, funding for which was sourced from Republic Act No. 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.