The lightning rod
Tito Sotto is a victim, or so Tito Sotto claims. He believes he is the focus of a concerted effort by the heavily funded supporters of the Reproductive Health bill, all of whom are desperate to demonize him and weaken his resolve. He suspects he is the first senator to be made victim of cyberbullying. He has been insulted, criticized and threatened with lawsuits. His history has been exploited. It is a hatchet job, he says, a demolition job.
The senator is correct when he says that plagiarism has become the issue, instead of the nuances of the bill itself. He is also correct when he talks about the online response to his speeches. He is the laughingstock of cyberspace. “Sinotto” is a trending hashtag for plagiarized lines. The face that once decorated blockbuster movie billboards is a Facebook meme. When the senator used translated-into-Filipino chunks of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1966 Affirmation speech in his latest privilege speech, the online community responded with a slew of translated song lyrics and movie lines from Lady Gaga to Cherie Gil, all attributed to Tito Sotto.
He also finds it odd that none of his opponents, not a single one of his critics, has attempted to rebut the ideas he has put forward in his privilege speeches.
“I have not heard a response to any of the criticisms I have thrown against the RH bill.”
The senator is not correct. It is true that the plagiarism issue has made him less believable, far less credible, but advocates of the Reproductive Health bill have refuted his ideas point by point, in columns and blogs and television interviews, establishing his sources as outdated, his claims misrepresentations, and his statistics misinterpreted, while pointing out the fundamental factual error in his emotional claim that his child died in 1975 because his wife had ingested birth control pills. The pill he specified, Diane, was yet to be distributed the year he lost his son.
Sotto ignores all this. He continues to claim that the attacks are only that, attacks, without merit and without reason, a result of his righteous and correct defense of human life and the moral culture.
“If they cannot kill the message, they will kill the messenger.”
The senator does not consider the possibility that the messenger itself may be flawed, and that public indignation may have little to do with the bill. He forgets that faith is earned, and the fact of his being senator is not a cloak to hide behind. The attacks may have been brutal, much may have been uncalled for, but the basis of the criticism is Sotto himself, and his failure to take responsibility. The medium is the message, and it is a concept that Sotto is well acquainted with.
The public—and he makes a delineation between the public attacking him and the public who knows him—knows how to perceive right and wrong, and they know better than to believe his attackers.
“Do we know if they are good people? Do we know if they are kind, if they are drunks, if they batter their wives? We don’t know who they are, but they are so good at destroying my name.”
And yet he destroys that name, and continues to cling to his innocence, invoking his position as senator and public figure, placing himself above those he plagiarized, setting up rules for himself. The medium is tainted—a man whose ideas are not his own, whose sources are questionable, whose ethics have been proven false, is a difficult man to trust when he claims moral authority.
Plagiarism happens, and sometimes happens to the best of men with the best of intentions. It happened to Fareed Zakaria, who accepted his indefinite suspension from Time Magazine and released a public apology to Time and his readers. It happened to Manny V. Pangilinan, who released an apology, took responsibility for his staff’s failure, then resigned from the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University. It happened to Alfred Yuson, Palanca Hall of Famer, who apologized immediately and publicly and withstood the onslaught of attack from the online community. It happens to many writers and speakers and commentators, some of whom are careless, many of whom, once exposed, have gone to great lengths to humble themselves before the varying publics they serve, well aware that the fault is a fault, grievous or otherwise.
The truth is that Sotto would have been forgiven if he apologized, and quickly, because of what he is, a much-loved former actor who has risen in government on the strength of public adulation. There is little evidence his intentions were anything but good, he has already admitted to having speech writers and staff assisting in the crafting of his speeches, in no way would he have been hung and quartered for a mistake that a member of the Supreme Court has been accused of. And yet this continued arrogance in the face of obvious wrong is what keeps this story alive, and diminishes the same message that Sotto claims is not being heard.
Tito Sotto calls himself a lightning rod. Yet he fails to grasp that his failure is not so much the plagiarism as his unwillingness to admit he has failed at all. He has blustered and pointed fingers, claimed his victims were “only bloggers,” allowed his own people to take (albeit partial) responsibility, claimed conspiracies against him and the most evil of intentions, demeaned the academe, and then set about making the most ridiculous of excuses when he again makes a fool out of himself on his own podium. If the senator were so committed to bring down the RH bill, it would have been best to swallow his ego, apologize, and remove the distraction that will not allow the nation to return to the debate at hand.
Sotto has done little for his crusade against the RH bill, the same way the Philippine Catholic Church continues to be the single best argument in support of the separation between Church and State. Both claim the right to moral authority while damaging that authority, both refuse to engage in rational discourse. The only difference is that unlike Senator Sotto, the Church never fails to claim its source.
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