There are a lot of people out there who have no idea what plagiarism means, exactly. This website defines plagiarism as “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author“. Other sites, like this and this, provide the same definition. In a nutshell, plagiarism is an act of theft and of fraud–a violation so vile and repulsive that it doesn’t belong in the halls of the academe and of the government.
However, that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it. I’ve been a student for a long time–longer than most people too–and I’ve known of cases where students have blatantly and shamelessly plagiarized works of other people for their homework, essays, or even for their theses. One might even say that it is a time-honored tradition, as long as you don’t get caught.
I don’t believe in that. Sure, it is easier. But, as the great Albus Dumbledore himself once said, there would come a time when we would have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy. As a writer, I face that choice all the time. For example, when I have to write an article on whether globalization is a new process or is merely a process that’s been going on for centuries, do I copy-paste a paragraph from the work of an author who has eloquently phrased my point, or do I choose to learn from the works of several authors, make up my own mind, and phrase my thoughts in my own words? Though the latter is harder and takes a lot more time and effort, it is the right thing to do, and it’s what everyone should do.
Of course, there are times when I’ve fallen off my high horse. I have made mistakes–I do not dismiss that. But I have learned from those mistakes, and I do not plan on plagiarizing anytime soon, if I can help it. Also, there are a lot of ways to catch someone who has plagiarized, a fact that should strike terror into the hearts of would-be writers.
So when I learned about the latest accusations of plagiarism that have been hurled at Senator Tito Sotto, I thought, how can someone who is in one of the most prestigious offices in the country do such a thing? I was prepared to give Sotto the benefit of the doubt, since I wasn’t able to follow the story closely and I wasn’t aware of past accusations of plagiarism that have been hurled against him.
That was until I saw this photo:
All this would have been bad enough, but Sotto tried to laugh it off by saying that he “used Tagalog in his speech to make sure that he wouldn’t be accused of plagiarism again” (source). According to Sotto, “Sino ngayon ang kinopyahan ko na Tagalog? Meron ba silang alam na pinanggalingan na Tagalog nun? [Who did I plagiarize from now? Do they know a source that is in Tagalog?]” (source)
As far as I know, merely translating someone’s work into another language still constitutes plagiarism, especially if you translated it word-for-word. And I really don’t understand how anyone can make this mistake. How hard would it have been for Sotto to say, “In a speech by Robert F. Kennedy, he mentioned that ….”? Something as simple as that might have helped him get out of this rut.
If this issue was left at that, it would have blown over in a couple of days and blamed on the lack of background of actor-turned-senator Tito Sotto. However, his Chief of Staff Hector Villacorta, in what I can safely say is a stupid dick move, fanned the flames by saying that plagiarism is an accepted practice in the halls of both houses of the Philippine Congress.
According to Villacorta, “the Bible reached us today because the monks copied from the Greeks. Everything really started from a little copying…Even our image was copied from God. We are all plagiarists” (source). I don’t know about you, but using the ‘somebody has done it before I did it‘ excuse is a really weak defense. To put this in perspective, if I stabbed a man and got caught and my defense was “Why should I be punished? People have been killing other people for centuries?”, do you really think the cops would let me go? I didn’t think so.
Also, I don’t like the idea that the people who are in charge of the country cannot even find the time or the brain cells to come up with something original. Most of the people in office, especially those occupying the highest positions in the three branches of government, have been telling voters that they will do nothing but serve the people and the country while they are in power. How is intellectual theft helping me, or the country? Please, do tell.
Successful writers became successful only because they have sacrificed time, energy, brain cells, and blood to make sure that everything they write are original and thought-provoking. If civilians who aren’t serving the public can do something as simple as citing a source, why can’t politicians in high office? Why can’t you?