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Your Fortune Told (Telling fortunes for a fee is punishable)

by Geronimo L. Sy

I don’t want to be a killjoy but it is time you know about Article 318. It happens the whole year through and becomes acute in the countdown to the New Year when all the manghuhulas fortune tellers come out with their predictions. It is the business of palm reading, tarot card reading, interpreting signs, weaving dreams and trances and séances. Who hasn’t been to one in times of doubt, confusion and despair?

We whisper of Madame X and Mang J in their not-so-secret whereabouts who can tell if your spouse is cheating or not, whether married man B is actually Mr. Right, or if going abroad will really open your future. They initially gain credibility by giving you details on your past. You are amazingly surprised by the accuracy.

It gets tricky quickly. If we start believing in the fortune tellers, then everything said becomes a confirmation of what we have been observing. If we entertain doubts or when facts do not check out, we are bothered by question of “what if”? It is a lose-lose situation for the seeker. Ninety percent (90%) of the cases are love problems. There are many instances of couples splitting and partnerships shuttered because of reliance on fortune tellers.

Thus, Article 318 of the Revised Penal Code states that “Any person who, for profit or gain, shall interpret dreams, make forecasts, tell fortunes, or take advantage of the credulity of the public in any other similar manner” commits a crime. It is precisely to avoid fraud or deceit of this nature that the proviso was put in place way back in 1932.

There are three corollaries. The fortune teller does not charge a fee but does it for free. Actually, it is more of an imposed donation that makes in fall under the definition of for profit and gain. Would you rather have a fortune teller with a day job?

If fortune tellers were so good, how come they are still telling the fortune for others? They should start with theirs. Alas, their powers do not include reading themselves. They should perhaps visit each other to increase their chances. This reminds me of stockbrokers predicting the rise and fall of stock prices (who are not allowed to maintain their own account) and currency traders dealing in fluctuating exchange rates.

For media outlets to routinely broadcast fortune tellers and their predictions seem to take advantage of the credulity of the public in the largest possible scale in pursuit of the profitable ratings game. In a sense, it is the highest form of entertainment - chismis or rumor-mongering without basis and without accountability.

And then there is the hot issue of feng shui responsible for your fortune or misfortune by the switch of furniture and the strategic placement of symbols. Does it matter if it is done for businessmen and rich people who only want to be richer?

This brings us to a basic problem we face – the inability to think clearly and rationally and instead relying on others say so and superstitions. Note the poison text and scam email messages that are passed around mindlessly even within the educated class. The funny thing is that the message itself proclaims “This is not a hoax” and exhorts “Pls. pass.” You need not wonder why we are growing in a zigzag manner.

The consolation is that the penalty for the fortune teller is arresto menor imprisonment from 1 to 30 days or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos. Cheap if the donation is 500 pesos a dream. Do we have the heart to rat on our favorite Madame X or Mang J and send them to jail? We pity them. The seekers are not similarly punished. The victims are the seekers.

We continue to hope and to despair, to be happy and sad and to let our fortunes rise and fall in the New Year. If you haven’t completed your resolutions, consider adding this one – no more fortune telling, no more rumor-mongering in 2008.

(Published, Manila Times)