MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - A group of academics and bloggers wants the Senate to declare one of it high-ranking officials, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, guilty of plagiarism.
The group, composed of 37 individuals and members of the organization Filipino Freethinkers Inc., filed a complaint against Sotto before the Senate’s committee on ethics and privileges on Tuesday, November 13.
“We trust our senators to know plagiarism when they see plagiarism,” said Lisandro Claudio, assistant professor of political science at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Aside from Claudio, the complainants were led by University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Studies Director Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, De La Salle Political Science Professor Dr. Antonio Contreras, and Filipino Freethinkers President Red Tani.
In their complaint, the group asked that Sotto be found guilty of improper conduct and the appropriate disciplinary action be imposed on him for plagiarizing the works of a late US senator and three bloggers.
They cited the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines and the Electronic Commerce Act to point out that written all written works are protected from the moment of their creation, and that authors have the right to be credited for the public use of their work.
“Respondent Sotto’s continued failure to give proper attribution to the authors of the original works from whom portions of his speech were copied, despite having his attention called to it in numerous articles presented in media and posted on the Internet, is a clear violation of these authors’ moral right,” the group said in their complaint.
The complaint includes a letter from the daughter of the late US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Kerry, who asked Sotto to apologize for plagiarizing and translating to Filipino a part of his father’s famous 1966 Day of Affirmation Speech. This was used in the last of Sotto’s speeches against the reproductive health (RH) bill.
The statements of three bloggers whose online works Sotto also allegedly plagiarized in his anti-RH bill speeches—Sarah Pope, Janice Formichella, and Peter Engelman—were also attached to the complaint.
Citing an opinion by former Associate Justice and now Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the complainants also argued that Sotto is liable for failing to give credit to the authors whether or not their works are copyrighted. They said it amounts to a direct assault on the authors’ right to get credit.
Sotto on Monday said senators may not be questioned for whatever they say in the chamber, citing parliamentary immunity. He also stressed that he won’t apologize to the authors complaining about him.
Sotto found an ally in Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who said that the ethics case is a numbers game. He said Sotto will only be disciplined if the complainants can get enough senators to vote in their favor.
For Contreras, the issue should not be reduced to a numbers game.
“Nakakatakot ‘yon kasi lumalabas na ang pamantayan ng etika at tamang pag-uugali, bilangan na lang,” he told reporters. “Ano ngayon ang lesson na ituturo natin sa ating mamamayan?”
Dr. Claudio trusts, however, that senators will find merit in their complaint.
“Hindi kami naniniwala na ang lahat ng senador ganyan mag-isip at ganyan ang kalakaran. Naniniwala kami that there are some elected representatives na hindi naniniwalang ang kalakaran ay paramihan na lang,” she said.
The Senate ethics committee is now preparing its rules to hear Sotto’s case and other pending ethics complaints, its chairman Alan Peter Cayetano said.