Tolentino promises short investigations as laptop probes DepEd, sugar mess set

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Officials Accountability and Investigations, promised Wednesday that the panel would avoid lengthy hearings as he confirmed investigations into overpriced laptops for teachers in the public schools and on an irregular importation of sugar the order is set for next week.

While all Senate committees can hold hearings to help with legislation, the powerful Blue Ribbon Committee is the primary investigative body for high-profile controversies. Under Senate rules, the committee has jurisdiction to investigate “wrongdoing, wrongdoing and inaction” in government.

“We will not evolve in a political circus, we will respect the rights of the resource person… We will not be there to hunt witches, to go fishing,” Tolentino said in his opening speech. during the first organizational meeting of the committee. .

“We have a constitutional duty to perform, and that is to prevent abuse, to pass the appropriate remedial legislation, but with a known standard of proof. We are not going for culpability beyond the standard of reasonable doubt; that is the job of prosecutors as well as the courts.”

The panel, in the final months of the Duterte administration, held a battery of hearings into allegedly anomalous pandemic purchases tied to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. and in the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management.

The PS-DBM is in hot water again over laptops the Education Department procured through it that state auditors have flagged as being too expensive for the machines. entry level.

Tolentino, also a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee during the 18th Congress, was among the lawmakers who did not sign off on the draft report detailing the findings of those hearings. He said then that President Rodrigo Duterte should not have been included in the report “because there was never any breach of public trust” in the president.

He said the determination of guilt will be up to the judiciary and that the “job of the panel is to satisfy us that we have that intimate conviction, that moral certainty that a person appearing before this committee has committed a wrongdoing that would require the filing of charges”.

At the same meeting, Senator Risa Hontiveros – one of two members of the minority Senate bloc – cited the role the Blue Ribbon Committee has played in the country’s history and said she was sure that Tolentino “would conduct proceedings with an equal hand and with a view to demanding the highest standards of public service.”

Hontiveros, who had participated in the blue ribbon hearings on government pandemic spending, added: “There have been many calls, Mr. President, over the past few weeks to abolish the PS-DBM and to allow individual agencies to source their own supplies and equipment instead of going through the centralized PS-DBM procurement system.”

“I support these calls, but an equally – if not more urgent – call must be made: to hold accountable the officials who used the PS-DBM as a cash cow.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Tolentino set dates to begin separate investigations into the sugar import fiasco and the overpriced laptops purchased by the Department of Education on Tuesday, August 22 and Thursday, August 25, respectively.

Senators call for probes into possible anomalies

In a privileged speech during the Senate plenary session on Monday, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri claimed that hundreds of millions of pesos had been paid in bribes for importing thousands of tons of sugar.

“This recent fiasco has brought to light not only the SRA’s blatant disregard for the local sugar industry, but also its brazen attempts to usurp authority,” said Zubiri, whose home province of Bukidnon considers sugar cane sugar as a major crop.

Sugar Regulatory Administration leaders involved in issuing an import authority that the Palace later rejected have resigned, but Zubiri said they were still in charge and would still face challenges. an investigation by the Blue Ribbon Committee.

LILY: Sugar crisis complicates pandemic recovery for Filipino confectioners

Earlier Monday, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano urged the committee to investigate public school teachers’ laptops, saying the powerful committee would be the best way to uncover the truth about possible anomalies in the supply in the event of a pandemic. Cayetano, Speaker of the House during part of the Duterte administration, identified with neither the majority nor the minority Senate bloc.

“At least in one or two hearings they can establish whether there were any anomalies. There are more questions than answers every time DBM is mentioned,” he said, adding that the failure to hold hearings would embolden other members of government.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III also filed a resolution seeking hearings on the laptop deal, saying in Senate Resolution 120 that the DepEd and PS-DBM explain why less units were purchased and at a higher price.

Rachel J. Bradford