Thoughtless Extravagance, Social Media, and the Covid-19 Crisis

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19), declared by the Philippine government as a national public health emergency and a pandemic by the World Healthy Organization, has caused a lot of hardship, deaths, and production/financial strain. The highly contagious nature of the virus necessitated the imposition of a lockdown or enhanced community quarantine.

The  lockdown has led to an interesting combination — an entire population stuck in their homes and social media available to practically everyone. The explosion of online activities creates a number of challenges. Internet use has spiked considerably, so much so that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has requested streaming services like Netflix and Youtube to reduce the streaming resolution of videos.

There’s a fine line between scaring people so that they take the quarantine seriously and, on the other hand, creating a panic. The easy access to media helps in the dissemination of useful information. Unfortunately, it also contributes to the proliferation of fake news, which, in turn, might create panic. This is why Congress passed a law treating the dissemination of fake news as a criminal offense for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

[See Fake News and Other Acts Punishable during the COVID-19 Crisis]

There’s also a need to avoid any social unrest, which is why the armed forces have been deployed to enforce the quarantine, adding to the moot debate whether this is an issue of public health or public order. Fortunately, the government is moving to ensure the unimpeded movement and supply of basic necessities. On social unrest, the Civil Code of the Philippines has a provision to prevent social unrest by reason of thoughtless extravagance in times of acute public want or emergency. The entire legal provision reads:

ARTICLE 25. Thoughtless extravagance in expenses for pleasure or display during a period of acute public want or emergency may be stopped by order of the courts at the instance of any government or private charitable institution.

Incidentally, President Ferdinand E. Marcos cited this provision in General Order No. 14, issued after Martial Law was declared in the Philippines in 1972, enjoining everyone “to avoid and prevent, as the case may be, ostentatious display of wealth and extravagance, including lavish town fiestas or social gatherings.”

As the Philippines, and the world, moves to contain the Covid-19, there is definitely a condition of acute public emergency and, if the government doesn’t work to manage resources, a period of acute public want. The reminder on thoughtless extravagance is not contained in the law declaring a national emergency and granting emergency powers to the President

[See Full List of Emergency Powers Granted to the President under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (Republic Act No. 11469); see also Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (Republic Act No. 11469): Full Text]

Perhaps Congress thought that this is not an important measure to address the Covid-19 crisis, or perhaps there is a questionable applicability because the rules on social distancing and home quarantine prevent people from going out and engaging in “thoughtless extravagance in expenses for pleasure or display.”

But there can also be “thoughtless extravagance” in social media during this time of the Covid-19. For instance, it may involve a social media post on gourmet food items, when people have no savings or wages to buy food. There is yet no decided case, so there is no definitive guide as to what constitutes “thoughtless extravagance.” It is important, however, to remember the rationale of the Civil Code provision —  a thoughtless display that “may unwittingly kindle the flame of unrest in the hearts of the poor who thereby become more keenly conscious of their privation and poverty and who may rise against the obvious inequality” (Tolentino, I Civil Code of the Philippines [1990], p. 91). In other words, be mindful of the things you post on social media.


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