A person who found lost item but does not return it liable for theft

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Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear Pao,
Is it true that one may be held liable for theft, if he found a lost thing and never returned it to its owner? What if he does not know the owner, can he still be held liable for theft?
Rein

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Dear Rein,
According to the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, theft is committed as follows:

“Art. 308. Who are liable for theft. — Theft is committed by any person who, with intent to gain but without violence against or intimidation of persons nor force upon things, shall take personal property of another without the latter’s consent.

Theft is likewise committed by:

1. Any person who, having found lost property, shall fail to deliver the same to the local authorities or to its owner;

2. Any person who, after having maliciously damaged the property of another, shall remove or make use of the fruits or object of the damage caused by him; and

3. Any person who shall enter an inclosed estate or a field where trespass is forbidden or which belongs to another and without the consent of its owner, shall hunt or fish upon the same or shall gather cereals, or other forest or farm products.” (Emphasis supplied)

Clearly, theft is not only committed by the intentional taking of another’s property without force upon things or violence against or intimidation of persons but also by failure of the finder of a lost thing to return the same to its owner or to turn it over to the local authorities, among others.

The provision of Article 719 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines gives light to the situation where the finder of a lost property does not know the owner of the thing found. It provides:

“Art. 719. Whoever finds a movable, which is not treasure, must return it to its previous possessor. If the latter is unknown, the finder shall immediately deposit it with the mayor of the city or municipality where the finding has taken place.

The finding shall be publicly announced by the mayor for two consecutive weeks in the way he deems best.

If the movable cannot be kept without deterioration, or without expenses which considerably diminish its value, it shall be sold at public auction eight days after the publication.

Six months from the publication having elapsed without the owner having appeared, the thing found, or its
value, shall be awarded to the finder. The finder and the owner shall be obliged, as the case may be, to reimburse the expenses.”

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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