Something new to Sottocopy

Miguel Syjuco

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It's time the complaints against Senator Sotto are heard and addressed by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, which remains the apparatus for propriety and good governance in the Senate

Not long ago, the Internet roiled and boiled over allegations that Senator Tito Sotto plagiarized from seven different sources. Time, however, makes big issues small trivia. And forgetting arrives without forgiveness, or justice.

Except, of course, for the victims—three of whom have recently issued a complaint accusing the senator of intellectual copyright theft. It coincides nicely with a case being filed against Sotto next week with the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

But more on that later. Let’s first refresh our memories.

The facts are still not in dispute. From August 13 to September 5, in three Senate turno en contra speeches, Sotto (and the writing staff for whom he’s responsible) lifted, without proper attribution or permission, from four blogs, a research paper by an American non-profit organization, a New York University (NYU) website that says “All contents copyrighted,” and a famous speech by US Sen Robert F. Kennedy.

Given ample opportunity to explain or apologize, Sotto denied wrongdoing, starting with an August 14 television interview with Karen Davila, where he said: “Why should I quote a blogger?” His office then sent blogger Sarah Pope a hectoring “semi-apology” and Sotto moved to strike the controversial reference from Senate record. Yet he still hasn’t addressed the six other allegations.
Speaking out has done nothing for those wronged: Sotto dismissed writer Janice Formichella’s protests, calling her “pathetic” and “riding on to get famous.”  The statement of complaint by Peter Engelman, who writes for a center under NYU, was ignored away. And even after it was revealed that the September 5 turno en contra speech was lifted from Kennedy’s, Sotto told the Inquirer: “What? Does Kennedy know how to speak Tagalog?”

But pooh-poohed wrongs don’t make a right. The people knew better. Student groups issued statements of protest. A petition signed by more than 30,000 Filipinos demanded Sotto’s resignation. Tweets and Internet memes mocked his arrogant sense of impunity, ensuring that “sottocopy” and “sinotto” will forever be part of his legacy. All this led Sotto to paint himself a victim, of “cyberbullying,” and threaten his critics with the now-infamous cybercrime bill.

Yet, such can be weathered, with skin thickened by 30 years of intermittent controversy. Perhaps our short memory—a boon for long-lived politicians—is why Sotto insouciantly shrugs away accusations. He must know well that the loudest of uproars quiets down with time. For what else can the aggrieved writers do, if the official is rich, faraway, lawyered-up, and enjoying parliamentary immunity?

Perhaps this is why GMA News reported that Sotto’s chief of staff, Hector Villacorta, refused to  “comment unless the bloggers who were purportedly copied from complain.” They quoted Villacorta as saying: “If they can show that it’s verbatim, and they’re the source [that’s when it might be plagiarism]. Pero hindi copyrighted, so there’s no infringement.”

So, Messrs Sotto and Villacorta, below is the complaint from the sources: a joint statement from Peter Engelman, Janice Formichella and Sarah Pope. In it, they confirm their copyrights. As for verbatim—that’s already been proven repeatedly.

“Peter C. Engelman, Janice Formichella and Sarah Couture Pope wish it to be known that Senator Vicente C. Sotto III, the Majority Leader in the Philippine Senate, has lifted passages from our published writings without permission or attribution.  

In two speeches he gave on August 13 and August 15 regarding a bill (SB2865 ) before the Philippine Senate, Senator Sotto infringed on our intellectual property rights and plagiarized from the following copyrighted material:

1) Peter C. Engelman’s article, “Gandhi and Sanger Debate Love, Lust and Birth Control,” The Margaret Sanger Papers Project Newsletter, Issue 23 (Winter 1999/2000).

2) Janice Formichella’s article “Gandhi’s Birth Control of Choice,” Feminists for Choice (February 5, 2010).

3) Sarah Pope’s article “How ‘The Pill’ Can Harm Your Future Child’s Health,” The Healthy Home Economist (Feb 23, 2011).

At no time did Senator Sotto provide citation information or indicate in any way that this material was written by others. Neither Senator Sotto nor anyone associated with him requested permission to use our articles and blog entries, or contacted us or anyone associated with our publications.   

We find this misuse of our work to be deceptive, unethical, illegal and unacceptable. The accessibility of published material on the Internet in no way lessens the basic protections all writers rely on under intellectual property rights.”

It’s time such complaints are heard and addressed by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, which remains the apparatus for propriety and good governance in the Senate. Despite Sotto’s immunity, he is, according to the Supreme Court on Senate privilege, still “responsible before the legislative body itself” for “words and conduct… considered by the latter disorderly or unbecoming to a member thereof.”

The seven members of the committee are responsible for handling “all matters relating to the conduct, rights, privileges, safety, dignity, integrity and reputation of the Senate and its Members.”

So if you feel Tito Sotto’s conduct abused his rights and privileges, undermined the dignity and integrity of the Senate, and besmirched its reputation, I encourage you to email its chairperson, Sen Alan Peter Cayetano, as well as the other committee members (Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Lito Lapid, and Joker Arroyo).

It’ll take you less than a minute. To make it easier, feel free to sottocopy the statement below and send to their email addresses:;;;;;;

Honorable Senator:

I am one of thousands of concerned Filipino citizens protesting the disreputable conduct of Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto. I call on the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges to address this important issue of ethics, integrity, and accountability. I believe Senator Sotto’s speeches unethically plagiarized and illegally infringed on intellectual copyright laws in the Philippines and in countries with whom we are connected through the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

I believe Sotto’s subsequent denials insulted the intelligence and dignity of Filipinos everywhere, and that his threats to censor his critics with the Cybercrime Act constitute an abuse of power and an attack on free speech. I believe that the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges has the right, the mandate, and the courage to censure their colleague.

I believe in Philippine democracy, and call on you, the leaders we elected, to ensure its proper, just, and ethical function. –

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