The case of plagiarism supposedly committed by Philippine Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo that was eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court represents a microcosm of a bigger problem, which I think needs urgent attention from Filipinos. The bigger problem that is gripping the whole nation is that of insecurity — emotional insecurity, specifically — whether it is over someone else’s differing opinion, someone else’s valid criticism, or someone else’s superior abilities.
Feelings of insecurity can often lead to defensiveness, which is what seems to be transpiring between the UP College of Law and the Supreme Court Judges. Like in any situation in the Philippine setting, perceived feelings of wrongdoing between two parties can lead to misunderstanding and eventually, a total falling out (and if you happen to be living in a place like Maguindanao, massacre!).
Don’t get me wrong; of course, plagiarism is wrong. Rules and conventions have been put up to protect original works from being copied or lifted word for word and then claimed as one’s own. Even just the idea behind the work itself is protected in principle. These rules and conventions generally stipulate that an individual has intellectual property rights over his own words or body of work. The existence of the Intellectual Property Association of the Philippines (IPAP) Copyright law is good. After all, who would want someone stealing their work and then have that someone else claim it as their own? No one I suppose.
While it is wise to show outrage over allegations of plagiarism or any conduct deemed to be an affront to our values as a society, I think some people, even those who hold the highest position in the land are going too far.
To me, there are reasons why this particular issue of plagiarism currently being debated upon at a national level should be put to rest. For one, the judge in question did not do the deed himself; he had a researcher who failed to cite her sources. This fact means that the character assassination directed at the judge in question and those who dismissed the case is possibly an exaggeration.
It has even reached a point where President Noynoy Aquino himself is deflecting the blame of the alleged fiasco to former President Gloria Arroyo. He is making it a case against GMA’s “midnight appointees.” Admittedly, P-Noy has found a really good spin on the matter if you ask me. Something that P-Noy’s fanatical supporters will surely swallow in whole.
P-Noy probably thought that this is a good chance for him to milk this situation until blood comes out of it. Perhaps, literally: this might just result in a bloodbath considering how the UP College of Law is blowing this out of proportion. Obviously, someone has a beef against someone, and the entire Philippine population is shouldering the cost of bruised egos between lawyers and judges.
The offence of plagiarism in the court ruling of Judge Del Castillo has already been exposed and most likely won’t be repeated again by the offender (unless he is stupid), I don’t think people should panic about it being a precedent. Besides, who can stop people from doing something they want to do even without this incident as a reference to begin with? The answer is: no one.
Unless people closely monitor the rise or fall in the number of Filipinos plagiarizing after this incident, we will never know if this really is set to become a precedent. It all boils down to trust. Sadly, Filipinos don’t really trust each other to honor their word.
Unfortunately, last I heard, “plagiarism is not a crime but is disapproved more on the grounds of moral offence.” And that is straight out of Wikipedia. In my own words, someone who takes your work as his or her own cannot really go to jail but he or she may suffer the consequence of her action in some form or another.
In the words of Isagani Cruz from philStar.com in his article published 26th August 2010:
In academic circles, plagiarists are banned for life from entering competitions, applying for grants, being promoted, getting tenure, publishing articles, and the like. There is also the matter of the seventh commandment [in a Catholic university].
“Plagiarism is not only the mere copying of text, but also the presentation of another’s ideas as one’s own, regardless of the specific words or constructs used to express that idea. In contrast, many so-called plagiarism detection services can only detect blatant word-for-word copies of text”
That above statement by the way is from Wikipedia.
You might think that as a blogger, I am being overly relaxed about the subject of plagiarism. Am I not concerned that someone might steal my articles or ideas and claim it as their own, you might ask? The answer is no, I am not that insecure. The reason being is first, there is more where those ideas came from and as long as there are people in the country who continue to say and do moronic stuff (and believe me, we will never run out of them), I will always think of something new and better to say.
Second, I am pretty confident that there won’t be a lot of Filipinos who can fully grasp some of the concepts I write about in my articles so even if they try and pass my writings as their own, they will not be able to defend it. I don’t actually publish anything I cannot defend because I know how cruel blogging can be. So for me to write something that I don’t believe in or the idea of copying someone’s work as my own will be like committing suicide in the blogging world. It’s also all about decency; and guess what: The country is sorely lacking in precisely that — decency. So I won’t be surprised if someone steals my work and ideas anyway. It comes with the territory of being Pinoy.
