Senator Jinggoy Estrada bared Thursday that one of the alleged ‘favored’ suppliers of the Department of Education (DepEd) has cornered close to P6 billion in contracts for the agency’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) requirements.
Estrada said Advance Solutions Inc. (ASI) was awarded DepEd contracts several times, with the aggregate amount of these deals totaling “close to P6 billion” since 2015.
He said awarding the contracts to ASI, along with only a few other “favored” suppliers should have raised “red flags” within the DepEd and investigated by the Commission on Audit (COA), but no probe has been conducted so far on such practices.
“The consistency of ASI being awarded the contracts does not raise suspicion? Sa dami ng in-award sa ASI bakit mukhang may favoritism kayo diyan,” Estrada told DepEd officials during the resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the Department’s procurement of alleged overpriced and outdated laptops.
Director Abram Abanil of the DepEd’s ICT Services confirmed during the hearing that ASI was awarded contracts by the Department “multiple times.”
When asked by Estrada whether these contracts were awarded since 2015, Abanil said: “As far as I know.” But Abanil said he had no knowledge of the amount involved since he was not the director for DepEd’s ICT Services in the past when ASI bagged the contracts.
“Ang sa akin lang, bakit masyadong pinapaboran ng DepEd ang ASI at yung iba pa. Dahil kayo lang, iilan lang kayong suppliers ang favored ng DepEd. Marami namang puedeng mga suppliers dyan na competent enough na makapag-supplypero bakit kayo lagi,” Estrada said.
Estrada asked Abanil and the COA officials present during the hearing why they did not initiate any review or investigation into this apparent favoritism given by the education department to ASI and other “favored” DepEd suppliers.
Abanil said the DepEd’s legal service or internal audit service should be the proper entity to conduct a probe on the contracts because his office is composed mostly of engineers and ICT specialists, with no lawyers capable of undertaking the investigation.
To the COA, Estrada said: “Didn’t you have plans to investigate because red flag na yan. This amounts to billions of pesos na in-award sa iisang supplier lang since 2015. Isn’t that glaring enough? It looks like something fishy is going on.”
“Bakit paboritong i-award ng DepEd sa iisang supplier lang na nagkakahalaga ng anim na bilyon?” Estrada added.
In response to Estrada, COA Supervising Auditor for the DepEd Job Aguirre Jr. committed to undertake a review of the ASI contracts. “We will look into that. Puede naman po naming balikan yan,” Aguirre said.
Estrada requested Aguirre to submit an investigation report on this concern and submit it to the Blue Ribbon panel.
The senator earlier revealed that aside from ASI, four other companies were able to bag billions in procurement contracts for the DepEd’s ICT requirements since 2013.
These other companies are Columbia Technologies, Inc., Reddot Imaging Philippines, Inc., Techguru Inc. and Girltekki Inc., Estrada said.
Aguirre said the COA has already completed its audit findings on these four other suppliers contained in its consolidated annual audit report on the DepEd for fiscal year 2021.
A copy of the audit findings was submitted to the Blue Ribbon Committee, Aguirre said.
During the hearing, Senator Francis Tolentino, the committee chair, gave ASI the opportunity to respond to Estrada’s allegations.
A representative of ASI denied Estrada’s allegations and said the company had actively participated in the DepEd’s bidding processes and had been awarded contracts since 2013.
ASI also said it has no contact within the education department except during the implementation phase of the contracts when Estrada asked bluntly: “Sino ang contact ‘nyo diyan sa DepEd?”