Sotto blasts critics, backs blogging bill

Ayee Macaraig

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Instead of apologizing, Sen Vicente Sotto III says a law should be passed regulating blogging in the Philippines

NOT CRIME. Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III attacks his critics, saying plagiarism is not a crime in the Philippines. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – From the RH bill to a blogging bill?

There was no apology from Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III for plagiarizing the works of a blogger.

Instead, Sotto and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile proposed crafting a bill that will define and regulate blogging in the Philippines.

On Wednesday, August 29, Sotto delivered a privilege speech to defend himself from backlash after he failed to attribute passages in speeches against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill to American blogger Sarah Pope and other articles online. Watch excerpts here:

Ako na yata ang kauna-unahang senador ng Pilipinas na naging biktima ng cyber-bullying,” lamented Sotto. (I am probably the first Philippine senator to be a victim of cyber-bullying.)

Sotto added, “Ang iba pa’y may sinusulat na gusto daw ako kasuhan. Nais kong ipaalam sa kanila: walang krimen na plagiarism sa Pilipinas.” (Others write that they want to sue me. I want to inform them: there is no such crime as plagiarism in the Philippines.) 

The RH bill critic said the issue of plagiarism is being used as part of a hatchet or demolition job against him. Sotto said his detractors resort to killing the messenger, instead of his message against the RH bill. (Read the full text of Sotto’s privilege speech through this link.)

Enrile stood to explain his past defense of Sotto, saying he only wanted to stress that what matters is whether Sotto’s arguments against the RH bill are true or not. The Senate President said he does not condone plagiarism. Enrile agreed with Sotto that plagiarism is not a crime in the Philippines and that there is a need to clarify the issue, with senators being accused of plagiarizing blogs. 

Admitting that he is not Internet literate, Enrile said the lesson from the experience is for the Senate to pass a bill setting the parameters on blogging.

’Di ako nagi-Internet kaya nung lumabas ‘yung suplong o question tungkol sa Majority Floor Leader, tinanong ko, ‘Ano ba iyong blog’ dahil wala akong blog. ‘Di ko alam ang blog. Akala ko parang slogan ang blog. Iyon pala parang libro yata daw iyon sa Internet na nilalagay mo doon ang iyong mga panaginip, mga opinyon, mga ideya, mga kaalaman,” Enrile said. (I am not Internet-savvy so when the question came up about the Majority Floor Leader, I asked, ‘What is a blog’ because I don’t have a blog. I don’t know that. I thought it was like a slogan. It turns out it’s like a book on the Internet where you put your dreams, opinions, ideas and knowledge.)

The Senate President said, “Magpanukala tayo ng batas at ilagay natin doon kung ano ang mga karapatan ng mga may blogs para sa ganoon ay maliwanag.” (Let us make a law and let us put there the rights of those with blogs so it’s clear.)

Enrile added, “Kaya marahil tayong mga senador pag-aralan natin ito o humingi tayo ng tulong sa mga may blogs para sabihin sa atin ano ang dapat nating batas na ipasa sa Kongreso para magkaroon ng proteksyon ang mga iyan para sa ganun ay maliwanag.” (So let us study this or ask help from bloggers so they can tell us what law we need to pass in Congress so that there will be protection for them and so it will be clear.) 

Sotto concurred and referred the issue to the proper Senate committees.

‘Does the public know my critics?’

In his privilege speech, Sotto came out swinging against those who criticized him on Twitter, Facebook and newspapers. The comedian-turned-senator said his defense is the public’s knowledge of his life. 

“Ang buhay ko open book …. Ang tanong, alam ba natin sino [ang mga kritiko ko]? Matino ba sila? Mabait ba sila? Lasenggo ba sila? Nananakit ba sila ng asawa? ‘Di natin alam sino sila pero ang gagaling manira,” Sotto said. (My life is an open book. The question is: do we know who my critics are? Are they proper? Are they good people? Are they drunkards? Do they hurt their spouses? We don’t know them but they are so good in criticizing.)

Sotto maintained that Philippine laws, particularly the Revised Penal Code and Intellectual Property Code, do not criminalize plagiarism. The closest violation, he said, is copyright infringement which he said was not applicable in his case. 

The Senate Majority Leader said he even sought the opinion of the Intellectual Property Office, which told him that “the crime of plagiarism is not defined in our laws.” 

Eat Bulaga, not critics, helps many

Sotto also bristled at critics’ jab at his involvement as a host of the noontime show Eat Bulaga. 

Ang Eat Bulaga, daan-daan ang tinutulungan noon araw-araw. Libu-libo ang tumatangkilik. Itong mga tumutuligsa at namimintas sa atin, ilan na kaya ang natulungan na nila, kung meron man?” (Eat Bulaga helps hundreds of people everyday. Thousands watch it. Those criticizing me, how many have they helped, if any?) 

The senator also downplayed the charge of plagiarism. 

“Dapat daw may mga attribution at kung anu-ano. Pag ginawa po natin iyan, lahat ng kakanta ng Magkaisa, Balatkayo, kanta ng VST & Co., pag di sinabi ako ang composer, pwedeng icharge ng plagiarism, kung maniniwala tayo sa kanila.” (They say there should always be attribution. If we do that, all those singing Magkaisa, Balatkayo and songs of VST & Co.,, when they don’t say they are the composer, we can charge them with plagiarism if we follow what critics say.) 

Sotto said he will just pray for his critics that they may be able to face God when they die and answer the question, “How many have you attacked and judged?”

The Majority Leader ended his speech by quoting the last two paragraphs of a poem by fellow Eat Bulaga host Joey de Leon on plagiarism: 

“Eh di wala nang titingin sa katalogo

Ipagbawal mga sumusunod sa uso, mga impressionists ipakulong na ninyo, pati na rin si Willie Nepomuceno.

Ang masama lang pagdating sa gayahan ay iyong masasamang asal ang tularan.

At kopyahin ang pera at lagda ninuman.

At gayahin ang pilay at may kapansanan.”

(Then let us not look at the catalogue

Let us also ban following trends, the impressionists, imprison them including Willie Nepomuceno.

What is wrong is copying bad manners

And copying the money and signature of anyone

And imitating those with disabilities)

No mention of Pope, other sources

In his speech, Sotto did not mention Pope and did not address the allegation that he copied not just from the American blogger but from various articles and sources online.

To silence his critics, Sotto just moved to strike from the Senate record the paragraph copied from Pope. Sotto stressed that his intentions are noble: to fight for the sanctity of life. 

In a Thought Leaders Piece for Rappler, novelist and freelance writer Miguel Syjuco said Sotto’s plagiarism was a disservice to both supporters and opponents of the RH bill.

“For Filipinos of either stripe, Sotto has thumbed his nose at intellectual property rights, political accountability, and even good manners. He’s insulted our intelligence. He’s insulted us—we, the Filipino people,” wrote Syjuco.

Sotto said he will continue with the final chapter of his “turno en contra” speech against the RH bill on Tuesday, September 4. –

For more on the RH bill and the Senate, read:

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