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Friday, June 21, 2024

Dexterous digits at DepEd/DBM

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You can’t say certain officials of the Department of Education and the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) during the previous administration spent their working hours twiddling their thumbs for want of anything to do.

If the Senate Blue Ribbon committee is to be believed, these officials worked furiously in front of their computers crunching the numbers and figuring out how to cover their tracks and laugh all the way to the bank when no one was looking.

The Senate probe focused on the alleged overprice by at least P979 million—that’s nearly P1 billion—of laptop computers supposed to be distributed to public school teachers for online instruction at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It turns out the purchased laptops were of inferior quality as they were underpowered and too slow to be of any use for online teaching.

And instead of a certain number of teachers given the laptops, only about half of the supposed thousands of recipients of the teaching tool actually got what were really next-to-useless laptops.

The Senate committee said the former DepEd and PS-DBM officials should be charged for violating Sections 3(e) and 3(g) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The charges against them include—hold your breath—falsification of public documents, multiple counts of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and multiple counts of perjury.

The Senate panel also recommended the Commission on Audit issue notices of disallowance for the overpriced laptops against three of the officials.

The report also recommended the filing of complaints against the DepEd and DBM officials involved in the procurement of the laptops to collect and recover the excess amount, including interest and damages.

Meanwhile, the committee absolved former Education Secretary Leonor Briones as chairperson Francis Tolentino said she was just “used” by one of her undersecretaries who was found to have “cleverly disguised the reduced number of units by breaking the number down in lots without providing a total, and stated the aggregate estimated cost, without specifying the increased unit cost.”

This, the report said, “was clearly a ploy to downplay the adjustments which would have alerted Secretary Briones to direct a full review of the supporting documents, seek further advice, and/or withhold approval.”

Aside from charges, the Senate panel also recommended the P979 million that should be recovered be placed in a special National Teachers Trust Fund to support the health and medical needs of public school teachers and the educational needs of their children.

The committee also wants the PS-DBM to be abolished and for amendments to be made to the anti-graft law.

DepEd is supposed to instill honesty and good conduct in the youth of the land.

But some of its officials appeared to have surreptitiously colluded with the DBM to steal nearly P1 billion from the national treasury.

They should be made to face the full force of the law.

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