Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Property and Propriety

DAVAO--My mother was indignant. "Those two tried to steal our chairs," she huffed. "Those two?" I confirmed, pointing to two well-dressed girls nearby. They stood calm and oblivious, intent only on the platform where the choir of children sat. The two cool miscreants couldn't have been more than twelve years old.

So there we were on a pleasant Easter morning, attending our first ever Pagsugat. The crowd at the parking lot of Victoria Plaza was huge, about 3,000-strong. The whole neighborhood -- and then some -- had turned up for this traditional celebration. Following the advice of veterans, we brought our own stools.

While I was off taking photos and while Mom was stretching her legs, the two girls espied our empty seats. They sat down, not bothering to ask whose the chairs were. My mother thought to let them rest a while so she let them be. Then, Mom's attention flicked away momentarily. When she turned back, those two girls were already walking away, chairs hanging behind them. "Hey! Those are ours!" Mom snarled, and with that she promptly retrieved our furniture.

On the whole, the incident was minor. Once the shock had worn off, it was cause for much bemusement. But it was food for thought. One one hand, we might simply ascribe it to mischief; on the other, it could be yet another distinction where Philippine societal lines are drawn.

I'm not sure if the Pagsugat wasn't entirely related to the mode of thinking of the two would-be thieves. Not the Pagsugat as a religious event, certainly, but rather the Pagsugat as another typically large Filipino community gathering. When you get 3,000 people together at 3:00AM, it bespeaks not only devotion but a festive mindset.

Whence comes this way of thinking? We Filipinos, especially in the rural and rurban areas, live within a large community cluster. It's an extended family of neighbors and friends. Hence a pre-dawn event like the Pagsugat gets very large numbers. It is, after all, another community celebration.

But when you have such a large extended community in close daily proximity, some property becomes communal. Just as within a family, many things might be held as common property, so too, might some things be regarded within an extended community. Sharing then becomes the primary virtue; failure to share results in much ill-will.

This is not to say that Filipino communities abide mostly by communal property rules. But it does lead one to wonder if, living within such a large network, the concept of personal property rights not might end up a little weaker in some members.

Might this also have something to do with the comparatively high incidence of petty theft within said communities? After all, if the concept of property rights is weak, then surely theft constitutes merely a very minor transgression? Theft is, after all, not merely about the opportunity, after all, it's also about the ethics -- or lack thereof.

This is not to say, either, that these kinds of Filipino communities are fundamentally damaged. They provide a backbone of social stability and enduring relationships; in fact, they have many good things to offer. But we must be cognizant of the deficiencies that they might foster, arresting them early in the younger members before they become ingrained bad habits.


  1. i hope the two girls learned their lesson and be aware.... about "how to ask".

  2. Wala. Dedma lang. Kaya nga nakakainis. Grrr!