MVP, Sotto, and plagiarism

Remember when businessman Manuel V Pangilinan committed plagiarism? He didn't respond the way Senator Vicente Sotto III did

Paterno Esmaquel II
Published 4:58 PM, August 18, 2012
Updated 3:01 PM, November 11, 2012

DIFFERENT RESPONSES. Businessman Manuel V Pangilinan and Senator Vicente Sotto III have both been accused of plagiarism. Images from Sotto's Facebook page and Pangilinan's profile photo

DIFFERENT RESPONSES. Businessman Manuel V Pangilinan and Senator Vicente Sotto III have both been accused of plagiarism. Images from Sotto's Facebook page and Pangilinan's profile photo

MANILA, Philippines – One offense, two different responses.

Like Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, top businessman Manuel V Pangilinan committed plagiarism for a graduation speech at the Ateneo de Manila University in 2010. But unlike Sotto, Pangilinan immediately took responsibility for it after the public took notice.

Pangilinan also resigned as Ateneo's chairman of the board after observers spotted unattributed quotes from US President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Conan O'Brien, and J. K. Rowling in his much-applauded graduation speech.

In a letter to then Ateneo president Fr Bienvenido Nebres, Pangilinan described the incident as “a source of deep personal embarrassment.” “I am afraid the damage has been done – wala talaga akong mukhang ihaharap pagkatapos,” said Pangilinan, explaining his decision to resign. (Now I have no face to show.)

The respected businessman, of course, could have told the public to blame his speechwriters. But he himself confronted the issue. “I have had some help in the drafting of my remarks, but I take full and sole responsibility for them,” he told the Ateneo president.

Nebres, in convincing him to stay as Ateneo chair, said the incident happened “without (his) full awareness, though (he takes) full and sole responsibility.”

But Pangilinan wouldn't budge. He stepped down, because he “would seek only the honorable and principled way out.”

Not saying sorry

In contrast, Sotto has refused to say sorry “because he can't apologize for something he did not know.” His camp said it was a speechwriter who copied quotes, without attribution, from a blogger who calls herself “The Healthy Home Economist.” Sotto used the quotes for a speech against the Reproductive Health bill.

'NO LIABILITY.' Senator Vicente Sotto III's chief of staff says his boss has no liability for copying passages from US blogger Sarah Pope (right) because it was his staff who did it. File photos from Senate website and Pope's blog

'NO LIABILITY.' Senator Vicente Sotto III's chief of staff says his boss has no liability for copying passages from US blogger Sarah Pope (right) because it was his staff who did it. File photos from Senate website and Pope's blog

In fact, a day after the Filipino Freethinkers exposed similarities between Sotto's speech and blogger Sarah Pope's piece, the comedian-turned-politician flatly denied accusations of plagiarism.

Bakit ko naman iko-quote ang blogger? Blogger lang iyon. Ang kino-quote ko si Natasha Campbell-McBride,” Sotto said in an ANC interview, referring to the the source whom Pope quoted. (Why should I quote a blogger? She’s just a blogger. I’m quoting Natasha Campbell-McBride.)

On the same day, Pope confirmed that Sotto plagiarized her work. At this point, it was Sotto's chief of staff, lawyer Hector Villacorta, who came forward to apologize for what he called a “single trespass.”

But Villacorta told Rappler it was a “semi-apology” since both Sotto and Pope quoted Campbell-McBride anyway. "If you wish that you also be credited with the contents of this book,” Villacorta told the blogger, “let this be your affirmation. I can do it and by this message, I am doing it. Hope this satisfies you.”

Rappler contributor Analiza Perez-Amurao, however, pointed out such reasoning is unacceptable. The acceptable way is to cite the “source in another source,” said Amurao, an educator who teaches at a leading state university in Thailand.

A common definition of the word “plagiarize,” based on Merriam-Webster, is “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own,” or to “use (another's production) without crediting the source. It is also “to commit literary theft” or “present as new and original and idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Netizens angry

Feedback on stories on Sotto's speech indicates public outrage over plagiarism. In the story about Villacorta's apology, for example, over 70% of readers voted angry on the Rappler Mood Meter.

“Manny Pangilinan resigned from Ateneo when his staff lifted several passages from another person's work and included it in his speech. Shouldn't we demand the same (from) a senator of the Republic?” said Rappler reader John Kovac.

Reader Zach Hontiveros Pagkalinawan, for his part, said Sotto is “just pathetic.”

“Even if the sources are similar, the fact that he vehemently denied the allegations all the while knowing they were true shows just how unreasonable he is. So what if she is just a blogger? She deserves to be credited nonetheless because she was the one who provided the information on the web and also because they used parts of her blog word for word,” Pagkalinawan said.

Leris Dela Cruz, on the other hand, sought to defend Sotto. “I honestly find it laughable that people are wanting to focus on this plagiarism issue rather than on the major issues that Senator Sotto presented. Senator Sotto is not a writer and, I believe as well, the objective of a turno en contra is not to put a person's writerly prowess on display.”

Dela Cruz said the public should look at the “real issues,” such as why foreign groups fund the campaign for the RH bill. “Not one major media organization seems to see this as the major issue. So Sotto plagiarized – so what!” Dela Cruz said. (Watch Sotto's speech below.)

A Rappler reader who went by the name William likewise said plagiarism distracts from the real issue. “Itapon ang RH bill, hindi naten need (sic) ang batas na 'yan! Isulong ang anti-RH bill,” William said. (Junk the RH bill, we don't need that law! Push for the fight against the RH bill.)

Carlo Casas cited Pangilinan's resignation from Ateneo “because it was the right thing to do.” “It takes a person of true character to admit when he is wrong; obviously Sotto isn't one of those people. Do the right thing, Sotto, and either admit you made mistake or resign,” Casas said.

In school or at work, plagiarism is a matter of honor or, at the least, intellectual integrity. How a person deals with it is quite telling. – Rappler.com