Sotto says he is unfazed by ethics complaints over plagiarized speeches
By Cathy Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
8:02 pm | Monday, November 12th, 2012
MANILA, Philippines — Netizens aren’t letting Sen. Tito Sotto off the hook, but the Senate majority leader is unfazed.
Sotto brushed off, on Monday, threats from bloggers to file an ethics complaint against him for plagiarizing portions of web articles in making speeches against the reproductive health bill on the Senate floor.
“These were invented in the email. I will be happy to reply or to react when I receive an official communication to that effect. Other than that, maybe they just want me to be a talking head so they could have news. Excuse me,” Sotto said in an ambush interview.
Sotto stands accused of using in his speech against the contentious reproductive health (RH) bill parts from a blog entry written by US-based Sarah Pope without attribution.
Local bloggers supportive of the RH bill pointed out Sotto’s uncredited quote of the Pope blog, that ironically paraphrased an expert’s opinion on the subject and wasn’t even an original idea.
Days later, Sotto delivered another speech against the RH bill that included quotes from a speech made by the late US Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1966. After bloggers pointed out the second instance of plagiarism, Sotto said he only included and translated into Filipino a quote he found relevant to the RH issue that was “texted” to him.
The senator even joked he did not realize that Kennedy “spoke Tagalog.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, defending Sotto, said that whatever senators uttered in a privilege speech was covered by parliamentary immunity.
“We cannot be questioned anywhere for what we say inside this chamber. Not because we are a special breed but because that is the immunity given by the sovereign people so that we can speak on any subject under the sun,” Enrile told reporters.
“You cannot be questioned by anybody outside this chamber. How can you be questioned if you say anything here? That’s Constitutional law. Not because of any arrogance of power (but) those people who do not understand it (are) ignorant of the very Constitution they are supposed to espouse,” he said.
“They can file a case…(but whether) they can get enough senators to vote in their favor, that’s the problem. As long as we have this system, it’s a question of numbers.”
Enrile said a two-thirds vote would be required before a senator facing an ethics complaint could be meted disciplinary action. Penalties range from admonition to expulsion from the chamber.
Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, chair of the Senate ethics committee, said he had received “less than 10″ ethics complaints but declined to give details.
Posted on 11/12/2012 2:50 PM | Updated 11/12/2012 9:56 PM
MANILA, Philippines – Apologize? For what?
This is how Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III responded to a letter by the daughter of the late US Senator Robert F Kennedy, which Rappler published on Saturday, November 10, urging him to apologize. Kerry Kennedy said Sotto must say sorry for the “unauthorized, unethical theft” of her father’s speech.
In an interview with reporters on Monday, November 12, Sotto refused to comment, saying he has not received any official communication on the issue.
Asked if he will make a public apology, Sotto said, “Huh, for what?”
Told about Kennedy’s letter, the senator said, “That’s not true.”
At least 30 academics from the Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines and De La Salle University will sign the complaint against Sotto. It will be filed on Tuesday, November 13. They say they want him sanctioned for plagiarizing 9 authors, and refusing to apologize when his attention was called.
The ethics complaint against Sotto will be under the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges headed by Sen Alan Peter Cayetano.
Cayetano said his committee will meet next week to finalize the rules in handling the Sotto case and other cases filed earlier. He said he cannot say how long the case will take, considering that there are other pending cases.
Cayetano, though, assured the public of fairness as the Senate handles a case against one of its own.
“In any collegial body, that’s the balance, the balance that you’re not above the law and you cannot be arrogant with power but the balance also that you need a certain degree of statesmanship and cooperation to be able to pass the laws and be able to conduct business as a legislative body.”
But Sotto branded as a “rehash” renewed allegations of plagiarism against him.
“Bakit ako? Wala iyan eh. Ano iyan eh, rehash. ‘Diba pinag-usapan na natin noong September iyan? Kayo naman oh, you’re being manipulated,” Sotto told reporters. (Why me? That’s nothing. That’s just a rehash. Didn’t we already discuss that in September? You’re being manipulated.)
