Surigao Norte DepEd head: no tax clearance, no graduation

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/17 February) – Can the parents of graduating students be required to submit tax clearance certificates before their children may graduate?

Dr. Evelyn R. Fetalvero, Officer In Charge of the Department of Education in Surigao del Norte seemed to think so.

On January 18 this year, she issued Memorandum No. 08 telling school officials that “effective this school year, all Grade VI pupils and Fourth Year Secondary Students are mandated to secure Tax Clearances Certificates thru [sic] parents from the Provincial, City and/or Municipal Treasurer as a requirement for graduation.”

Fetalvero said the memorandum was based on Surigao del Norte Provincial Governor Sol F. Matugas’ Executive Order No 001 series of 2012 titled “An Order Requiring A Tax Clearance Issued by the Provincial, City and/or Municipal Treasurer, as the case may be, evidencing payment of yearly tax obligations from any requesting including local contractors and supplies of goods and services, and job applications before issuance of official records.”

The DepEd official said she just wanted to help the local government units in collecting taxes specially from real property owners who have tax arrears.

“As our civil obligation, we should pay this as our contribution to the advancement of the nation,” she said,  adding the province has intensified its tax collection to generate funds for the various projects under the Health, Education, Agriculture/Aquaculture, Livelihood and Social Services or (HEALS) program of the governor.

She said taxes are needed for the full implementation of programs and projects of the local school board.

Her memorandum added that teachers should also submit to their tax clearance certificates to their heads as requirement for the release of salaries and honorarium effective this month.

Several groups have expressed their opposition to the memorandum.

The Surigao City chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), through its president Alfonso S. Casurra, said Fetalvero should rethink the wisdom of issuing the memorandum.

Casurra said Fetalvero should carefully read the tenor of the governor’s executive order 001, which is her basis in issuing the memorandum.

“We don’t think that her memorandum is within the scope of Governor Executive Order 001 because it only requires specific persons like the local contractors, job applicants, suppliers of goods and services before the issuance of official records. And to apply this as a requirement to students and pupils for them to graduate and DepEd employees for them to get their salaries that would be illegal and unjustifiable as far as we are concerned,” Casurra said over a local radio station, RPN-DXKS on Wednesday.

Casurra, who also served as city mayor for over 10 years, urged Fetalvero to recall immediately her memorandum and probably ask for guidance about the governor’s executive order.

“Nowhere in the said executive order will it apply as a condition for graduation or the condition to for one to be paid of salary. My goodness I cannot comprehend this kind of a memorandum issued,” he said.

Casurra added that even if a parent has no real property, one should still pay for the tax clearance.

“Why are you punishing the children because of your poor performance in collecting taxes,” he asked.

“In the event that they will not recall this memorandum, there will be a case to be filed against them especially if there will be a pupil or student be barred for graduation or there is a employee who cannot get their salary for not complying the tax clearance,” the former mayor warned.

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s (IFI) diocese in Surigao, headed by bishop Rhee Timbang, said the governor’s executive order is illegal and irregular.

“The said Executive Order of the Provincial Governor is not covered by an ordinance enacted by the Provincial Board of the Province of Surigao del Norte, otherwise such ordinance must have been cited by the said Executive Order,” the statement said.

“We likewise believe that even if the said Executive Order is backed by an ordinance, it is still immoral and unconstitutional since it infringes on the constitutional right to labor, including the right to just compensation. The Provincial Governor’s Executive Order mandated the requirement of tax clearance certificate to all professionals and other workers/employees. By requiring tax clearance certificate, the Executive Order imposes unreasonable requirement of payment of tax that is unrelated to compensable works to be done a day, violating the Labor Code which protects the right to labor,” it added.

The statement said “requiring teachers, school personnel and teacher job applicants to submit tax clearance certificate…is unreasonable and impertinent” in relation to the duties of the teachers and school personnel.

The IFI urged the governor to recall the controversial EO and instead direct concerned government agencies under her charge to be serious in collecting taxes.

It also called on Fetalvero to withdraw the memorandum and instead advise supervisors and principals to promote tax consciousness among school children, parents and teachers.

Fetalvero said that in response to the various reactions she issued an addendum on February 3 to her memorandum.

“If the parents with real properties could not pay the whole tax amount accruable for the year, it will not hinder their pupils/students to graduate,” she said.

She said that if the barangays have the master lists of delinquent taxpayers issued by the treasurers, a barangay tax clearance certificate will suffice. The DepEd officials in these areas would then be requested to arrange with the barangays to waive the collection of fees for the issuance of said tax clearance in the case of graduating pupils and students, she added.

She said that withholding the salaries and honorarium of teachers and school personnel pending the submission of Tax Clearance “shall be given a grace period of one month or up to March, 2012.”

MindaNews sought Gov. Sol F. Matugas for comment but she was not in her office.

Provincial administrator Primolito B. Plaza said the executive order was issued on January 7 last year, not this year as the DepEd memo stated.

He said he did not know the reason behind the DepEd memo.

“I was astounded when I heard this issue but if you read the governor’s executive order there is nothing in there to put on hold the salaries and honorarium of the employees of the Department of Education pending their submission of tax clearance certificates as well as requiring graduating pupils and students’ parents for tax clearance,” Plaza said.

Oscar O. Masuhay, OIC principal of Surigao del Norte National Highschool said he will implement the memorandum because it came from his superior.

He said it is advantageous to the local government units, as it would help them in collecting taxes.

MindaNews talked to graduating students of the Surigao del Norte National High school but they said they were not informed yet on the memorandum.

“We are not told by our teachers about that. What she wants us to submit is the original birth certificate,” said Rizal Section students who will hold their commencement exercise on March 29.

Despite criticisms hounding Fetalvero, provincial treasurer Daisy D. Hubilla said she admired the education official’s initiative.

Hubilla said one percent of the taxes collected from real properties goes to the Special Education Fund through the Local School Board.

She admitted that they have problems collecting taxes from real property owners.

“Sometimes, there are land administrators who cannot report to the land owners because they cannot reach them,” she said.

MindaNews asked about the total taxes collected from real property owners in the past two years but Hubilla said she could not divulge the amount without a request letter. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)