Stretching the meaning of ‘fringe benefits’ | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

Stretching the meaning of ‘fringe benefits’

/ 04:56 AM April 15, 2011

I RECEIVED an e-mail response from former Solicitor General Frank Chavez, now the lawyer of Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, to my March 30, 2011 column regarding the resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman accusing Duterte of technical malversation for spending P11.5 million of the city’s Special Education Fund (SEF) for food and raffle prizes during just one party, called “Pahalipay (Gratuity) ni Mayor,” coinciding with his birthday celebration when he was still the mayor. Duterte has filed a motion for reconsideration, which is still pending. There is no basis for the charge, Chavez alleges.

Republic Act 5447 which created the SEF mandates that it shall be spent exclusively for specific purposes or activities of the Department of Education (DepEd). Those who filed the charge against Duterte claim that the birthday party for which the P11.5 million SEF fund was used was not an activity of the DepEd as contemplated by RA 5447.

Chavez alleges, however, that on July 1, 1984, President Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1969 providing, among other things, that the SEF “accruing to the Local School Board shall be used for the salary adjustment, allowances and other fringe benefits of local and national public school teachers, in addition to other purposes mentioned in Section 1 of RA 5447, as amended.”

Chavez said that the PD added “fringe benefits” for local and national teachers to those for which the SEF can be spent. He identified “fringe benefits” as “an employment benefit given in addition to one’s wages or salary.”


Simply put, the charge leveled against Duterte “is based on a law (RA 5447) the material and relevant portions of which have either been repealed or amended,” Chavez said. “It must be stressed that Joint Circular No. 1, Series of 1998, issued by the Department of Education, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Interior and Local Government, specifically allows allowances of public school teachers, etc., as well as other expenses to be charged against the Special Education Fund. And when we advert to ‘other expenses’, that definitely also refers to ‘fringe benefits’ which the local school board is allowed to charge against the Special Education Fund. Gifts, food, entertainment expenses given once a year during the Christmas Season to public school teachers are clearly and indisputably ‘fringe benefits’.”

Chavez continued: “Accordingly, the COA Annual Audit Report for CY 2006 does not contain any adverse audit findings/observations with reference to the use of SEF expenditures. No Notice of Suspension or Notice of Disallowance was issued by the assigned Audit Team to the City Government of Davao.

“It is best that the Office of the Ombudsman and any interested party take a second and long look at RA 5447, PD 1969, Joint Circular No. 1, Series of 1998, and the Local Government Code of 1991 and not merely focus on an outdated and long amended RA 5447.”

My comment: It has long been said that a lawyer “can make black look white and white look black.” This is certainly true of Duterte’s counsel, who is clearly earning his legal fees.


Common sense dictates that the SEF, P11.5 million of it, was never intended by Congress to be spent for just one birthday celebration of a mayor. If a mayor wants to throw a lavish birthday party, he should spend his own money, not the money intended for public school teachers. Spending P11.5 million for just one birthday bash is too much. No sensible person would waste that much of his own money just to hold one birthday bash.

As I see it, Duterte did not hesitate to use that P11.5 million SEF money because it wasn’t his but money paid by taxpayers intended for public school teachers. I cannot imagine any Congress enacting a law that would authorize a city mayor to use P11.5 million of public funds just to glorify himself on his birthday. That is why the law provided that the fund should be used “EXCLUSIVELY for specific activities and purposes of the DepEd.” It was never intended for any birthday party, not even of a president, much less a city mayor.


Clearly, the PD meant “fringe benefits” as bonuses or food and clothing allowances to teachers to enable them to support their families better. And I am sure that when they went to Duterte’s “Pahalipay ni Mayor” and partook of the food and entertainment, they were never told that the money being spent there was not from Duterte himself but from taxpayers and intended for them, the teachers.

There is a principle in law that in a conflict between the spirit and the letter of the law, the former takes priority. In the context of the above case, the spirit of the law, or the intent of the framers of the law, conflicts with the letter of the law as interpreted by Chavez. The SEF was intended by Congress for more solid and meaningful benefits to teachers than what was dished out by Duterte during his birthday party.

I am sure that if the teachers were asked what they preferred, the food and drinks and raffle prizes during Duterte’s bash or a bonus or an allowance from the SEF, they would have chosen the latter.

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To say that the hoopla for the mayor’s birthday party was the “fringe benefits” meant by PD 1969 is to stretch its meaning too much. But leave it to lawyers to twist and turn and reverse the meanings of words beyond common sense. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot accept the meaning of “fringe benefits” that Chavez gave to it.

TAGS: laws, local government

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