Pictures of former education secretary Leonor Briones in a wheelchair during the Senate hearing into alleged overpriced laptops procured by the department during her term went viral.
The 81-year-old former Cabinet official on Thursday attended the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee‘s inquiry into the P2.4-billion laptop procurement of the DepEd flagged by the Commission on Audit.
According to Briones, she is “not hiding under somebody’s bed” in response to online accusations about her whereabouts amid the overpriced laptop issue.
“I am as visible as you can be. I am very involved in international debates, as well as concerns for developments in the Philippines,” she was quoted as saying.
Briones is now the director of Innotech, a regional facility hosted by the Philippines and has 11 member-countries from Southeast Asia.
State auditors early this month flagged the DepEd, saying that the agency, through the Procurement Service — Department of Budget and Management, procured 39,583 Intel Celeron laptops for public school teachers’ use for distance learning which was “pricey” for its kind.
Each unit was listed as P58,000 in the Approved Budget Contract, but the original price agreed upon by the DepEd before the PS-DBM conducted its preliminary market survey was only P35,000.
Several Filipinos questioned the laptop price, with a technology-based website sharing better laptops the public can buy for nearly the same amount as P58,000.
Former budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao attributed the laptop price increase to a number of “externalities” and add-ons, including the coronavirus pandemic, warranties, servicing and software.
PS-DBM executive director Dennis Santiago affirmed this and said that “there is a possibility that it will increase or decrease depending on demand, availability, and market suppliers available.”
“There are so many externalities on the effect to the market price,” he added.
Midway into the hearing, Briones in a wheelchair has to be brought to the Senate clinic for a medical check-up.
Some pictures of the moment went viral on social media, with a Facebook post earning over 26,000 shares so far.
Others recalled some personalities who also appeared in public in wheelchairs.
Briones, however, has been previously using a movable chair, most notably during her stint as education secretary.
“In fairness to Briones, she is frail [and] old. A friend said frequent passenger niya si madam pre-pandemic sa PAL [and] she always requested a wheelchair,” a Twitter user claimed, referring to Philippine Airlines.
“She went here in 2021 sa province namin naka-wheelchair. She can stand and walk naman pero limited na time na,” another online user claimed.
In 2017, Briones admitted that she uses a wheelchair whenever she travels by plane.
“It is true that I use a wheelchair whenever I travel by plane; there is no correlation between the state of my knees and the state of my brains, as well as the capacity to analyze challenges, whether these be related to education, finance, politics and the economy,” she said before.
Before Briones was confirmed as then-President Rodrigo Duterte’s education chief, the Commission on Appointments asked questions about her physical fitness.