On social media, many users post about the honest deed of individuals returning valuables. Many express their amazement on the honesty of these individuals as if this deed is very rare. Is it really difficult to be honest nowadays? I used to work in a radio station and it was a usual thing for people to bring found items to the station to have an announcement over the air for the owner to claim the same. People who lost things would also come with the hope that someone might have turned it over to the station. There were those who lost their wallet together with some cash, mobile devices, important documents, keys, food, and even sacks of rice. Most of these were left inside taxis or jeeps and while some lost items are recovered others remain unclaimed, not found, and unreported. In case we find valuables, will we find time to look for the owner to return it? There are few provisions of our law with respect to this matter but they might be worth looking into.
Art. 438 of the Civil Code of the Philippines deals with hidden treasures which means “any hidden and unknown deposit of money, jewelry, or other precious objects, the lawful ownership of which does not appear” (Art. 439). The law states that the “hidden treasure belongs to the owner of the land, building, or other property on which it is found”. It means that if the land owner finds treasure in his property, the same is owned by him. The found valuables should not have any indication of the owner otherwise it will not be considered a hidden treasure and it must be returned to the identified owner. But how about treasure hunters? The law provides that the treasure should be found by chance. My civil law professor however, thinks that even treasures found by hunters are found by “chance” since they never know if they will find valuables or not. If the finder by chance is not the land owner or if the land belongs to the state the sharing shall be 50/50 but if the finder is a trespasser he is not entitled to anything.
The rules on finding objects which are not considered treasure are contained in Articles 719 and 720 of the Civil Code. The finder must return it to the previous possessor but if he does not know him the thing should be deposited with the mayor of the place where the object was recovered. The mayor then must have it publicly announced for two consecutive weeks. Those things that are easily destroyed should be sold at public auction eight days after the publication. If the owner does not appear within six months after publication, the thing will be awarded to the finder but if the owner appears in time he shall be obliged to reimburse any expenses incurred for the preservation of the thing. The law even adds that the owner “shall be obliged to pay, as a reward to the finder, one-tenth of the sum or of the price of the thing found”. The application of the provisions of law stated above is dependent upon the honesty of the finder since the owner has no knowledge about the finding of the thing. If the finder decides not to report the recovery of the lost item, there is no way of implementing the law. The law is clear in stating that the finder if entitled to 1/10 of the value of the thing found. This, however is not usually imposed since finders might be uncomfortable in claiming a reward for their honesty.