THE Senate Blue Ribbon Committee started on Thursday, August 25, 2022, its investigation on the alleged “overpriced and outdated” laptops procured by the controversial Procurement Service (PS) Department of Budget Management (DBM) for the Department of Education (DepEd).

Among those who attended the hearing was former education secretary Leonor Briones, who maintained that she is not hiding.

Senators commended Briones who opted to stay all throughout.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the Blue Ribbon Committee for giving us this opportunity also to share this information and insights on this very sensitive issue,” Briones said.

“I will stay as long as I can because I am very interested in the kinds of questions which are emerging and also the need for more information on the part of the blue ribbon committee as well as for the public,” she added.

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Senator Francis Tolentino asked the Senate physician to check on Briones who is 81 years old.

The investigation stemmed from the 2021 audit report of the Commission on Audit (COA), which said that the DepEd initially asked the PS-DBM to procure laptops worth P35,046 each.

The DepEd, however, accepted the PS-DBM’s pricing at P58,300.

“Bakit kayo pumayag na taasan ng PS-DBM ang presyo? Very clear ito sa records na pumayag kayo, from P35,000 ginawang P58,000… bakit kayo pumayag? Puwede malaman ano nangyari bakit kayo pumayag?” Senator Ronald Dela Rosa asked.

(Why did you agree on PS-DBM increasing the price? It is very clear in the records that you agreed, from P35,000 to P58,000… why did you agree? May I know what happened, why did you agree?)

Briones said she also sought an explanation on the matter and even put it in writing when she was still with the agency.

She referred the question to Education Undersecretary Alain Pascua, who she said handles the information communications technology (ICT) unit of the department.

Pascua said it was ICT Director Abram Abanil who approved the action slip given to them by the PS-DBM prior to the procurement.

The action slip indicated the quantity and price of the laptops that the agency is asking for as well as the PS-DBM’s price.

“They put there the option for the DepEd whether to accept the lesser quantity, that’s the action slip that they have provided us and the ICTS Director Abram Abanil signed that concurrence on that action slip. It was never addressed to the higher-ups of the DepEd,” said Pascua.

Instead of being able to buy P68,500 laptops, only 39,583 were purchased due to the increase in price.

COA said the processors of the laptops were outdated — an Intel Celeron chip that can be found on laptops with a price range of P20,000 to P25,000.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano said the price of the laptops is already similar to a Macbook Air.

“Is it incompetence o kakuntsaba ka ng mga taga-DBM-PS? In-approve niyo P58,000, kapresyo ng Macbook Air, paano mo naman ia-approve ang entry level na kapresyo ng Macbook Air?” he said.

(Is it incompetence or are you an accomplice of DBM-PS? You approved P58,000, the price of a Macbook Air, how do you approve an entry-level laptop that is the same price as a Macbook Air?)

Cayetano also raised concern about buying the laptops along with its bag from only one supplier when not all computer suppliers also manufacture bags.

“Common sense kung mag-e-email ako sa manufacturer ng computer ang package natin ay may bag, hindi naman sila gumagawa ng bag, bakit naman sila sasali,” he said.

(It’s common sense that one emails the computer manufacturer that our package should have a bag. Not all of them make bags, why would they be included?)

“Paano nyo sasabihin sa committee na ito na hindi kami maghihinala na mayroong sindikato dito na nag-aayos niyan, kung sa ABC (Awards and Bids Committee) pa lang at doon pa lang sa pre-bid at sa package halata nang naka-pattern ito, na ma-minimize kung sino pwede sumali dito. I’m not saying you did it,” he added.

(How can you tell this committee that we will not suspect that there is a syndicate here that arranges that, if only in the ABC and in the pre-bid and in the package it is obvious that there is a pattern, to minimize who can join it. I’m not saying you did it.)

The Memorandum of Agreement for the laptop procurement was signed by Briones and then PS-DBM officer Christopher Lloyd Lao.

Lao has been in bad light due to the alleged procurement of medical supplies for the Department of Health at the onset of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic in 2020. (SunStar Philippines)