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There’s the Rub

Hearsay

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Tito Sotto asked for it.

With no small irony: He just had a ringside view on how to self-destruct when Renato Corona appeared before the impeachment court and made an absolute fool of himself. Which was what sealed his doom when it still seemed salvageable. Sotto didn’t seem to have learned from it. He appeared before the Senate himself and delivered a privilege speech on the Reproductive Health bill, thinking he would deliver the coup de grace on it. He ended up delivering the coup de grace—on himself.

At the very least that is so because he talked about his personal experience of losing a child from his wife’s use of contraceptives. You tell a story like that to your pals with a view to gaining sympathy, you might gain sympathy. You tell it to the nation with a view to making it the linchpin of your position on an issue of quite literally life-and-death to it, you won’t. You will not get sympathy, you will get scrutiny. You will not get commiseration, you will get detraction. You will not cause depths of sadness, you will raise howls of laughter.

Which was how people, led by former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, reacted to it. Cabral has asked Sotto to produce the records of his son’s birth. Various netizens have questioned his reading of the event. Sotto has cried foul, saying those things are cruel and insensitive. As has Juan Ponce Enrile. That’s crazy. You don’t want to have your life put under a microscope, do not offer it on a slide.

At the very most because he plagiarized. The layers of ironies here are so rich, if it were a cake it would give you instant diabetes.

Sotto complains that the plagiarism issue is a distraction and people should focus instead on the substance of what he is saying. Well, you streak on stage while an award-giving is taking place and people will look at you and not at the award-giving. That happened by the way at the 1974 Oscars ceremonies, with David Niven quipping witheringly, “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping—and showing his shortcomings.” The point is, you create a distraction, don’t complain that people are distracted.

If anything, what Sotto has only proven beyond a shadow of doubt is that more than cigarettes, plagiarism has become hazardous to health. Which for some reason seems to be a favorite pastime of this country. Among the notables who have been caught doing it are Larry Henares, Mariano del Castillo, and Manny Pangilinan. The times when you can pass off another person’s words as your own with impunity are gone. Google has killed it. Today, you plagiarize, you will be found out.

There’s more. Sotto says he wasn’t obliged to cite Sarah Pope, who called him a lying thief for using her material without attribution, because, “blogger lang ’yon.” His lawyer-aide, Hector Villacorta, says that Philippine laws consider the Internet, unlike print, to be public domain, so people are free to make free use of the information there as they will. That doesn’t make it better, that makes it worse.

For one thing, it’s one thing to loot Wikipedia, it’s another to loot a blog. The one is free, the other is not. And even then, the decent, if not legal, thing is to acknowledge Wikipedia, particularly when you are lifting huge chunks from it word for word. A blog is quite another matter. The only difference between it and a newspaper article or column is that the one is digital and the other is not. Blogs are private property. You lift from them, you will be called a thief. You deny doing so, you will be called a lying thief.

More than that, which is where the irony becomes rich, you regard the Internet as being little more than the virtual version of the Payatas dumpsite anyone is free to scavenge from, why on earth would you rest your whole argument about a life-and-death issue on a throwaway item you extracted from it? Sotto’s position makes blogs and the Internet at once the most important things in the world you can take what appears there as scientific proof; and the most insignificant things in the world, you can grab what appears there without bothering to ask permission from its source. It’s like telling Miss Tapia of Wanbol University, “Ayos ’lang ’yon, Ma’am, kinopya ko lang ’yung answers kay Ongasis (played by Vic Sotto in “Iskul Bukol”), promdi lang naman ’yon.”

And still there’s more. Villacorta tells Pope in a letter, an instant classic on how not to apologize, that “after asking my staff, indeed your blog was used, but only in quoting also from the same book of (Natasha) Campbell-McBride. We are both indebted to the book’s author.”

That makes it even worse. You want to quote from a study, why on earth would you want to quote from a blog that quotes from the study? Why don’t you quote from the study itself? Why don’t you read Campbell-McBride? That way you are sure of the context in which she says what she does. That way you know she has no caveats about what she says. That way you can actually cling to some truth when you say that your position is well researched. The way things are, senators will soon be known as a bunch of people who like referencing books they have not read.

But it’s Enrile who takes the (irony-layered) cake. Coming to Sotto’s aid, he says, “If Tito found merit in (McBride’s) findings and repeated them in a speech, the issue is whether the data are wrong or false. If the data are correct, why can he not use them in his speech?” Ah, but that is precisely the point: Tito did not find merit in McBride’s findings, he found merit in Pope’s finding merit in McBride’s findings. Which brings us to wonder about Enrile himself who just finished presiding over Corona’s impeachment trial and dealt with the problem again and again.

Has he forgotten so soon about hearsay?


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