THE PRACTICE of plagiarism among public officials is evidence of among others, the terrible state of government, especially of lawmaking or what passes for it in this country.
Sen. Vicente C. Sotto III’s speech on the Reproductive Health bill, a critical as well highly controversial bill, is the most recent case. Two years ago, it was Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Mariano C. del Castillo, in writing the court’s decision for the Vinuya v. Romulo case showed passages lifted from other documents.
Copying from other people’s work shows laziness, which is the least perhaps of the offenses involved. But there are dire implications for the quality of government.
Good policies require intellectual exertion, as parliamentary debate must involve arguments that think through complex problems. In the judicial branch, thoughtful analysis and careful reasoning are the basis of good case law.
We cannot expect much when public officials are content to copy.
Many of those who make it to high office in government do so for reasons quite apart from the quality of the mind. Never mind brilliance, some of them don’t even have common sense. This is what we get when popularity determines who gets elected, and when patronage rules the appointments to public office.
The case of Senator Sotto has provoked in the social media an unprecedented outrage over the offense of plagiarism. The communities engaged in the social media play a leading role in the public forum. But they may not constitute the majority.
I am afraid that most Filipinos would not be too bothered by this kind of cheating, perhaps, thinking that it has become such common practice. I do hope I am wrong as such dismissal would indicate how dishonesty is so embedded in our culture.
The case of Sotto has moved the issue deeper into the ground of wrongdoing and the exchange about it has revealed much arrogance, ignorance, and muddled thinking.
The senator denied there was plagiarism. Why should he quote “just a blogger”? Clearly he is not aware of this form and platform of communication and has not been informed that bloggers include experts, scholars, and journalists along with everyone else.
The senator’s chief of staff claimed that it is alright to use anything from the public domain, adding loftily that the Internet is public domain. There was no consciousness of the imperative to acknowledge the source, as we are obliged when citing publications, print having preceded the Internet in the public domain, as we must do so when we borrow from the Internet.
When the media report such expressions of these mistaken notions, the reports perpetrate the misconception. Somewhere, someone is going to believe it. Journalists must take care to include in such reports some corrective views to further clarify the issue. Otherwise, journalistic space is given to the lie, letting it stand uncorrected.
I guess we can’t really expect much, perhaps, from a comedian whose popularity catapulted him to Congress, or from those he hires to manage his office and to write his speeches.
But we expect more from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile so recently cheered and lionized for his stunningly diligent pursuit of truth in the judgment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. Coming to the defense of his fellow senator, Enrile rationalized, as quoted in a report by Cathy Yamsuan for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Is Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III being crucified for lifting statements based on fact? Would his critics rather that he used falsehoods to defend his stand against the reproductive health (RH) bill?”
The brilliant legal mind who parsed the prosecution and defense arguments on the spot during the lengthy impeachment trial dismissed the ethical failure as unimportant because it supported his policy position.
What is legal is not always moral. Legal practice is not always based on ethical principles. Enrile, the legal luminary, does not seem to have the clarity of judgment when it comes to right and wrong.
Really, why could we expect?
Indeed, we should not be so surprised that plagiarism seems to have taken root in the conduct of public office. It seems that the re-filing of bills that failed to pass in previous sessions requires no protocol to cite the original or any other previous bills from which text was lifted. This practice should be corrected.
Plagiarism is another form of fraud and cheating. We have come to accept ill-gotten wealth, cheating in elections and other forms of corruption. Worse, we have allowed our politicians to become arrogant about such conduct when they are caught. “Prove it in court!” is the quick response to complaints and charges. With a legal system that submits to easy manipulation, everyone is confident that they can get away with anything.
But unlike other corrupt practices, plagiarism is now quickly established. Software technology has made it easy to detect and to prove.
So maybe we can start in this one small area, weeding out this fraudulent trade in words. In these cases, we do not need lawyers to prove the wrongdoing.