THE Senate blue ribbon committee has found that the 39,000 laptops purchased in 2021 for public school teachers for P979 million were overpriced and recommended the filing of criminal charges against officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Sen. Francis Tolentino, committee chairman, on Thursday said the panel also admonished former Education secretary Leonor Briones for the anomalous purchase.

But Tolentino said there was no evidence to link Briones to the anomaly, and that she was deceived into approving the purchase.

The laptops were distributed to government teachers to help them conduct online classes at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 197-page report, the committee recommended graft charges against officials of DepEd and the DBM's Procurement Service (PS) involved in the purchase of the laptops.

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The report named DepEd Undersecretary Analyn Sevillla, former DepEd undersecretary Alain del Pascua, former DepEd assistant secretary Salvador Malana 3rd, Director Abram Abanil, former PS-DBM officers in charge Lloyd Christopher Lao and Jaysonmer Uayan, BAC chairman Ulysses Mora, and other members and staff of the special bids and awards committee.

"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 committee said.

It was cited as "highly irregular" jacking up the price of one computer in the approved budget for the contract from P35,036.50 to P58,300.

It recommended the abolition of PS-DBM and requiring government agencies and local government units (LGUs) to do their own procurement to make them accountable for public funds.

The committee proposed that if the P979 million is recovered, the amount be placed in a special National Teachers Trust Fund to support the health and medical needs of government teachers and the educational needs of their children.

The committee has requested the Anti-Money Laundering Council to investigate the overpriced procurement and to look into the bank deposits of the implicated individuals.

The repeated changes made by DepEd in the use and allocation of the P2.4 billion from tablets to mobile connectivity loads for students and then to laptops for teachers "is highly arbitrary, unjustified, improper and not beneficial" to DepEd teachers and students, the committee said.

In a press briefing hours after the committee released its report, DepEd spokesman Michael Wesley Poa said the department will not comment until it sees the full report, but added it will "seriously" consider the panel's recommendations.

The DepEd "has always said that it is committed to transparency and accountability, and that applies to the procurement process. So we appreciate the investigation conducted by the blue ribbon committee. As to the findings and recommendations, [we] will definitely consider those recommendations and findings so that we can strengthen our internal controls in procurement," Poa said.

He said the DepEd has revised its procurement processes by separating the procurement and administration components, and streamlining internal controls for efficiency and transparency.

Poa said the department will see whether the DepEd itself or the Office of the Ombudsman will file the charges against the officials named in the committee report, but assured they will cooperate with the Ombudsman in securing the documents for the case.

The officials will be placed under preventive suspension only after the investigating body has been determined, Poa said.

He said he has yet to brief Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte about the blue ribbon ruling and will seek guidance, along with the Office of the Solicitor General, regarding the recommendation to use the proceeds from the overpriced transaction as a trust fund for teachers.