December 05, 2023

Controversial DepEd-Surigao Norte memo sparks word war


A word war has erupted over the controversial memorandum issued by the schools division superintendent of the Department of Education of Surigao del Norte as a local opposition leader retorted to a remark by the provincial governor who has sided with the education official.

DepEd-Surigao del Norte superintendent Dr. Evelyn Fetalvero earlier issued a memorandum obliging the parents of graduating elementary and high school students to submit tax clearance certificates as requisite for graduation. Another memorandum required teachers to submit the same document before their monthly salary could be released.

In an interview over RPN-DXKS, Gov. Sol Matugas said she has already “suggested” to the DepEd official to “pull out” the controversial order, adding the criticisms would only make Fetalvero look stupid.

“How about them, are they (critics) not stupid?” Matugas asked.

“Maybe it’s true because she ordered the memo to be pulled out. If that is not stupidity, then what is it?” lawyer and former provincial board member Victor F. Bernal shot back.

Bernal, spokesperson of the Coalition of Surigaonons For Good Governance Transparency and Accountability (COSSUG-TA), a local anti-corruption watchdog, said he was only replying to the governor’s question. “Yes, stupid. Since she’s the one asking, yes, stupid,” he said.

The lawyer added Fetalvero must have failed to seek legal advise. He said the order was full of loopholes including the provision that prohibited the release of the teachers’ salaries if they did not submit a tax clearance certificate.

He said teachers’ salaries are the only public-issued salaries that are exempted from the “writ of execution,” meaning nothing can be withheld or deducted from it.

Matugas ordered Fetalvero to pull out Division Memos 08 and 11 following strong criticisms from various sectors in the city including the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) provincial chapter, city legislators and militant groups including the partylist youth group Anakbayan.

Fetalvero’s memorandum 08 series of 2012 issued last January 18 was based on Executive Order 01 series of 2011 of Gov. Sol F. Matugas titled “An order requiring a tax clearance certificate issued by the provincial, city and/or municipal treasurer, as the case may be, evidencing payment of yearly tax obligations from any requester including local contractors and suppliers of goods and services, and job applicants before issuance of official records.”

Bernal said Matugas should not treat the issue lightly because it involves an education official issuing a memorandum based on an order by a local government official, whose mandates are “separate”.

He said it is beyond the authority of the governor to dictate on the DepEd on the issue of tax collection, calling it an ultra veris act.

He added the governor can only encourage the DepEd to participate in improving tax collection.

“The governor cannot dictate upon the DepEd and the superintendent should not be subservient and (instead) she should receive order from the (education) secretary,” Bernal said.

“As it is bagan tagkilaya man nija si (Gov.) Sol as DepEd RD (regional director) gihapon and in like manner she still thinks she’s the RD and the superintendent will abide by her biddings,” Bernal said.

Fetalvero could not be reached for comment as she was attending an out-of-town activity.

Bernal also took exception to Matugas’ pronouncement that the issue is being politicized saying the religious sector is not a political entity and so its action cannot be construed as politicking.

COSSUG-TA, he said, only issued a statement now as a rejoinder to the “mounting opposition (against the EO and the memo) in order to air a legitimate grievance.”

“It is easy to say it is politics but Matugas should just admit that it committed a mistake. If they didn’t made a mistake then why withdraw the order? It (withdrawal) is already a tacit admission that it made a mistake. Why blame it on politics?” the lawyer said.

He added that the intent of the superintendent to help the local government unit in improving its tax collection efficiency is “unheard of.”

Bernal said he did not know that the DepEd is now a “tax collection agent” of the provincial government.

“It only shows that the provincial government has failed in its tax collection efforts because it failed to reach its targets. And lastly, the people are not interested to pay taxes to this administration because probably they have lesser faith in its accountability and transparency,” he said.

Caraga DepEd Administrative Officer Raul Orozco meanwhile said that local initiatives by school officials need not go through the regional office or the central office for approval.

Orozco said Fetalvero’s order is “in itself not wrong because it was done in the spirit of helping the local government in its tax collection efforts.”

But he said the DepEd can only encourage when it comes to tax collection. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)


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