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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Budget chief: Don’t abolish PS-DBM

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Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman on Friday appealed to legislators to give its procurement service a chance following calls to abolish it over its role in the purchase of overpriced laptops for public school teachers.

In the past, she said, the office under the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) saved the government some P18 billion by buying in bulk equipment and supplies for various agencies.

“I think if we give a chance to PS-DBM and if we clean the process and the system of the procurement of the PS-DBM, maybe we can go back to its old glory,” she said.

Pangandaman also assured legislators that PS-DBM under its new leadership headed by lawyer Dennis Santiago, is “very respectable in the area” and that the agency already has plans on how to fix the procurement unit.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, however, said dramatic changes would be required or it would be “goodbye, PS-DBM.”

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He warned Pangandaman that the negative image of the PS-DBM would also affect the reputation of the mother agency.

“Fix the PS-DBM and let’s have some spectacular achievements. But if nothing happens or changes are just cosmetic, the abolition of the agency may be prudent as government bodies already have their own Bids and Awards Committees (BAC) under the law,” Pimentel said.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino has found several irregularities in the procurement of the pricey but outdated laptops to be used by teachers in their online classes.

Pimentel said the committee should not excuse former PS-DBM chief Christopher Lloyd Lao from attending the hearings, since it was his name on the memorandum of agreement between the DepEd and the DBM.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said admissions by the PS-DBM of an “honest mistake” were unacceptable, since such a mistake cost the government P2.4 billion.

He said the controversy indicated that someone made money out of the deal.

Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate committee on basic education, said the Department of Education is accountable because it is the agency that entrusted its budget to another department, but the PS-DBM is also liable since it was in charge of the bidding for the units.

He said he believed it might be better to just put government agencies in charge of procuring their own supplies and equipment instead of allowing the PS-DBM to do the job.

Senator JV Ejercito also brushed aside the suggestion of “an honest mistake.”

“You don’t commit lapses or small mistakes for contracts worth billions,” he said.

The signatories of the MOA were Lao and Education Secretary Leonor Briones as witnessed by former DepEd Assistant Secretary for Procurement and Administration Salvador Malana III and former PS-DBM Executive Director Jasonmer Uayan.

With the investigation continuing, Pimentel said no one is off the hook, including former Education secretary Briones and other officials involved in the laptop procurement.

Meanwhile, a teacher’s group said the new school year was off to a terrible start with lack of support from the government.

In a press conference, members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said the situation on the ground was far different from the rosy picture the DepEd painted.

“The opening of classes was truly terrible for our teachers. We really wasted the past two years. We weren’t prepared. There was not enough support from the government,” said the group’s chairman, Vlademir Quetua.

Ruby Bernardo, a member of ACT’s chapter in Metro Manila, said she and her fellow teachers were left on their own to address unavailable resources in schools.

She said there was a shortage of seats and classrooms, and there was no clear plan to ensure the health and safety of the teachers.

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte has said the DepEd would not set a class size limit, noting there are “different situations” in each school.

Antonia Lim, a member of ACT in Central Visayas, also denied that temporary learning spaces have been constructed for schools affected by typhoons.

She said three school buildings were severely damaged by Typhoon Odette but all they received by way of help from the government was P20,000.

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