Department of Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” B. Honasan II (PNA FIle photo)

MANILA – The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) on Tuesday clarified that the procurement of laptops and gadgets is under its Digital Education Program (DEP) intended to assist its partner Local Government Units (LGUs) facilitate ICT-enabled education especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a press statement, the DICT said the gadgets, which were turned over by the LGUs to student beneficiaries, enhance the delivery of services to the education sector – a mandate that DICT fulfills.

Aside from formulating and implementing national policies, plans, programs, and guidelines with government agencies and instrumentalities to promote and develop the use of ICT in education, DICT is also mandated to share its resources, build the capacity of the government in terms of ICT, and improve public access to the internet.

“Through these initiatives, we aim to be more responsive to the needs of our students under the online and blended learning modalities as face-to-face classes are currently suspended during this public health emergency,” DICT Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” B. Honasan II said.

Urgent need for continued learning

The need for resources and ICT-enabled interventions, he added, are urgently needed for continued learning, particularly those underprivileged students and learners who have little to no access to learning tools.

The DICT, he said, is empowered to pursue these initiatives to provide necessary computer services as well as technical expertise to government agencies in line with its mandates under RA 10844 in relation to Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1480 and other relevant laws.

“Overall, the projects involved aim to support the primary objective of the government to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus as more and more agencies and LGUs rely on the technical expertise and functions of the DICT to address the greater need for digitization and interconnectivity during this new normal," Honasan said. in the statement.

These are likewise consistent with the declared policy of the State to promote the use of ICT to enhance key public services, such as education, digital literacy, ICT expertise, and knowledge-building among citizens.

He cited that pursuant to Republic Act No. 10844 or the “Department of Information and Communications Technology Act of 2015, the DICT is the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the Executive Branch of the government that will plan, develop and promote the national ICT development agenda

In the formulation of policies and initiatives, it coordinates with the Department of Education (DepED), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), to develop and promote ICT in education consistent with national goals and objectives.

Hence, devices and laptops were procured for DICT’s three DEP’s pilot projects -- Cybersafe Learning for Education, Cybersafe Learning for Education of the Cybersecurity Bureau (CSB), and the Digital Learners and Teachers.

No procurement irregularity

Unfortunately, though, these projects were recently flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA) which questioned the regularity of the procurement.

Honasan said the DICT has already responded to the COA’s memorandum, addressing the issues raised and assuaging its concerns regarding the said projects, he said. 

The tablets and devices were procured through Emergency Cases of the 2016 Revised Implementing Rules (IRR) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9184 and awarded to Lex-Mar General Merchandise and Contractor (Lex-Mar), which the DICT found to be a technically, legally, and financially capable supplier.

While also engaged in the business of general construction, Lex-Mar is a wholesaler of office supplies and office equipment, including the supply of computer units and tablets. Recent financial statements also indicate that the bidder is capable of sustaining its operations, costs, and expenses in the amount of ₱161,243,463.00 with its revenue or income of ₱169,758,900.00. This sufficiently shows that Lex-Mar is capable of generating sufficient funds and revenue through various types of activities.

Lex-Mar was able to deliver the inexpensive and reasonably priced items procured for the projects, and this fact further attests to the qualification of the supplier.

Digital learning projects

The first project is for DICT's Cybersafe Learning for Education spearheaded by the ICT Literacy and Competency Development Bureau (ILCDB), that benefits the students from the University of Makati.

The second is for the Cybersafe Learning for Education of the Cybersecurity Bureau (CSB) in coordination with the City Governments of San Juan and Makati. While the third project was for the Digital Learners and Teachers, a project of the ILCDB that benefited learners and teachers from Pinaglabanan Elementary School in San Juan City.

 The statement added that San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora himself admitted that the provided gadgets will help public school students continue their education amid the disruption in the education system brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malaking tulong ito [gadgets] sapagkat alam natin sa panahon ngayon wala talagang face-to-face learning muna. Ang method talaga ng pag-aaral ay online. So paano ka mago-online education kung wala kang tablet? Minsan nagiging dahilan pa ito na huwag na lang mag-aral (The gadgets are a big help since face-to-face learning is currently suspended and online learning is the alternative method of education at present. How will students engage in online education if they have no tablets? Sometimes, the lack of gadgets even becomes an excuse for students to stop schooling),” Zamora said.

Digital learning is anchored on Department Circular No. 12, s. 2020, which mandates immediate measures to prevent the exposure of learners, students, teachers, and administrators to pandemic risks by prioritizing the urgent implementation of departmental projects to provide ICT solutions to educational institutions.

Having absorbed the functions and powers of the National Computer Center, Honasan assured that projects are implemented to facilitate the service needs and requests of government instrumentalities regarding computerization and electronic networking programs. (PR)