Hard questions on DepEd’s P28-million feeding program

Two developments disturbed the public mood recently, with one of them generating enough buzz for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s resident prober of official misdeeds, PBM Edwin Tanael.

The other is the disclosure that four suspects arrested in a Legazpi City incident who misrepresented themselves as agents of a telecoms company actually came to the province in October last year.

The group actually befriended provincial officials and at least two municipal mayors, who were allegedly genuinely convinced by their venture to shoulder the group’s stay in a resort hotel as well as sumptuous meals.

The good thing about the issue is that, so far, no one has complained of having lost a significant amount of money. Sure, the politicians who swallowed the bait lost a considerable amount of face but nothing more.

It is the controversy about the DepEd’s implementation of the School-Based Feeding Program that has generated more questions than answers.

It may be recalled that based on the findings of the SP committee hearing presided over by PBM Robert Fernandez, the DepEd Catanduanes Schools Division Office bid out the P14-million contract for the supply and distribution of nutritious food on Nov. 23, 2020 and awarded it to Amenia Beach Resort & Catering Services three days later.

On Dec. 7, the winning bidder requested “minor modification” in the original menu, citing the lack of fruits due to its limited supply following the recent calamity.

The BAC subsequently granted the request, but the SP apparently was not able to get hold of the modified menu.

On Dec. 17, 2020, it opened the bidding for the P14.4-million supply and distribution of 33-gram sachets of powered, flavored milk for the same program and awarded the same to A3 General Merchandise.

Sometime in late January, 2021, this supplier delivered cartons of milk products (the boxes were marked Alaska) to the division office.

During the Feb. 11 committee hearing, OIC-Schools Division Superintendent Dr. Susan Collano disclosed that the nutritious food that were served on Jan. 11-29, 2021 was based on the modified menu.

It was also revealed by ASDS Ma. Louisa dela Rosa that the funds for the feeding program were supposed to be downloaded to school heads but, upon the recommendation of the division budget officer and accountant, the regional office decided to give the responsibility of implementing it to the division office.

Based on these facts, the committee and its members would be much more enlightened if they would ask some more questions.

Why were the milk not distributed to the 13,000 malnourished pupils at the same time as that of the nutritious food, so as to ensure their breakfast would be healthier indeed?

If there was a substitute menu, why was it not disclosed by DepEd to the SP committee to make sure the modification was not substantial so as to significantly alter the original terms of the bid?

In recommending the feeding program’s implementation by the division, did the budget officer, accountant and higher DepEd officials think that having one supplier would result in a logistical nightmare, considering the difficulty of ensuring that the highly-perishable food would reach each of the 13,000 recipients in time for breakfast for 20 straight days?

Did they even ask the supplier for a list of possible sources of the nutritious food, considering that there might not be enough bakeries capable of making 26,000 ensaymadas and 13,000 pieces of small toasted siopao the day before the food packs are to be delivered?

Did they even consider the possibility that if the supplier bought from only one bakery, the bread would no longer be good to eat once it is delivered to the pupils, especially in faraway schools?

Is it not that the ultimate responsibility for the “very poor” liquidation performance of school heads, the very reason why the feeding program was transferred to the division, should be borne by the Catanduanes schools division?

Or is the division office’s financial management system in such a mess that it hugely contributed to the “very poor” liquidation record, allowing the release of funds without requiring liquidation of prior cash advances?

These questions should embolden the honorable gentlemen of the SP to go beyond the issue of moldy bread and missing fruits.

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