THE first time I heard the word plagiarism, I was still a wide-eyed and carefree junior taking up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas sometime in the mid 1980s. I didn’t even know what it meant until a friend read through one of my term papers, and wondered aloud how I managed to do it.
I can’t even remember what the term paper’s subject matter was, but my friend, obviously lacking faith in my feeble attempts to be literate on paper, gently teased me about it. She couldn’t believe that a “Shallow Hal” character like me could write.
Well, I might have been a lightweight campus beauty during those days, but I’d like to believe that I also had something between my ears. 😉
“How’d you do this,” she asked, sounding a bit incredulous. “Are you sure you didn’t plagiarize from your sources?”
Before I could even protest (how could I, when I was clueless?), she told me what the word meant. And as soon as the gravity of her accusation started sinking, I simply shrugged my shoulders and told her this: “Why would I copy from someone else’s work? Where’s the fun in that?”
In the course of writing our thesis, we were later taught the basics of attribution, footnoting and proper and judicious use of quotes either to advance or underscore an idea, or to make our points more understandable and appealing to our readers.
It wasn’t that we never copied in the course of doing our respective thesis, but whenever we did lift lines from a magazine, book, or someone else’s paper, we were taught to give credit where credit was due.
My teachers probably did a good job, as my earlier training has so far taken hold. That and the fact that I have such a relatively huge ego disproportionate to my IQ prevented me from plagiarizing as a journalist. Really, where’s the fun in passing off as your work ideas written by other people? Why would I copy when I barely have enough space every week to squeeze in my own “profound” thoughts?
Plagiarizing should not be confused with being inspired by a certain writer’s style. Nor should it stop us from adopting and improving on ideas and subjects previously done by local and foreign publications. All of us, whether professional wordsmiths or not, have been inspired by certain writers, ideas and styles that call to us either consciously or subconsciously. Yes, whether we care to admit it or not.
What makes plagiarism different? Even reprehensible? Plagiarism is, plain and simple, the conscious act of copying someone else’s work, whether it was originally written in Elvish or Mermish and later translated to Filipino, and passing it off as one’s own. In short, it’s maliwanag na pagnanakaw (theft, in plain speak).
It doesn’t matter whether what was lifted were a few short lines from an “unknown” blogger (blogger lang ’yun as you-know-who once said after being caught red-handed lifting from the work of American blogger Sarah Pope and using it in his privilege speech) or entire chapters that border on epic proportions.
Minor exceptions apply to “universal truths” lifted sparingly from, say, the Bible or sayings or truisms that have become so common within a certain culture, community, religion or group of people that nobody knows who their authors are.
There have been quite a number of cases wherein a journalist, in his haste to beat deadlines, fails to give proper attribution. Does that qualify as plagiarism?
In my mind, it does. The rule is quite clear. Never, under any circumstance, should a writer or speaker lift words from someone else’s work without disclosing and crediting his sources (not to be confused with sources that provide us with scoops, okay?). Should that happen, he should issue an immediate apology through his publication.
The lifting could either be paraphrased or done verbatim, but the point is, the one who borrows should be brave and/or gracious enough to tell his readers or audience that parts of his text were borrowed or adopted from someone else’s work. Saying so won’t kill you or make you any less. It’s as simple as that.
Plagiarism should also not be confused with inventing or concocting stories a la Stephen Glass, the protagonist in the film “Shattered Glass,” and passing them off as news. News, whether written as a straight report or as a feature story, should always be based on facts. Stories based purely on one’s imagination are, you guess it, called fiction. Opinion pieces or reviews, as their name implies, are reactions to certain events, works, products and news makers based purely on one’s point of view. No one has the right to plagiarize someone else’s opinion and pass it off as his own.
Which brings me to the man of the hour, defender of the unborn, champion of a certain sector of the Catholic Church, accomplished alumnus of “Wanbol University,” and, as it’s turning out lately, serial plagiarist Tito “Escalera” Sotto, esteemed senator of the Republic of the Philippines.
Based on established practice in universities, news organizations and publishing companies here and abroad, what the good senator just did, not once, but twice (to quote Susan Roces), were pure and simple acts of plagiarism.
He and his supposedly brilliant and well-paid speech writers simply weren’t content being caught once, that, like Britney Spears, they did it again, this time, by picking copious lines from a 1966 speech delivered by the late American Senator Robert Kennedy in South Africa.
Like what he did earlier, liberally lifting from Pope’s blog to defend his position against the Reproductive Health Bill in the senate, Sotto again used the words uttered by Kennedy in his (Sotto’s) privilege speech to advance his cause. This time around, he said the stolen lines in Filipino.
I would spare you the details, as the two developments, one of which is still brewing, have been tackled extensively in the media. Read up!
Personally, I’m not surprised that Sotto did it again. He did it once, got caught, and never issued an apology to Pope and the Filipino people. Worse, siya pa ang galit! (He was even the one who was pissed off!) So, what’s going to stop him from doing it again? Well, certainly not the fear of breaking the Eighth and Ninth Commandments.
What I really find appalling is his latest reaction. And I thought nothing could have topped the “blogger lang” comment he made earlier. But with almost anything and everything concerning Sotto, I’m afraid to admit that I’m always proven wrong.
Just listen to his palusot (flimsy excuse) this time as reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “It (Kennedy’s speech) was texted to me by my friend. I found the idea good. I translated it into Tagalog [Filipino]. So what’s the problem?”
So, you think that’s the height of chutzpah mixed with outright deception? Well, you ain’t heard nothing yet: “Ano? Marunong nang-Tagalog si Kennedy? (What now? Does Kennedy now know how to speak in Tagalog)? They (his critics) should just answer (the issues) about funding, population control and abortion.”
Before I end this entry, I’d like to ask you, including Sotto’s backers, a series of questions. Use your mind as well as your heart to answer them:
Is he the type of person you would want to be on your side? What kind of lessons is he imparting to the youth of this country by stealing other people’s ideas, passing them off as his own, and refusing to own up to his faults? If you were a woman (or the husband or partner of that woman), would you trust an outright and incorrigible liar with something as personal and as sensitive as your health and that of your children and future children?
Tito “Escalera” Sotto, you’ve done well based on your miseducation. The faculty and students, past and present, of Wanbol University must be very proud of you. For the sake of the country, I hope the rest of the Filipino people aren’t.