Thirdly, my articles online are actually time stamped so it would be pretty easy to prove that I wrote the article first before the thief.
Fourth, I actually believe in karma, so whoever steals something from someone will surely pay for the consequences of his or her actions.
All this talk about plagiarism reminds me of this commenter in my previous blog who left this message:
Since when did Steve Jobs and Bill Gates become innovators? They may be wise but they are certainly no innovators. Bill Gates just bought out the many small software companies, together with their proprietary source code, and their R&D Team and brought them over to Microsoft.
Steve Jobs is just a master of Marketing and social engineering, when Apple started it was really Stephen Wozniak who is the technical genius and thus the “real” innovator. He only knows what will sell. How about after Stephen Wozniak left? He just swiped pre-existing technology being developed by many research facilities, and universities around the world and made it to the “eye candy” that you are supposedly familiar of.
Although the topic was about something else, what he was claiming is closely related to plagiarism and copyright infringement.
The comment above has always bugged me because I kept thinking that this guy actually thinks lowly of people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates because they did not invent the very products that made them billionaires to begin with. I find his mentally really odd because I don’t really believe that there is such a thing as an original product in the first place. Almost everything we use is an improvement of someone else’s previous invention, often one that wasn’t even envisioned to evolve into product that would go on to be invented based on it.
The telephone for example, although credited to Alexander Graham Bell, was a result of his research into improving the telegraph system. To quote WikiAnswers:
Bell was experimenting into improving the telegraph system so that multiple messages could be sent at the same time (his theory of the ‘harmonic telegraph’ was based on the principle that several messages could be sent simultaneously along the same wire if the different telegraph signals each had a different pitch). However at the same time he began working on the novel idea that speech could be transmitted electronically, as he accidentally discovered that the sound of a spring being twanged could be heard over his harmonic telegraph system. Almost a year later in March 1876 Bell uttered the first famous words into the device to his assistant in the next room: “Mr. Watson, come here -I want to see you”.
Can anyone else realize the point here that most stuff today like the iPhone and all the other communication technologies, say, are just improvements of someone else’s work? In fact, to quote WikiAnswer again: “While Bell was the first to receive a patent for the telephone, several others preceded his research and credit for inventing the electric telephone remains in dispute.”
While western innovators go up in arms from time to time about the fact that China keeps producing fake goods copied from obviously copyrighted property, it doesn’t seem to stop China or all the other copycats in the world from doing it.
Even though we have laws to protect our original idea from being stolen, it won’t stop people from getting a light bulb moment and say “I can make a better product than that with even more bells and whistles!” And that’s exactly what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have done.
It is quite obvious that before they even launch a product, they think of everything, right down to the smallest detail. Can you imagine them launching a new design without even talking to their suppliers first, say, regarding all the accessories that go along with their product? The answer is no because they are very attentive to details and that separates them from all the copycats in the world, which is why they are successful.
Selling T-shirts for instance is not an original concept. If you wanted to sell a shirt, you will have to compete with all the millions of people who want to make a quick buck out of selling T-shirts with a fancy slogan. What can set you apart is the quality and the attitudes evoked in a potential buyer looking at your shirt. Diesel and Billabong are international brands that express the idea of a whole different lifestyle; one that equates to “coolness” for the most part. It’s all about having the patience to iron out the right statement you want to make before launching a product. Delayed gratification yields better results than instant gratification and the customers will know if a product has been thought out well.
The bigger problem we have in our society is that, Filipinos are not just bad at being original, we are also bad at being copycats. Just look around us, we hardly have the ability to innovate or improve on other people’s work. The jeepney has always been the jeepney. Yes, we have attached the borloloys like the Mercedes Benz logo and the colorful designs that all but scream “tacky”, but in terms of functionality, the jeepney has remained the same since the Americans left us with the jeep after World War II.
We are so bad at being original, which is precisely the reason why most Filipinos are so defensive or overly sensitive about other people stealing their work.
Just think about it, if you had the ability to come up with something original, then there’s more where that came from and you shouldn’t be worried about people stealing your idea. Only those who cannot easily come up with an original idea will end up being overly protective of their work.
I guess you can say that my attitude is quite similar to Steve Jobs attitude when he just kept on churning out more products after his ideas were stolen. Obviously, his hard work eventually paid off.
About the Author
ilda has written 67 stories on this site.
Ilda is agent provocateur. She wants to help people realise that things are not always what they seem.