‘Damning evidence’ vs Sotto: Kennedy rebuke

Ayee Macaraig

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The complaint letter of Kennedy's daughter is part of an ethics case that over 30 faculty members will file against Sen. Sotto for plagiarism on Tuesday

ETHICS CASE. Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III is the subject of an ethics case that academics will file against him on Tuesday for plagiarism. File photo

MANILA, Philippines – A letter from the daughter of the late US Sen Robert F Kennedy is “the most damning evidence” in the ethics case to be filed against Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.

At least 30 faculty members of the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University will sign the ethics complaint against Sotto for plagiarism. 

The case will be filed before the Senate Ethics and Privileges Committee on Tuesday, November 13.

Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez III, the complainants’ legal counsel, told Rappler on Sunday, November 11, that the petition involves 9 instances where Sotto used online materials without proper attribution. Sotto used the information for a speech against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill delivered in 3 parts from August to September.

To be included as an addendum in the complaint is a letter by Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry, on Sotto’s use of her father’s 1966 Day of Affirmation speech. Kerry Kennedy is President of the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Sotto said it was not plagiarism because he translated the quote into Tagalog. 

In Kerry’s letter, she said the argument “has no ethical merit,” urging Sotto to “apologize for his unethical, unsanctioned theft.”

“This is the most damning evidence against Sen Sotto. He dismissed the bloggers as wanting fame. Kerry Kennedy does not need mileage. She has no vested interest against Sen Sotto,” complainant and RH advocate Leloy Claudio told Rappler in a phone interview on Sunday, November 11. 

Claudio, who previously challenged Sotto to debate on the RH bill and plagiarism, said the senator must face the complaint. “There is no other way but to say ‘I plagiarized, I’m sorry’ and accept the censure. There is no escaping this.”

Rappler has been trying to reach Sotto and his staff but they have not responded as of posting time. The senator though previously welcomed the ethics case as a chance to prove his innocence. 

Censure, suspension? 

Gutierrez said that the complainants, composed of concerned academics and citizens, will ask the Senate to sanction Sotto or at least say that he made a mistake. 

The lawyer is a former faculty member of the UP College of Law, and its spokesperson when it criticized Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo for plagiarism.

“What we want is an acknowledgement that [Sotto] did something wrong, whether the committee sees it fit to censure him, suspend him or require him to issue a declaration that he was wrong,” Gutierrez said. 

“If we can’t expect higher officials to be intellectually honest, how can we tell our students to do it?”

'TWISTED WORDS.' Robert F. Kennedy's daughter, Kerry, said she was offended by the use of her father's speech to argue against "the right to contraception." Photo from RFK Center's Facebook page

Foreign complainants included soon 

Aside from Kerry’s letter, the complaint will include as an addendum a statement issued by 3 US writers and bloggers. Peter Engelmen, Janice Formichella and Sarah Pope said that Sotto plagiarized their work and they find this “deceptive, unethical, illegal and unacceptable.”

Gutierrez said his group is working out the logistics to include the US-based writers and bloggers as complainants.

“They have to go to the nearest embassy and consulate to sign and authenticate and verify the complaint but they live far so we are working on that.”

Author’s right vs distortion, mutilation

Gutierrez said the complaint has two legal bases:

In a speech to defend himself, Sotto argued that plagiarism is not a crime in the Philippines, and that copyright infringement was not applicable to his case. The senator also said he made a blanket statement that he was not pretending to be wise but sourced his information from experts. 

Gutierrez, however, said the Code gives authors “moral rights” like the right to be attributed, and to object to any “distortion, mutilation” of their work.

“He not only refused to give acknowledgment. He even gave insulting remarks of people whose works he utilized and took them out of context. They have the right not to have their works twisted,” Gutierrez said. 

Kennedy said in her letter, “I am particularly offended to see a speech my father gave in support of global human rights distorted by Sen Sotto as an argument against the right to contraception. Expanding and protecting access to contraception is a global priority I have promoted for years, and limiting that freedom was in no way the topic of the 1966 Day of Affirmation speech.”

ETHICS CHAIR. Sen Alan Peter Cayetano heads the Senate Ethics Committee. Complainants hope the senators will be able to investigate one of its own and take plagiarism seriously. File photo from Senate website

‘International embarrassment’ 

Sen Alan Peter Cayetano heads the Senate Ethics Committee. Its members are Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Gregorio Honasan II, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Lito Lapid, and Joker Arroyo.

Some senators have dismissed the controversy. Marcos earlier said that the plagiarism issue against Sotto is “a storm in a teacup.”

Gutierrez and Claudio hope that senators will take the issue seriously. They compared Sotto’s behavior to that of businessman Manuel V Pangilinan who was also accused of plagiarism but immediately apologized

“This is wholesale copying done probably by the staff but Sen Sotto did not take the decent way out and apologize. He said, ‘Bloggers lang iyon (they’re just bloggers), why would I copy them?’ Now, the authors are complaining and the senators cannot sweep this under the rug,” Gutierrez said. 

The lawyer added, “This has become an international embarrassment for the Philippine Senate.”  – Rappler.com

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