Sen. Francis Tolentino said former Department of Education (DepEd) Sec. Leonor Briones is not yet off the hook in the P2.4-billion alleged overpriced and outdated laptops as Sen. Jinggoy Estrada sought a Senate probe on the apparent “splitting of contracts” in the procurement process.
“Before, I said none (no liability), but the evidence came out,” said Tolentino who has been presiding over the Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman on laptops as its chairperson.
However, Tolentino stressed he does not want to implicate or prejudge Briones. He said the presumption of good faith is there but the evidence so far is probably leading to command responsibility.
Estrada said senators should look into the DepEd’s computer procurement program to determine if it has resorted to the practice of “splitting of contracts” to grant multi-billion peso deals to only a few “favored” suppliers of the agency.
Estrada noted that the awarding contracts to the same set of suppliers and chopping a big contract into smaller ones is prohibited under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
“Based on my research on DepEd’s contracts, I always encounter the names of ASI or Advance Solutions Inc., Columbia Technologies, Reddot Imaging Philippines, Techguru Inc., and Girl Teki Inc.,” Estrada said. “Why are these suppliers so lucky that they almost always win juicy Deped contracts that run into billions of pesos over the years?”
He revealed that some of the suppliers that bagged billions of pesos worth of contracts to supply Chinese-made computers to the DepEd do not even have websites, and their offices are located in obscure addresses in Manila.
“I also noticed that there have been several repeat orders made in favor of these suppliers. Take note that under Section 51 of the IRR [Implementing Rules and Regulations] of Republic Act 9184… the effect of repeat orders is that it dispenses with or foregoes the conduct of competitive public bidding,” he said.
He said the government should welcome new players for better competition.
“Don’t you think we are discouraging these new players from participating in government biddings if they are singled out for investigation?” he said.
Furthermore, Estrada said he was surprised over the intense inquiry into the controversial P2.4-billion laptop purchase in 2021, while DepEd’s ‘favored’ suppliers have virtually gone ‘scot free’ with not even a single inquiry or audit by the Commission on Audit (COA).
“For instance, Advance Solutions, Inc. and Columbia Technologies have been supplying DepEd for many years, and the value of their accumulated contracts amount to billions. Why were they not
scrutinized before? The same with Reddot Imaging, Girl Teki, and Tech Guru. Why were they not subjected to an investigation or audit report COA before?” Estrada said.
“Do we even know if these computers were all delivered and are working? Where are these computers now? Can DepEd account for them?” he added.
He proposed it’s very likely that some of DepEd’s favored suppliers like ASI, which lost the bidding for the P2.4 billion laptops purchase deal last year, are merely “sourgraping” and even appeared as “resource speakers” during a formal Senate probe.
“Since when has the Senate become a forum to hear the gripes of losing bidders?” he asked.
Hesaid allowing new suppliers to participate in the bidding for government contracts makes for a healthy competitive environment.