DBM vows to comply with suspension order vs. execs in laptop deal

By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

August 26, 2023, 1:25 pm

MANILA – The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on Saturday vowed to adhere to the Office of the Ombudsman’s suspension order against officials involved in the purchase of alleged overpriced laptops for public school teachers in 2021.

“The Department of Budget and Management, under the leadership of Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman, assures the public of its utmost compliance with the decision set by the Office of the Ombudsman against former Procurement Service (PS) and DBM officials due to their alleged involvement in the purchase of reportedly overpriced laptops for the Department of Education (DepEd),” the budget department said in a statement.

“Secretary Pangandaman has already directed concerned officials to implement the suspension order concerning former and present PS-DBM officials and employees.”

This was after Ombudsman Samuel Martires ordered the preventive suspension of education and budget officials, pending an investigation into the PHP2.4-billion laptop procurement for the DepEd Computerization Program.

The Ombudsman found sufficient grounds to preventively suspend the officials for grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and gross neglect of duty.

Among the 12 public officials who were placed under six-month suspensions are former PS-DBM officers-in-charge Lloyd Christopher Lao and Jasonmer Uayan; and procurement management officers Ulysses Mora, Marwin Amil and Paul Armand Estrada.

The Ombudsman said the suspended officials would not receive pay for six months, “except when the delay in the disposition of the case is due to their fault, negligence or petition.”

The budget department noted that the current PS-DBM management, led by Executive Director Dennis Santiago, also requested for an independent investigation from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in August 2022.

The move, the DBM said, is vital in determining the possible irregularities and non-compliance with existing laws and rules involving the controversial deal for the procurement of DeEd laptops.

“This initiative is consistent with Secretary Pangandaman's directive to foster reform, integrity and elevate the standard of transparency in governance within the PS-DBM, ensuring an impartial investigation, free from potential influence or bias amidst the controversial contract probe,” it said.

In July, the DBM said its procurement arm is “fully cooperating” with the NBI, adding that it has submitted the documents needed for the ongoing probe and allowed the interview of its personnel.

In its 2021 report, the Commission on Audit sought an explanation from the DepEd for its purchase of PHP2.4 billion worth of “pricey” and “outdated” laptops for teachers.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III urged the Ombudsman to undertake extra efforts in reclaiming public funds used in the laptop procurement deals and go after contractors involved in anomalous deals.

"The Ombudsman's decision to impose preventive suspension sends a strong signal that any alleged wrongdoing will be treated seriously. It is equally vital to thoroughly examine the role of the contractor in this anomalous transaction, from its background to how it secured the contract,” Pimentel said in a statement on Saturday.

Pimentel authored Senate Resolution No. 120, which called for a comprehensive investigation into the laptop procurement.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee found out that the joint-venture companies failed to meet the technical specifications required for the laptops, rendering them unsuitable for the teachers' needs.

Additionally, the companies were unable to complete the delivery within the agreed target dates outlined in the procurement contract. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)