Sotto cited his parliamentary immunity in responding to the plagiarism issue.
“Naku. Whoever wants to question a senator of the Republic should read the Constitution first, the Philippine Constitution, Art 6, Sec 11 bago ka magsalita (before you speak).”
He added, “Ako pa magiging talking head nila para magkaroon sila ng news, excuse me ha? Pag walang official, don’t say a word. Anong rereactan mo, baka imbento lang iyan ng mga aficionado na professional manipulator sa Internet.” (They will even use me as a talking head so they will attract news, excuse me. If there is nothing official, don’t say a word. What will I react on, that may just be a fabrication of aficionados who are professional manipulators of the Internet.)
Enrile: I’ll translate Socrates, too!
Sotto literally went to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile as he defended himself from the allegations. While being interviewed, he saw his ally arrive on the Senate floor and told him about the criticism against him.
Sotto told Enrile, “May naco-complain daw sa akin sa speech ko. Tinagalog ko raw ang speech ni Kennedy.” (Someone is complaining against me. They say I translated Kennedy’s speech.)
Enrile replied in jest, “Mabuti nga tinagalog mo si Kennedy. Tatagalugin ko rin si Socrates!” (It’s a good thing you translated Kennedy. I will also translate Socrates!)
The Senate President turned serious as he addressed the reporters.
“We cannot be questioned for what we say inside this chamber anywhere, not because we are a special breed but because that is the immunity given by the sovereign people so we can speak on any subject under the sun,” Enrile said.
"Those people who do not understand it, they’re ignorant of Constitutional law, of the very Constitution they are supposed to espouse."
Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, a constitutional law expert and ethics committee member, however said that parliamentary immunity is not applicable to ethics cases.
"No, this is a self, an auto-limitation imposed by senators on themsleves," Santiago said in another interview.
Enrile said the appropriate remedy is a civil suit for damages, not criminal action. He acknowledged that an ethics case can be filed but said the complainants must be ready.
“Well if they can get enough senators to vote in their favor, that’s the problem. We better change our system if we want to change the system but for as long as we have the system, it’s always a question of numbers and there is always a political content involved in everything we do here.”
Enrile added, “In the end, you can only kick a member of the House, of this House if you have I think three-fourths of the members or two-thirds voting in your favor or you can go to the people. You cannot discipline anybody here unless they commit a crime. If they commit a crime, you can charge them.”
Asked if this meant the Senate is tolerating plagiarism, Enrile said, “We are not tolerating. That’s an individual responsibility.”
“In fact as an institution, we copy laws written by other countries.” - Rappler.com
Kennedy to Sotto: 'This is a clear case of plagiarism'
by Miguel Syjuco
Posted on 11/10/2012 11:21 AM | Updated 11/12/2012 8:02 PM
MANILA, Philippines - Long is the saga of Sottogate, yet allegations against Senator Tito Sotto continue.
Now 4 US copyright holders have spoken out, including the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights: RFK’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy.
All this began again the other day, when Sarah Pope, Janice Formichella, and Peter Engelman issued a joint statement alleging that Sotto had “infringed on our intellectual property rights and plagiarized.”
Their protest was swiftly dismissed by Sotto and his staff, who, according to GMA News, “questioned its authenticity, pointing out that it did not even have an official letterhead.”
This, after Sotto’s chief of staff, Hector Villacorta, reportedly said they would address the issue only after the aggrieved parties complained.
Complain they have, in no uncertain terms. Yet when Formichella wrote about the issue in Ms. Magazine, Sotto churlishly said: “She is pathetic. She is just riding on to get famous.”
When Engelman wrote a statement, he was ignored completely. And when Sotto was asked about his alleged plagiarism of Kennedy’s speech, our Senate Majority Leader replied: “The people who think this is plagiarism should think again. I did not copy it, I translated it. Do they know the spelling of ‘copy’ and ‘translate’? They have low IQ!”
