SJE Transcript: Blue Ribbon Committee Hearing on the alleged procurement of DepEd’s outdated and pricey laptops

SJE: Thank you, very much, Mr. Chair. May I know, what is the name of the representative from the Department of Education?

SFNT: Director Abanil, Sen. Estrada is probably referring to your identity.

ABANIL: Abram Abanil, Your Honor.

SJE: Are you a Usec or Asec in the department?

ABANIL: I am a director, Your Honor.

SJE: Is it correct to say that this is the first time that the LDLA joint venture supplied laptops to the department?

ABANIL: This is the first time, Your Honor.

SJE: So before this particular project, DepEd procured its laptop and IT requirements from other suppliers, am I correct?

ABANIL: That’s correct, Your Honor.

SJE: I have done some research on DepEd’s past contracts and I have encountered the names of ASI or Advance Solutions, Inc., Columbia Technologies, Inc., Reddot Imaging Philippines, Inc., Techguru Inc., and, Girltekki Inc., are you familiar with these names?

ABANIL: Yes, Your Honor.

SJE: Ok, so you would be able to confirm that these companies I mentioned have regularly supplied the DepEd with its laptop and other IT requirements? Am I correct?

ABANIL: That’s correct, Your Honor.

SJE: Will you agree with me that the intention behind public bidding is to open up government contracts to more suppliers and to level the playing field? In other words, the more suppliers are able to participate, the better it would be for the government.

ABANIL: Tama po yun, Your Honor.

SJE: And by that same reasoning, you will agree that it would not be in the best interest of the government if we limit competition?

ABANIL: Yes, Your Honor.

SJE: Don’t you think that by consistently awarding these DepEd contracts to these usual suppliers? We are actually limiting competition and discouraging others from joining?

ABANIL: Your Honor, during the projects that we have procured before, lagi namang nag-aattend sa mga ano naming, nagsa-submit during bid opening mga 7 to 9 different organizations for the DepEd pojects, ang ano lang, ang nananalo is itong mga nasabi n’yo, Your Honor, because they have submitted the lowest bids, Your Honor.

SJE: My point is that we should be more welcoming of new players since that would make for better competition. But don’t you think we are discouraging these new players from participating in government bidding if they are being singled out for investigation? 

ABANIL: Your Honor, I cannot comment on that, Your Honor.

SJE: Why?

ABANIL: Well, totoo naman yan, Your Honor, that any company that’s being subjected for investigation would have of course damage to their reputations.

SJE: Has any of these suppliers, particularly Advance Solutions, Inc. Columbia Technologies, Inc., Reddot Imaging Philippines, Inc., Techguru Inc., and Girltekki Inc. been the subject of a COA audit observation memorandum before? Do you have any idea?

ABANIL: We have been subjected to previous AOMs from the COA, Your Honor but primarily timeliness in the submission of documents to the Commission on Audit

SJE: What do we know of these suppliers? Is it customary for your department to award contracts to suppliers it had already previously dealt with like the ASI?

ABANIL: No, Your Honor, we went through competitive bidding with regards to the process of awarding contracts to these suppliers 

SJE: Could it be that ASI or Advance Solutions Inc. is only sourgraping now since it did not bag this DepEd contract?

ABANIL: It’s possible, Your Honor.

SJE: For instance, Columbia Technologies, Inc. has been supplying your department since 2013 and the value of its accumulated contracts has amounted to billions. Why has Columbia Technologies, Inc. not been scrutinized before? The same with Reddot Imaging Philippines, Inc. and Techguru Inc.? Bakit kaya hindi sila subjected sa mga imbestigasyon or audit reports? Ano po sa tingin ninyo?

ABANIL: Hindi ko po alam, Your Honor because hindi naman ho ako yung nag-ano, nag I–investigate.

SJE: Ok. I also noticed that there had been several repeat orders made in favor of these suppliers. Take note ha, the contract cites Section 51 of the IRR of RA 9184. The effect of a repeat order is that it dispenses with the need to undergo public bidding again. In the case of these suppliers, why did we not just bid for the goods in a single lot? Was there a lack of planning here or was the DepEd deliberately dividing the contract so that it can use repeat orders as an alternative mode of procurement? 

ABANIL: Your Honor, the decision to divide into lots was primarily but if I recall correctly, we decided on breaking it into further lots instead of making it into one lot because medyo worried kami baka hindi mag-comply yung mga suppliers sa NFCC, Your Honor, kung isang lot.

SJE: Does that not circumvent the law against splitting of contracts? You’re circumventing. 

ABANIL: As far as I know Your Honor, iba yung definition ng splitting of contracts.

SJE: What is your own definition? I’ve been in the Senate for 12 years, I’ve been Mayor for 9 years so naiintindihan ko din yan.

ABANIL: I would defer sa mga colleague ko from PS-DBM with regards to the Procurement Law, Your Honor.

SJE: Can you just give us a copy of your study with regard to the splitting of contracts?

ABANIL: Sige po, Your Honor.

SJE: That’s all, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much.

SFNT: Thank you, Senator Estrada.