Last year, a radio news show reported the case of a married couple who had suddenly vanished, leading alarmed relatives to claim they had been kidnapped. It turned out there was an even more desperate background to their disappearance. They had won the lottery and had gone into hiding to escape their relatives. As well as their friends. And their neighbours. And their neighbours' acquaintances. And the neighbours' acquaintances' children. Did I leave anyone out? Not to worry ... they would have been there, too. The pair was running from the custom of balato, a practice where one is obliged to share good fortune with just about anyone who comes forward and makes a claim. Of course, it's a global truism that when you strike it rich, you suddenly discover yourself blessed with an abundance of people close to you. In the Philippines, though, when you come into wealth you don't just become everybody's boon companion, you find yourself responsible for the social security system. Think I'm kidding? A few weeks back, when boxing champion Manny Pacquiao arrived home after winning US$800,000 in a fight, apart from cheers, the most common expression he probably heard shouted by the crowds was balato naman diyan? (how about a cut?) I understand there's now a small army of supplicants camped out in front of his house, all of them hoping for largesse. The young hero hasn't been holding back, either. From the moment he stepped from the ring, victorious, he's been picking up the tab for a horde of fans and supporters. I can't say for sure how the practice of balato came about. I suppose it goes back hundreds of years, to when the centre of existence was the small village where everybody knew and helped each other in a spirit of wonderful harmony and unselfishness. Or, who knows, maybe a fisherman was collecting his catch on the riverbank one day when the town bully came along and said: 'Hey, I want some of those.' When the victim protested, the thug hit him on the head, saying: 'Let's call that balato.' People who don't give balato are ostracised as some sort of cold, heartless villain. Whatever noble motive created the custom has since vanished, and total strangers line up for handouts. It's not quite mendicancy but it can get ugly. Several weeks ago, Pacquiao was interviewed by a radio announcer who said: 'So Manny, there must be a lot of people asking you for balato.' When the boxer confirmed it, the announcer clucked disapprovingly. Then, after a moment's silence, she blurted: 'Balato naman diyan?' It's enough to make you want to fake a kidnapping.