The Department of Education (DepEd) went ahead with the bidding for P2.4 billion worth of laptops without a valid authorization to transfer funds to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) as its purchasing agent, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee learned on Thursday.
During the fourth hearing of the committee on the DepEd’s purchase of under-powered laptops, the current PS-DBM executive director, Dennis Santiago, told senators that it may have been illegal for DepEd and PS-DBM during the previous administration to use a 2017 memorandum of agreement (MOA) because it did not cover the purchase of laptops.
“It’s not normal because as I mentioned earlier before you commence your procurement activity, you have to have the MOA already. Considering that laptop procurement is not covered, I cannot see how they could have used the 2017 MOA,” Santiago said, in response to a question from Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.
Asked if the use of the old MOA was legal, Santiago replied: “Not legal, your honor.”
The investigation of the laptop purchase revolved around the implementation of the MOA between the two agencies, which was supposed to spell out their roles in the P2.4-billion laptop purchase.
The fund derived from the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act was to have been used to provide public school teachers with laptops to help them conduct online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The controversy stemmed from a report by the Commission on Audit (COA), which flagged the purchase of “pricey and outdated” Dell Latitude 3420 laptops for P58,300 each.
Gatchalian had asked other witnesses from earlier hearings whether DepEd and the PS-DBM started the procurement process with only a draft 2021 MOA to cover the transaction.
Former PS-DBM acting executive director Jasonmer Uayan said the transaction was covered by the 2021 MOA using the 2017 agreement as a basis.
“As far as I can recall, the 2017 MOA is not limited to annexes, nowhere in the body does it limit the procurement activities between posting, 2017 can actually be used for the procurement process,” Uayan said.
But DepEd denied giving instructions to use the 2017 MOA, and that it provided legal advice on the matter.
“So clearly there is inconsistency in the statements, and I have established early on that the 2017 MOA cannot be used because it does not contain the laptops,” Gatchalian said. “So that is where we are right now.”
Lawyer Cristina Layug-Abella, a state auditor, affirmed the findings of the COA’s audit team on the laptop purchase.
The DepEd said Friday it was conducting its own internal investigation to determine if some officials might have acted beyond their authority.
At the Senate hearing, the chairman of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition said some teachers returned the laptops to the DepEd as they were not satisfied with their performance.
Coalition chairman and public school teacher Benjo Basas said others even refused the units after just seeing their specifications.
Senators asked Basas for sworn statements from the teachers concerned to validate his testimony and COA reports that some laptops were indeed returned.
On a separate issue, Gatchalian said he supported the P150 million in confidential funds of the DepEd, where Vice President Sara Duterte sits as secretary.
Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on basic education, said it is justifiable for DepEd to have confidential funds because they need tools and equipment to combat crimes such as sexual harassment and child abuse.
The senator said it is likely that it would be the first time that DepEd would have confidential funds since 2012.
He added that the Commission on Audit would scrutinize the use of these funds.