One of my professors in the college of law asked us a question: What are you going to do if you found cash somewhere? Many of the students answered: Return it to the owner. The professor then asked another question: How are you going to identify who the owner is? Indeed how can you return something if there is no way of verifying the identity of the owner. Since it is cash, anyone can claim it to be theirs. We were taught to return things to their rightful owners and not appropriate upon ourselves things which are not ours or have not gained the right to own them. But what then if the owner of the thing found cannot be located or identified?
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 is 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.