Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tito Sotto charged with plagiarism in Senate ethics committee by 37 complainants, whereas they overlook Pia Cayetano’s own case---because Sotto is lead anti-RH while Pia is co-author of RH bill. Ethics chair Alan Peter C. should inhibit in Sotto hearing out of delicadeza. Obama and McCaine confronted with plagiarism during campaign, but US VP Joe Biden takes the cake on this issue.

Senator Tito Sotto

Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto is getting it from various quarters on the issue of plagiarism which he stoutly denies.

A group of pro-RH academics has formally filed a complaint against him in the Senate ethics committee. Then too, from reports, Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late US Attorney General and herself a professed pro-contraceptive advocate, has also lodged a complaint in this committee against Sen. Sotto for allegedly desecrating the memory of her father.

By the way, is it true that Kerry Kennedy was given a distorted picture of the way Sotto allegedly used her father’s quotes in his 1966 South Africa speech titled “Day of Affirmation? I  read that she was made to understand that the Philippine Majority Leader had mangled those RFK quotes badly in his Filipino translation, which therefore drew her negative reaction.

Three US-based writers and bloggers who claim he plagiarized passages from their writings have also filed complaints. So far the ethics committee chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano has received 37 complaints against

Senator Pia Cayetano
 I have a number of reactions to these developments. But first, quickly, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano should inhibit from chairing the hearings vs. Sotto, as he’s the brother of Sen. Pia Cayetano, co-author of the Senate RH bill. Since the complainants are nearly all staunch supporters of access to contraception and population control, it follows that they support Pia who's Alan Peter’s sister.

For the purpose of these complaints, therefore, it's imperative---out of delicadeza---that Alan Peter yield the chair of the ethics committee to another senator. The most logical to chair the hearings on Sotto would be Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada, who's also an ex-officio member of this committee. 


A key issue is why Sotto’s being singled out for plagiarism, when it has been pointed out in various media reports that Sen. Pia Cayetano herself was guilty of such wrong-doing.

Media reported that at least two privileges speeches she delivered  contained “paragraphs apparently lifted from sources available online---with no attribution whatsoever.” Critics note that Sen. Pia, who ranked No. 7 in her UP College of Law class and is a member of its honor society, the “Order of the Purple Feather,” delivered a World Environment Day speech with passages lifted without attribution from a UN Environment Program website. Moreover, data on maternal health that Pia used in another occasion were said to have been lifted sans credits from a speech by DOH Undersecretary Mario Villaverde.

These criticisms of Sen. Pia were repeatedly pointed out in social media as well, yet the stout defenders of intellectual honesty who complained against Tito Sotto have chosen to close their eyes on the complaints against Cayetano.  

Clearly the discrepancy in anti-plagiarism standards in the case of these two senators can be attributed to what one US writer terms “politics-based plagiarism scandals.”  Sotto leads the anti-RH campaign in the Senate, whereas Pia is RH bill co-author.


When we speak of plagiarism, there has to be intended intellectual dishonesty and deliberate theft of an intellectual work by someone else, in order for it to be considered plagiarized.

In the case of Sotto, I think what happened to him is that he perused the sponsorship speech handed to him by his staff---presuming, as all the senators do, that they had done their homework, including proper attributions.  No senator or House member really has enough time to check out every footnote. There just has to be that comfortable trust level in what their people do.


If you recall, this was also what happened to an associate justice of the SC whose researcher failed to credit proper sources in the ponencia he wrote. This justice, with all decency, simply refused to divulge the name of his researcher, even when he was threatened with impeachment by the House committee on justice.

I don’t think there was malice on the magistrate’s part. His researcher, who had made it to the top ten of the bar exams, just failed to acknowledge sources, arguing that quotes disappeared over several computer revisions. The justice, like the senators, had to assume the submitted work was okay.  

In the UP College of Law, when this issue raged, there were allegations that went unanswered that a number of prominent professors had also disregarded vital footnotes from other sources in their scholarly works. Could anyone ever think this could happen in the UP Law?


Sotto’s chief of staff, Hector Villacorta, during the heat of the issue against his boss, asserted that it is common practice in the Senate (and doubtless in the House too) for legislators to copy word for word bills authored by their colleagues that failed to be enacted; they just re-introduced them in succeeding congresses as their own.  Just who is plagiarizing who then, argued Villacorta.

Sen. Sotto is not alone in his predicament. During the height of the 2008 US presidential campaign, Sen. Barrack Obama was accused of plagiarizing his longtime friend Deval Patrick, while Republican rival John McCaine was also accused of plagiarizing from Wikipedia.


US Vice President  Joe Biden
But recently re-elected US Vice President Joe Biden takes the cake. US media accounts say he has had a long history of the plagiarism plague---beginning from his Syracuse Law School days when he wrote a 15-page school paper, of which five pages allegedly were copied from somewhere else. According to accounts then, he “pleaded ignorance, saying he did not know how he was supposed to properly cite his sources.”

The plagiarism controversy was to hound Biden through his political career---which his aides termed a classic example of “YouTube politics” before the Web even existed. While campaigning in Iowa, then Delaware Sen. Biden was reported to have used a series of phrases that closely mirrored a previous speech by British Labour Party politician Neal Kinnock, which went un-sourced. Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis was said to have created an “attack video” that spliced together Biden’s and Kinnock’s passages---and the Kinnock trick knocked Biden out of that presidential primary race.

In his defense, Biden was quoted by media as saying he had “routinely” credited Kinnock except that he had simply forgotten to do so during the (Iowa) stump speech from which Dukakis’ attack tape was made. Malas  lang daw talaga. Media said Biden has also been accused of lifting speeches from other sources, including Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.

Interestingly, though, he was twice elected as President Obama’s vice-president and in the after-glow of their recent victory, he’s now being mentioned as possible presidential successor in 2016.


Chief Negotiator Marvic Leonen
News reports said that President Aquino wants to appoint chief government peace negotiator Marvic Leonen, who negotiated the Framework Agreement for the creation of the Bangsamoro with the MILF, to the lone vacancy in the Supreme Court. In fact reports say P-Noy himself asked former UP Law Dean Leonen to apply for the associate justice post and that he topped the search of the JBC.

But the question is, why appoint him when, as P-Noy himself and Dean Leonen have stressed over and over, the Framework Agreement is the first step in the journey of a thousand steps toward the coveted peace in Mindanao---and it would conceivably be fraught with all kinds of obstacles along the way.

If this so, why not keep Leonen in the negotiation panel as he is the Framework Agreement's architect and the MILF apparently is comfortable with him? P-Noy can always appoint another person from among the six other JBC nominees to the SC. He should keep Leonon where he seems to be doing okay.

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