The Philippines: A nation of plagiarists?
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The Philippines: A nation of plagiarists?

The Philippine judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, is now under fire for a plagiarism case involving one of the high court’s justices, Mariano del Castilo. In a decision recently handed down en banc, the court absolved del Castillo of the charges — first exposed by the venerable publication Newsbreak — that del Castillo, in writing the court’s decision on the case of the so-called “comfort women” in the Philippines, lifted verbatim parts of the papers of three legal experts. Not only did del Castillo  plagiarize the papers — he also twisted the meaning of the original in order to support a contrary view. 

The court en banc still absolved del Castillo by saying there was no malicious intent on his part when he lifted parts of the papers without attribution and that, besides, Microsoft Word did not flag him about it!

Needless to say, the scandal has seriously threatened the credibility of the Supreme Court, or whatever is left of it.

However, I get the feeling that the firestorm the scandal created seems to focus only on the Supreme Court, as if only lazy magistrates are capable of committing plagiarism. A Newsbreak blogger, in her attempt to put plagiarism in context, cited plagiarism cases in media outlets in the US. Fine, but it only reinforced the notion that plagiarism is not common in the Philippines, which is contrary to reality.

One can argue that this is neither here nor there because, truth be told, if there’s one branch of government that should be exalted for probity and ethics, it should be the high court. Plagiarizing other people’s work simply exposes a weakness in the individual that can threaten the whole institution.

Be that as it may,  plagiarism is common in the Philippines. A quick search on Google would yield interesting and some recent instances.

* Manuel Pangilinan, the Filipino business tycoon who owns the largest telecommunications company, a broadcast network and a several other business, plagiarized the work of several people — among them JK Rowling, President Obama —  for his graduation speech at the Ateneo de Manila University.

* Filipino bloggers have complained about plagiarism within their ranks and it seems plagiarism is a major concern in universities now.

* A lifestyle columnist at the Philippine Star, Mayenne Carmona, was accused of plagiarizing a New York Times story.

* Then there’s the case of top broadcaster Karen Davila of ABS-CBN, who was accused by writer and blogger Stuart Santiago of cribbing part of her material.

As far as I know, no major fallout in these instances has been reported, except in the case of Pangilinan, who recognized what he called as a lapse by his speechwriter and offered to resign from the board of Ateneo. The others are still there, unpunished and could potentially commit the same crime in the future.

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