The laptops and gadgets procured by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) under its Digital Education Program (DEP) were intended to assist its partner Local Government Units (LGUs) facilitate ICT-enabled education especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ICT gadgets, which were turned over by the LGUs to student beneficiaries, enhances the delivery of services to the education sector – a mandate that DICT fulfills.

Aside from formulating and implementing national policies, plans, programs and initiatives with government agencies and instrumentalities to promote and develop use of ICT in education, DICT is also mandated to foster ICT resource sharing, build the capacity of the government in terms of ICT, and improve public access to the internet.

“Through these initiatives, we aim to be more responsive to the needs of our students under the online and blended learning modalities as face-to-face classes are currently suspended during this public health emergency,” DICT Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” B. Honasan II said.  And with the massive shift online, he also cited the need to educate everyone about cyber-threats.

Urgent need for continued learning

The need for resources and ICT-enabled interventions are urgently needed for continued learning, particularly those underprivileged students and learners who have little to no access to learning tools.

The DICT, Honasan said, is empowered to pursue these initiatives to provide necessary computer services as well as technical expertise to government agencies in line with its mandates under RA 10844 in relation to Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1480 and other relevant laws.

“Overall, the projects involved aim to support the primary objective of the government to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus as more and more agencies and LGUs rely on the technical expertise and functions of the DICT to address the greater need for digitization, interconnectivity, and ensuring cybersecurity awareness of the public, during this new normal,” Honasan said.

These are likewise consistent with the declared policy of the State to promote the use of ICT to enhance key public services, such as education, digital literacy, ICT expertise, and knowledge-building among citizens, as well as security of information assets of individuals, among others.

Pursuant to Republic Act No. 10844 or the “Department of Information and Communications Technology Act of 2015, the DICT is the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the Executive Branch of the government that will plan, develop, and promote the national ICT development agenda

In the formulation and implementation of policies and initiatives, it coordinates with the Department of Education (DepED), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), to develop and promote ICT in education consistent with national goals and objectives.

Hence, devices and laptops were procured for DICT’s DEP’s pilot projects — Cybersafe Learning for Education, Cybersafe Learning for Education of the Cybersecurity Bureau (CSB), and the Digital Learners and Teachers.

No procurement irregularity

Unfortunately, though, these projects were recently flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA) which questioned the regularity of the procurement.

The DICT has already responded to the COA’s memorandum, addressing the issues raised and assuaging its concerns regarding the said projects. 

The tablets and devices were procured through Emergency Cases of the 2016 Revised Implementing Rules (IRR) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9184 and awarded to Lex-Mar General Merchandise and Contractor (Lex-Mar), which the DICT found to be a technically, legally, and financially capable supplier.

While also engaged in the business of general construction, Lex-Mar is a wholesaler of office supplies and office equipment, including the supply of computer units and tablets. Recent financial statements also indicate that the bidder’s revenue or income exceeds and is capable of sustaining its operations, costs and expenses. This sufficiently shows that Lex-Mar is capable of generating sufficient funds and revenue through various types of activities.

In fact, Lex-Mar presented several completed contracts which include procurement projects conducted for the local government of Quezon City involving laptops and computer units. These projects were duly completed involving similar types of ICT equipment, for the same procuring entity as the local authority that issued the business permits and authorized the business activities of Lex-Mar. Put simply, if the local government unit that issued the permit for Lex-Mar to engage in business respected such permit in their procurement project for computer units and similar ICT devices, then it stands to reason that other government agencies may also rely on such duly issued permits.

Digital learning projects

The first pilot project is for tablets for the DICT’s Cybersafe Learning for Education spearheaded by the ICT Literacy and Competency Development Bureau (ILCDB) and intended to benefit the students from the University of Makati.

The second project pertains to the tablets procured for the Cybersafe Learning for Education of the Cybersecurity Bureau (CSB), with ILCDB’s support, in coordination with the City Governments of San Juan and Makati.

While the third project were for the Digital Learners and Teachers, a project of the ILCDB that benefited learners and teachers from Pinaglabanan Elementary School in San Juan City.

The pilot sites were selected taking into account implementation readiness and the need to generate rich data to inform policy formulation, in view of diverse socio-economic profile, of the localities.

San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora himself admitted that the provided gadgets will help public school students continue their education amid the disruption in the education system brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Malaking tulong ito [gadgets] sapagkat alam natin sa panahon ngayon wala talagang face-to-face learning muna. Ang method talaga ng pag-aaral ay online. So paano ka mago-online education kung wala kang tablet? Minsan nagiging dahilan pa ito na huwag na lang mag-aral,” Zamora said.

(The gadgets are a big help since face-to-face learning is currently suspended and online learning is the alternative method of education at present. How will students engage in online education if they have no tablets? Sometimes, the lack of gadget even becomes as an excuse for students to stop schooling.)

Digital learning is anchored on Department Circular (DC) No. 12, s. 2020, and related issuances, that mandate immediate measures to prevent the exposure of learners, students, teachers and administrators to pandemic risks by prioritizing the urgent implementation of departmental projects to provide ICT solutions to educational institutions and other stakeholders. Finally, Honasan pointed out that this is not the first time that the highest executive arm of the government that manages national ICT development has provided ICT equipment to a government partner, client or beneficiary. In 2010, for example, which a 2018 COA  decision itself has recorded, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology under EO 269, s. 2004, in partnership with the DepED implemented the iSchool Project which aimed to provide ICT equipment to all qualified public schools in the Philippines.  He emphasized: “It is with more reason that during this time of pandemic when going digital spells individual resiliency or vulnerability that the government should spare no effort in making sure that ICT resources and services are provided to government partners, clients, and beneficiaries.”