In a recent order by the Office of the Ombudsman, several current and former officials from the Department of Education (DepEd) and Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) have been suspended. This decision follows their alleged involvement in the acquisition of reportedly overpriced laptops.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires signed the order on August 23, and it was made public on Friday. The officials who are now suspended for six months without pay include:
DepEd Finance Division head Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla
Former DepEd Administration and Procurement head Undersecretary Alain del Pascua
Former PS-DBM head and DBM Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao
DepEd Assistant Secretary Salvador Malana III
DepEd Director Abram Abanil
Former PS-DBM officer-in-charge Jasonmer Uayan
PS-DBM Procurement Management Officer IV Ulysses Mora
PS-DBM Procurement Management Officer I Marwan Amil
DepEd Executive Assistant IV Alec Ladanga
DepEd Director IV Marcelo Bragado
DepEd Supervising Administrative Officer Selwyn Briones
PS-DBM Procurement Management Officer V Paul Armand Estrada
These suspensions come as a response to complaints filed by Senate blue ribbon committee chairperson, Senator Francis Tolentino. The matter has undergone multiple congressional hearings.
The initial flagging arose from a Commission on Audit (COA) report that revealed the DepEd purchased costly laptops with low-end processors in 2021, with these transactions facilitated by the PS-DBM. The COA highlighted that P2.4 billion was allocated for buying laptops to facilitate online teaching during the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, concerns arose after a significant rise in prices and recommendations for specifications from the PS-DBM. The laptops, sporting Intel Celeron processors typically found in entry-level PCs, increased in price from an initial P35,046.50 to a final budget of P58,300.
According to the directive from the Ombudsman, the evidence against these officials is compelling. The grave charges include gross misconduct, serious dishonesty, and significant neglect of duty, all of which could lead to their eventual removal from office.
In a related turn of events, the Ombudsman also ordered graft charges against Lao and other PS-DBM officials in a separate case concerning alleged overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.
Per the COA’s report, the Department of Health (DOH) moved P67.32 billion of its COVID-19 funds to the PS-DBM. Alarmingly, the COA discovered that P42 billion of these funds had discrepancies, including a staggering P8.7 billion in contracts given to Pharmally. This revelation raised eyebrows, especially considering that Pharmally was selected to supply essential health equipment even with a modest paid-up capital of P625,000.