And so I present to Messrs Sotto and Villacorta this fourth complaint. On official letterhead. From someone who knows the spelling of copy and translate, and undeniably needs not ride on to get famous. Such is Ms Kennedy’s track record in continuing her father’s legacy.
Posted on 11/11/2012 7:38 PM | Updated 11/12/2012 8:01 PM
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.
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?”
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."
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:
Rule 2, Section 15 of the Rules of the Senate Ethics Committee granting the committee power to probe “improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate.”
Section 193 of the Intellectual Property Code
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.”
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
A profile group on Wednesday rallied behind beleaguered Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who is accused by his critics of being an unrepentant serial plagiarist.
Anthony James Perez, president of Filipinos for Life, said Sotto was a victim of “trial by publicity” because of his opposition to the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
“On behalf of all the members of Filipinos for Life, I would like to extend to you our support for your and our prolife cause. These must be very difficult times for you and your family, especially with the way that the public has engaged in a trial by publicity instead of focusing on the issues that will matter to this nation,” Perez said in a letter to Sotto.
“We have always held you in the highest regard and this is the reason we offered our assistance to you and your staff in battling the RH bill. Rest assured that nothing has changed, and that we are always at your disposal,” he added.
Academicians on Tuesday filed a complaint against Sotto before the Senate ethics committee for plagiarizing the work of others when he delivered three speeches against the RH bill months ago.
Sotto also got words of sympathy from election lawyer Romulo Macalintal. In a “letter of concern” to the Senate ethics committee, Macalintal said he believed Robert Kennedy “would even be proud that Senate majority leader Tito Sotto used a speech he delivered against apartheid in 1966 in the fight against government-endorsed contraception.”
The late senator’s daughter Kerry, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human rights, had reportedly accused Sotto of distorting her father’s “Day of Affirmation” speech, using it without attribution and passing off the words as his own just because the senator had translated the portions he used in Filipino.
Yet another letter of support for Sotto came from a group calling itself Responsible Internet Users for Social Empowerment (CyberRISE) which asked the committee to ignore the ethics complaint against Sotto. With a report from Cathy Yamsuan
Posted on 11/14/2012 3:01 PM | Updated 11/14/2012 5:35 PM
MANILA, Philippine – Plagiarism is plagiarism, committed wittingly or unwittingly.
This much is clear for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who delivered a speech Wednesday, November 14, a day after an ethics complaint was filed against Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III for alleged plagiarism.
He urged an investigation into alleged plagiarism by any senator, in apparent reference to Sotto. Both senators are longtime political allies; Sotto belongs to the so-called Enrile bloc in the upper chamber.
"We are not condoning the act of plagiarism in this Senate. Far from it. If there is anyone of us wittingly or unwittingly who commits this act, then I’m sure that that member would be man enough or honorable enough to stand up and answer for it," Enrile said.
On Tuesday, November 13, Sotto apologized for copying quotes from the late US Senator Robert F Kennedy without attribution. But the former comedian denied it was plagiarism, explaining he did not intend to steal Kennedy's words.
Sotto claimed he was clueless the quote came from Kennedy. He got this "inspirational line," the senator said, from a text message sent by a Christian leader. "Kung sa tingin nila ay kinopya at tingin ng Kennedy family, kinopya ko, puwede sapagkat kinopya ko nga sa text iyon," Sotto said. (If they think I copied it and the Kennedys think I copied it, that's possible because I did copy it from the text.)
Plagiarism is commonly defined as stealing another person's thoughts or words by failing to attribute it to the original author, intentionally or not.
But Sotto on Tuesday said the Senate – whose journals are also considered scholarly references – defines plagiarism differently.
"Iba po ang pananaw sa academe. Sa academe kasi ang pangongopya bawal at kung anu-ano ang bawal. Pero dito ho sa Senado, hindi po iyon, ibang usapan po iyon pero wag na iyon." (The academe has a different view. In the academe, copying is prohibited, they prohibit all sorts of things. But here in the Senate, it's not. It's another discussion.)
