The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s finding on the overpriced laptops of the Department of Education (DepEd) will be without impact if there is no action taken to pursue its recommendations.
It has been more than a week since the Senate body, tasked to investigate wrongdoings of government personnel and offices, found as “highly irregular” the laptop procurement of DepEd during the pandemic. It said there was evidence to prove an overprice in the purchase which was coursed through the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM). The overprice reached at least P979 million for more than 39,000 units, Sen. Francis Tolentino, committee chairman, said.
The committee report, released on Jan. 19, 2023, recommended that charges of graft, falsification of public documents and perjury be filed against former DepEd undersecretary Alain del B. Pascua, undersecretary Annalyn M. Sevilla, former assistant secretary Salvador C. Malana III, director Abram Y.C. Abanil, and other officials of DepEd and the PS-DBM.
It also called for the abolition of the PS-DBM, the same office the Senate investigated for the procurement of “overpriced” medical supplies at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and the amendment of Republic Act 9184, the procurement law, to add transparency and accountability safeguards to prevent procurement irregularities. It then recommended the recovery of the overprice amount through notice of disallowances by the Commission on Audit (COA) and the recovered amount to be placed in a special National Teachers Trust Fund to support the teachers’ health and medical needs and the education of their children through a special scholarship program.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee performs its duty “in aid of legislation” and it has no power to charge or arrest anyone except in cases of contempt of Congress. Thus, its report on the overpriced purchase of laptops will be forwarded to COA, the Office of the Ombudsman, Department of Justice and other agencies.
It will take time for these offices to prepare the filing of charges and recover the overprice amount. Those named in the committee report could take advantage of that and prepare their defense or even flee.
Teachers looking forward to the trust fund will have to wait before they could benefit from the P979 million. Whatever legislative action is needed to improve laws and stop irregularities in large-scale procurement projects will also take time before new safeguards could be put in place. Another emergency purchase, similar to the laptops for DepEd and medicine for the Department of Health, could arise and we might witness for the third time a procurement mess.
It is not enough to charge criminally and administratively those responsible. There should also be corrections in procurement processes that apparently did not have enough safeguards against abuse.
Teacher groups need to watch closely the next steps and keep the pressure on the government to act on the Senate committee’s recommendations.
January 28, 2023
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