• The committee urged other government units to procure their own materials moving forward
  • The overprice of the laptops reached at least P979 million, the committee said
  • The panel wants charges filed against at least eight current and former officials

The Senate's anti-graft panel on Thursday recommended the abolition of the procurement service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) for the Department of Education (DepEd) after the committee found "sufficient basis" that several officials conspired to purchase overpriced laptops during the pandemic.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee also urged other government units to conduct their own procurement operations to prevent similar incidents and "as an exercise of their fiduciary duty of accountability for public funds appropriated for their respective offices," a press release stated.

The committee also recommended that criminal charges be filed against several officials with the budget and education departments for allegedly conspiring to purchase overpriced laptops with a total exceeding P2 billion during the pandemic.

The panel said in a 195-page report that the DepEd purchased "pricey and outdated" laptops during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to P2.4 billion (nearly $44 million) through the PS-DBM, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

At least eight former and current officials from the DepEd and PS-DBM have been accused of conspiring to make the purchases of laptops that public school teachers were supposed to use for online classes during quarantine.

The accused officials include former Education Undersecretary Alain del Pascua and former PS-DBM officer-in-charge Lloyd Christopher Lao, as per the Philippine Star.

"There is sufficient basis to believe that there was a conspiracy to facilitate and/or generate an overprice which indicates manifest partiality, evident bad faith and/or gross inexcusable neglect on the part of senior officials and staff of the DepEd and PS-DBM," the panel said.

The committee noted that while the officials appear to have acted "separately," there was still evidence suggesting their "concerted acts" created "an opportunity for favoured bidders to submit bloated and excessive bids."

Furthermore, the committee discovered that the overprice of DepEd laptops reached at least P979 million (nearly $18 million), as was determined by the Commission on Audit (COA). More than 39,000 laptops were purchased in 2021.

Finally, the panel recommended that the overpriced amount, described as "proceeds of corruption" be recovered and placed in a National Teachers trust fund to support the needs of public school teachers and their children, GMA News reported.

This is not the first time the PS-DBM has been placed under the radar of the Senate as the said budget department arm was questioned previously by the Blue Ribbon Committee for allegedly procuring overpriced medical items during the pandemic.

The committee started the investigation after the COA found discrepancies in the handling of funds by the Department of Health (DOH).

At the time, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he had no regrets in transferring the funds to the PS-DBM as he "trusted" the institution to purchase critical medical products for the DOH during the peak of the pandemic.

Representative image. Lukas Bieri/Pixabay