Despite his speech, Enrile sang a different tune on Monday, November 12, after news broke that the late US senator's daughter, Kerry Kennedy, called Sotto's attention for plagiarism.
“We cannot be questioned for what we say inside this chamber anywhere, not because we are a special breed but because that is the immunity given by the sovereign people so we can speak on any subject under the sun,” Enrile told reporters Monday. "Those people who do not understand it, they’re ignorant of constitutional law, of the very Constitution they are supposed to espouse."
He even laughed it off with Sotto, who is accused of plagiarism by translating Kennedy into Filipino and passing off the quote as his own. “Mabuti nga tinagalog mo si Kennedy. Tatagalugin ko rin si Socrates!” (It’s a good thing you translated Kennedy. I will also translate Socrates!)
Now, Enrile said he is against plagiarism, and has "never done any act to copy or even think of appropriating unto myself the thoughts the intellectual property or the ideas of other people."
The Senate President has one more term remaining at the Senate. His son, Jack, is running for senator in the May 2013 elections.
Enrile said "no one is above the law," even with the parliamentary privilege of free speech that Sotto has invoked.
He said no senator is immune to an ethical complaint, and everyone "can be investigated by the members or their peers and, if warranted, disciplined even to the extent of being expelled as a member of this house."
"The constitutional privilege of freedom of speech granted to us was given to us to enable us to speak on any issue, good or bad, for the information of the people, so that they will know what is going on. No one is immune from being investigated for misconduct done by us," Enrile said.
However, Enrile, a lawyer, stressed the importance of due process.
"(No) one can say that by the mere fact that they have filed an ethics complaint against any member of this house, they have already proven their case... The law cannot condemn without any hearing. Otherwise, this will not be a government of laws, this will be a government of men," Enrile said. – Rappler.com
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III had to drag the dead in an effort to win an argument, calling attention to a news article insinuating that John F. Kennedy plagiarized an oft-quoted portion of his 1961 inaugural speech.
Sotto sent the Inquirer a text message bearing a link to the website www.dailymail.co.uk that when clicked would direct the reader to a story by Daniel Bates alleging that the slain US president lifted the quote “Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” from his former headmaster in Choate, a boarding and day school in Wallingford, Connecticut.
The revelation is supposedly a detail from “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero,” the most recently released biography of probably the most popular chief executive in US history.
It is not difficult to guess what prompted Sotto to direct attention to the story.
The senator is accused of lifting quotes from a 1966 speech of the US president’s late brother, Sen. Robert Kennedy, translating these into Filipino and passing them off as his own in a speech delivered in September.
Sotto is facing an ethics complaint filed by a group of academicians who also accused the senator of lifting quotes from four US-based bloggers, twisting these to support his argument against the reproductive health (RH) bill and failing to properly credit them when he delivered three speeches in August and September against the measure.
At the Summit on Family Planning in the Business Sector on Thursday, former Foreign Secretary Roberto Romulo used the President Kennedy quote in his welcome remarks.
Quoted, not copied
“I think it would be appropriate to give you a quote—I assure you it’s a quote, I’m not plagiarizing—from John F. Kennedy who said, ‘Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’” Romulo said.
He added, “I think this sums up what you can do for the country.”
Many interpreted Romulo’s effort to stress that he was quoting President Kennedy as an indirect attack against Sotto.
The website report said “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero,” penned by US author Chris Matthews, “claims the line originally came from George St. John… one of the president’s former headmasters at the Choate School in Connecticut.”
It added that Matthews “unearthed” notes written by St. John, “which suggest he had been aware of the ‘ask not’ line for many years.”
“The book also includes a reply to a questionnaire about JFK’s (Kennedy’s initials) time at the school, sent to his former classmates when he was president. One of the students wrote, ‘I boil every time I read or hear the Ask not… exhortation as being original with Jack,’” the report said.
