Jinggoy urges Senate to probe deeper into DepEd’s ‘favored’ laptop suppliers

Senator Jinggoy Estrada on Monday, September 19 called on the Senate to dig deeper into the Department of Education’s (DepEd) computer procurement program to determine if it has resorted to the practice of “splitting of contracts” so it can grant multi-billion peso deals to only a few laptop suppliers of the agency.

In a statement, Estrada said awarding contracts to the same set of “favored” suppliers and splitting a big contract into smaller ones are prohibited under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

“Based on my research on DepEd’s contracts, I always encounter the names of ASI or Advance Solutions Inc., Columbia Technologies, Reddot Imaging Philippines, Techguru Inc., and Girl Teki Inc.,” Estrada noted.

“Why are these suppliers so lucky that they almost always win juicy Deped contracts that run into billions of pesos over the years?” the senator asked.

The matter on the splitting of contracts surfaced during last week’s continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s investigation into the controversial purchase of overpriced yet outdated laptops for teachers, a procurement which the DepEd transferred to the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Services (DBM-PS). He noted some of the suppliers that bagged billions worth of contract do not even have websites, and their offices are located in obscure addresses in Manila.

Estrada also said he noticed that there have been several repeat orders made in favor of these suppliers.

“Take note that under Section 51 of the IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations) of Republic Act 9184… the effect of repeat orders is that it dispenses with or foregoes the conduct of competitive public bidding,” he said.

DepEd’s “favored” suppliers, he also noted, have virtually gone “scot-free” from the Commission on Audit’s (COA) scrutiny despite DepEd’s questionable procurement practices.

“For instance, Advance Solutions, Inc. and Columbia Technologies have been supplying DepEd for many years, and the value of their accumulated contracts amounts to billions. Why were they not scrutinized before?” he pointed out.

“The same with Reddot Imaging, Girl Teki, and Tech Guru. Bakit hindi sila (Why were they not) subjected to an investigation o audit report ng COA before?” he further asked.

“Do we even know if these computers were all delivered and are working? Where are these computers now? Can DepEd account for them?” he added.

He said it is also possible that some of DepEd’s favored suppliers, like ASI, which lost the bidding for the P2.4-billion laptops purchase deal in 2021 are merely “sourgraping” and even appeared as “resource speakers” during a formal Senate probe.

“Since when has the Senate become a forum to hear the gripes of losing bidders?” he asked.

“We should be more welcoming to new players that would make for better competition. Don’t you think we are discouraging these new players from participating in government biddings if they are singled out for investigation?” the senator reiterated. -Hannah Torregoza/ Manila Bulletin