Plagiarized lives
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Plagiarized lives

“Meanwhile, where is the rest of the literary, cultural, and academic world of which the admitted plagiarist is part?”

The exasperated blogger Radikal Chick asked this question because the Philippine literary world seems oblivious to the mortal sin one of them, Krip Yuson, had committed when he plagiarized the work of sports writer Rey Joble at GMA New Online.

Yuson has since admitted the crime and apologized for it, but not before justifying his atrocity by saying, in a comment in his public Facebook profile, that he honestly felt he did not deliberately try to pass off the plagiarized work as his own because  “I believed it was much mine as his, since I worked on the piece, as major revision/rewrite.” (Poor Rey Joble. Yuson not only stole his work; he has also broadcast to the world how horrible a writer Joble is.)

If you browse Yuson’s Facebook profile, you will see why the literary and journalism worlds have been forgiving of Yuson. Angelo Suarez, one of the most exciting literary voices that have emerged recently, even “liked” Yuson’s comment that I quoted above, which made me shudder. How could a self-respecting writer “like” such a justification for plagiarism?

You will read Philippine literary figures commisserating with Yuson, even congratulating him for his apology. “You can’t keep a good man down,” one of his friends, Ditas Antenor, wrote on his wall.

These are Yuson’s friends, of course, and true friends rush to your side even when you do the stupidest things. But that says more of Yuson’s friends than of Yuson himself.

As Radikal Chick intoned, Yuson should lie low, stay away from the glare, and stop offending our sensibilities with his self-serving and at times icky justifications for a sin he, a literary giant, shouldn’t have committed.

But who am I kidding? Even the best of the best steal other people’s work and ideas. This reminds me of Patricia Evangelista, the columnist at the Philippine Daily Inquirer who Yuson apparently regards as his protege. In her website, Evangelista declares: “I have a penchant for plagiarizing the lives of family and friends…”

But apparently, this otherwise excellent columnist whose passionate and eloquent voice is rare in Philippine commentary, who is considered the “Joan Didion of the Philippines,” also plagiarizes other people’s words. In one of her columns, Evangelista wrote “We tell stories in order to live.” Great sentence, except that it was originally written by her idol Didion. She apparenly liked Didion so much that she not only writes like her — she started thinking like her.

Writers certainly derive inspiration from other writers. Their thoughts are necessarily formed by the thoughts of others. What Evangelista did was nothing — it was clearly a slip borne out of a subconscious assimilation of another writer’s thoughts and ideas. You can even say it was an homage to Didion.

What Yuson did, however, was something else. It was a theft borne out of the arrogant, let alone foolish, notion that since he put words in Joble’s mouth he should have as much right to those words. If only for thinking this way, Yuson should never be an editor. (GMA News Online, are you listening?)

We can probably let this slide. After all, this is, as far as I know, Yuson’s first offense. Can we be sure, however, that this will not happen again? I don’t know. As long as Yuson, or any other editor, thinks that he can appropriate for himself the words of the writers that he edited, he will probably do it again.

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