“Time and time again we all heard [the headmaster] say that to the whole Choate family,” one source in the book was also quoted as saying.
Kennedy’s 14-minute speech, delivered at his inauguration on Capitol Hill on Jan. 20, 1961, is often included in compilations of the best speeches ever delivered.
The website report predicted that Matthews’ “extraordinary revelation is sure to raise eyebrows among historians,” once it is released.
It added that Kennedy’s speech writer Theodore C. Sorensen “has long been thought” as the source of the popular quote.
(The Philippine Star) | Updated November 20, 2012 - 2:08am
MANILA, Philippines - Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III yesterday expressed confidence that the Senate ethics committee will quickly dismiss the complaint filed against him for alleged plagiarism.
“I’m very confident that it will not even reach to that (voting),” Sotto told reporters after attending the weekly Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel media forum.
He believes the complaint would not progress since the Senate journal would prove that he did not claim ownership of any material he used in his speeches last August on the controversial reproductive health bill.
“The answer to that is give them (senators) the Senate journal. If the members of the ethics committee were not present during the time I delivered my speech I’ll just give them a copy of the journal,” he said.
The senator claimed that the copy being used by his critics was just a draft of his speech.
“That’s a piece of paper unless it comes from the journal of the Senate or I delivered it in my speech; that is not my speech and that is my only answer to the committee on ethics,” Sotto said.
Last week, 37 individuals composed of professors and bloggers filed an ethics complaint against the senator for allegedly plagiarizing some parts of his speeches meant to oppose the passage of the RH bill.
The complaint claimed that portions of Sotto’s speeches against the RH bill delivered on Aug. 13, Aug. 15 and Sept. 5 “were near verbatim reproductions of portions” of articles, briefing papers, and a speech previously posted in blogs and websites.
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, chair of the Senate ethics committee, earlier said they will still have to establish their rules before they can hold a hearing on the complaint.
Asked if he thinks Sen. Pia Cayetano, one of the principal authors of the RH bill, could influence her brother Alan Peter on the ethics complaint against him, Sotto said: “No, I have no apprehensions about that.”
Strengthening the law
Once Congress finally approves amendments to the 15-year-old Intellectual Property Code, Philippine laws will cover incidents similar to Sotto’s case.
The Senate and the House of Representatives yesterday reconciled versions of the bill amending the Intellectual Property Code at a conference in Traders Hotel in Pasay City.
Sen. Manuel Villar and Rep. Albert Garcia, chairmen of the respective committees of trade and commerce, have agreed to adopt the majority of the provisions under Senate Bill 2842.
Among the highlights of the measure is the reproduction of published articles or materials in a specialized format exclusively for the use of the blind, visually- and reading-impaired persons, creation of the Bureau of Copyright and other related rights, and protection of the works of local artists.
“The visually and hearing impaired can enjoy this provided the materials are not used for profit... and then the protection of the local artists which allow protection of their intellectual property, creations and performances,” Villar said, adding that the creation of the Bureau for Copyright and other related rights will strengthen the agency.
The lawmakers also agreed to the proposals of Sen. Edgardo Angara, who introduced the amendments that would include the protection of other rights: moral rights, resale rights and neighboring rights, in addition to copyright.
Asked if his amendments will cover the controversy facing Sotto, Angara said the Kennedy speech is covered by “moral rights.”
As differentiated from a copyrighted property, Angara said Sotto’s argument that the Kennedy speech is already covered by public domain can also be deemed proper.
He explained that moral rights mean the “right of attribution, right against alteration and right against distortion.” – With Christina Mendez
It’s almost as amusing as an episode of “Iskul Bukol.” Tito Sotto’s camp now suggests that John F. Kennedy himself took liberties with other people’s lines and claimed them as his own. Specifically, that he wasn’t the originator of “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” it was his teacher.
