3 characteristics of property

Not all things are property, as can be learned in law school. Certain things cannot be considered property because they cannot be appropriated either due to legal impossibility or due to physical impossibility. Aside from appropriability, learned writers on property law propose two other characteristics of property that distinguish it from "things." The mnemonic device is USA.

[1] UTILITY FOR THE SATISFACTION OF MORAL OR ECONOMIC WANTS. This is a very traditional way of looking at the concept of property in law. This simply means that, for a thing to be considered property, it must be capability of providing utility (usefulness) or satisfaction to humans. This satisfaction need not be moral or economic, actually; it can be physical or mental. The modern view, however, is that there is no longer a need for a thing to have actual capacity to satisfy wants as long as it is capable of appropriation, although such is still one of the characteristics of property.

[2] SUSCEPTIBILITY OF APPROPRIATION. There can legal or physical impossibility that prevents a thing from being considered property in the eyes of the law. Legal impossibility is when the law declares something as illegal or there is a recognized legal view that something is beyond the commerce of men.

Methamphetamine (meth), a form of dangerous drugs prohibited under Philippine laws, cannot be considered property. Thus, when the government confiscates and destroys meth, even if "owned" by a person, there is no deprivation of property.

An example of something beyond the commerce of men is the human body. Decades ago, certain members of our species were considered property, especially those of the black race and of the female sex. They were captured, traded and enslaved; worse, they were considered property of their masters. This is no longer the generally accepted principle in the global legal world. The human body, especially when alive, cannot be sold and bought. Hence, it is not property.

Physical impossibility is a trickier concept. In a nutshell, it means that, for a thing to be considered property, it must be brought under the control of men, either by a simple exercise of will or by science.
Things without an owner (res nullius) or things owned by all (res communes) can become property (res alicujus) by occupation. Therefore, one who catches a fish in the sea becomes the owner thereof and the fish becomes property (no longer a thing). However, even if the sun is owned by no one, it is not easy to imagine any person or group of persons taking control over the sun in an effective manner as to constitute appropriation; this is physical impossibility.

Of course, the heat coming from the sun is res communes but, it can be brought under control by man by since (such as when solar panels have been used). In the latter's case, the heat becomes property in the form of energy. In fact, this has been confirmed by the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 155076 (January 13, 2009):

"A telephone call, therefore, is electrical energy. xxx [I]ntangible property such as electrical energy is capable of appropriation because it may be taken and carried away. Electricity is personal property under Article 416 (3) of the Civil Code, which enumerates "forces of nature which are brought under control by science."

[3] INDIVIDUALITY OR SUBSTANTIVITY. This means that a thing, to be property, must be capable of existing by itself, and not merely as a part of a whole, especially if that whole is outside the commerce of men. Paras (2008) concludes, on this matter, that the human hair becomes property only when it is detached from the owner. According to Atty. Lopez-Rosario, in her 2012 notes on property law, substantivity means "separate or autonomous existence."

The discussion above is based on an outline by Paras (2008) in his book on property law. His books are available in fine bookstores nationwide. SOURCE: Paras (2008). CIVIL CODE of the PHILIPPINES ANNOTATED By EDGARDO L. PARAS, † Litt. B., LL.B., LL.M., LL.D. Associate Justice Supreme Court of the Philippines (1986-1992). VOLUME TWO ARTS. 414-773 (PROPERTY). Rex Book Store. https://www.rexestore.com/law-library-essentials/537-civil-code-volume-ii-property.html

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