PS-DBM, DepEd officials charged over laptops deal

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THE Senate Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) has recommended the filing of graft and corruption charges against the controversial former chief of the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (PS-DBM) Christopher Lloyd Lao, along with several former and current Department of Education 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 BRC chairman Francis Tolentino, but 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 is 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 Sen. Richard J. Gordon—over procurement of pandemic supplies, the other PS-DBM and DepEd officials recommended to be charged are:

Former PS-DBM OIC 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.

There is no evidence, Tolentino added, that Briones was involved in any conspiracy to manipulate the transaction in order to generate the nearly P1 billion in overprice.

There were “many” lessons learned from this episode, Tolentino said, but noted that this scandal badly impaired government’s response to the critical need of learners and teachers during the pandemic, when lockdowns made it important for them to have ensured connectivity.

Apart from the “overpriced and outdated DepEd laptops,” Blue Ribbon probers’ key findings included “evidence of conspiracy” apart from “evident bad faith and gross inexcusable neglect” on the part of DepEd and DBM officials, creating an opportunity for separate bidders to submit overpriced bids.

Moreover, the report said the transfer of funds and procurement tasks to PS-DBM was contrary to RA 9184, as DepEd has the capability to handle procurement and need not have turned to PS-DBM.

The report also said the February 16, 2021 memorandum of agreement was obviously “antedated,” as the signing happened only in May 2021.  Without the MOA in place, proceeding with the contrary was irregular and questionable.

The change of per-unit price of the laptops, from P36,000 to P59,000, which caused a reduction in the number of units, is likewise irregular, the report added.

High on the list of the BRC recommendations is: the abolition of the PS-DBM; a move to require government departments, agencies and offices to conduct their own bidding; amendment of Republic Act 9184; and the recovery of the overprice in the amount of P979 million as “proceeds of corruption” with the amount recovered to be placed in a national teachers trust fund, to support teachers’medical needs and their children’s education.

It also endorsed the conduct of a special audit by COA to examine financial accounts, and an inquiry by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on the bank deposits of public officials identified in this investigation.