The correction appears in a book called “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero” by Chris Matthews. It was the headmaster of the school Kennedy went to, named George St. John, who kept saying that to the students. It was attested to by one of Kennedy’s classmates who said, “I boil every time I read or hear the ‘Ask not…’ exhortation as being original with Jack. Time and time again we all heard [the headmaster] say that to the whole Choate family.”
This isn’t the first time I myself have read this. This has appeared in a number of articles in the past, for the simple reason that Kennedy himself attributed the source of the idea to others, at least verbally to friends and acquaintances, if not to the world in his speech. But that is by no means plagiarism in that the other fellow never put it down in writing. We do not know exactly in what context he said it. We do not know exactly how he said it.
It was Kennedy who said it that way. Or more accurately, it was his speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, who phrased it that way. Should Kennedy have made the attribution in his speech? Maybe, but he didn’t need to. To the extent that the idea hadn’t found a claimant, his claim being writ in stone, or paper, it was fair game, it was part of collective lore or wisdom. All that we hear around us are so. Sorensen probably heard Kennedy himself saying it many times and decided to incorporate it in his speech. That is what speechwriters do. At their best, they just give shape and form to other people’s thoughts, however random or wispy.
To be sure, the Sotto camp’s sniping at Kennedy wasn’t entirely unprovoked. It was induced by Roberto Romulo taking a dig at Sotto in a business-sector family planning summit thus: “I think it would be appropriate to give you a quote—I assure you it’s a quote, I’m not plagiarizing—from John F. Kennedy who said, ‘Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’” But even if Sotto’s response wasn’t unprovoked, it was still the wrong one. There’s just no parallel. Elsewhere, Sotto has said that the people he rips off from should be flattered because as the man said (Charles Colton, actually) imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, imitation might be, the original being known, but not so plagiarism, the original being hidden from view.
But what really makes all this miserable is not that Sotto mistakes imitation for plagiarism, using an idea and purloining a text. Even if Kennedy himself plagiarized—which he did not—what of it? It doesn’t justify anything. Plagiarism is wrong whether some of the best people in the world can be discovered to have done it. Plagiarism sucks whether some or all of the senators, or the speechwriters they hire (cheaply), do it all the time.
Imitation is bad enough as it is, especially for us, who have thrived, or languished, depending on how you look at it, by aping other people. That we’ve thrived in it is easily shown by the sign various hotels and bars in Asia hang on their doors, “Filipino band playing,” referring to the prowess of Pinoy musicians to do covers like the original. That we have languished in it is equally easily shown by the reputation we’ve developed over time of being copycats, specifically cheap and inferior American imitations. You’d imagine the days of the “Elvis of the Philippines” would have been pushed back by OPM, but they keep coming back, if in less garish forms.
You’d imagine therefore that our trajectory, or direction, of striving should be toward eschewing imitation and being as original as possible. Or avoiding the beaten path and blazing new trails instead. Imitation may be flattering to the imitated, but it is not so to the imitating. You’d imagine that a senator would be exerting himself to summon a burst of originality and creativity from us, and not encouraging us to lapse back into manufacturing a Xerox culture.
That’s just for imitation, it’s far worse for plagiarism.
What’s unsavory about it is that it drags us back to the previous government’s time when public officials justified their existence not by showing the best they could be but by showing the law had not proven them guilty beyond a shadow of doubt. Arroyo deserved to be there not because she embodied the aspirations of the people but because the courts had not proven her votes fake. Now, a senator deserves to be there not because he drives us to exceed ourselves but because he can point to his fellows, quite apart from a former US president, as quite possibly being as guilty of plagiarism as he. To use a “Iskul Bukol” metaphor, that’s not striving for an “A,” that’s settling for “pasang awa.”
Kennedy’s inaugural speech, not quite incidentally, was an exhortation to excellence, idealism, transcendence. It ends this way, the last part being relevant here: “My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.”
It’s something our senators would do well to heed. Ask not who else has copied or imitated or plagiarized, ask who has achieved things we can marvel at and be proud of.