Quickly unfolding after one of our authors, Alfredo R. Melgar, exposed Senator Tito Sotto’s unattributed word-for-word lifting of significant segments of a piece written by Sarah Pope, has been the public excoriation of the Senator for plagiarism. Pope’s blog, The Healthy Home Economist, was used by Senator Sotto to oppose public funding of oral contraceptive pills in the first part of his turno en contra speech against the Reproductive Health Bill. The Senator and his staff still contends, however, that if they used her blog at all, it was only in the citation of Pope’s own attributed source, a certain Natasha Campbell-McBride (whose medical opinion is, on its own, highly suspect).
The following is a timeline (a web log, if you will) of the events on Sotto’s apparent plagiarism. It will be periodically updated for further developments on the matter.
Updated as of September 7, 7:20 AM (added the confirmation of Feminists for Choice blogger of Sotto’s plagiarism)
August 13, 2012
Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” C. Sotto III delivers the first part of his turno en contra speech on the floor of the Philippine Senate against Senate Bill 2865, the Reproductive Health Bill. In his speech, he makes several claims regarding the relationship of the bill with abortion, an act the bill acknowledges to be illegal. He makes further claims that contraceptives, such as the oral contraceptive pill, have severe side effects. He supports these claims by citing a Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. He reveals that his son, who died over 30 years ago at the age of five months, died due to his wife’s use of contraceptives.
August 15, 2012
Filipino Freethinkers publishes a piece by Alfredo R. Melgar, who points out that several stretches of Sotto’s August 13 speech were lifted “almost word-for-word” from the blog of a certain Sarah Pope, who writes as “The Healthy Home Economist.” Melgar further points out Pope’s views on medicine, such as a thoroughly-debunked link between vaccines and autism.
Senator Sotto delivers the second part of his turno en contra speech, in which he accuses former Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and Iloilo Representative Janet Garin of being callous for questioning his claim that his son died due to contraceptive use by Sotto’s wife. Sotto, who is backed by the Roman Catholic Church represented by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, also purports to expose the identities and motives of foreign organizations lobbying for the RH Bill.
August 16, 2012
Senator Sotto appears on Headstart on the ABS-CBN News Channel with Karen Davila. He states that he opposes the RH Bill because, if it is made into law, it removes the freedom of choice from mayors and governors for denying their constituents access to contraceptives, should they choose to. He warns, “Do not remove their freedom of choice.”
Sotto denies the allegation of plagiarism, saying, “Bakit ko naman iko-quote yung blogger? Blogger lang ‘yon. Ang kino-quote ko si Natasha Campbell-McBride.” (Why would I quote a blogger? That’s only a blogger. I was quoting Natasha Campbell-McBride.) Karen Davila asks him whether his speech writing staff looks at blogs and Sotto says, “We don’t.” When Davila presses him further asking, “Not at all?” Sotto responds, “No.” He further reveals, “When I prepare my speeches, I prepare it with them. We talk about it. We sit down and discuss what we need to say.” Sotto questions his accusers’ capacity to refute his claims saying, “They attack me kasi nauubusan sila ng sagot.” (Because they run out of answers.)
Sarah Pope, author of the passages that Melgar had shown to have been lifted word-for-word, posts on her Facebook account that she was indeed plagiarized, saying, “A Senator in the Philippines plagiarized one of my blog posts to use in a speech. Can’t even believe this!!!”
Sarah Pope writes about the experience of being plagiarized by a sitting Philippine Senator. She echoes the accusations put forward against Sotto, “It seems one of [the Filipino people’s] esteemed Senators, Tito Sotto, plagiarized a blog post I wrote on February 23, 2011 entitled How The Pill Can Harm Your Future Child’s Health, lifting entire sections of the article basically word for word that were delivered in a speech to the Senate floor regarding the possible passage of the highly controversial Reproductive Health Bill.” She also noted Sotto’s denial of the charge. She is unconvinced, however, saying, “A thief is a thief, Mr. Senator. Denying it doesn’t get you off the hook; it just makes you a lying thief.”
Pope goes on to lament the manner of use of her writings by Sotto, “Women of the Philippines: I am terribly sorry my blog was used and twisted against you.” Furthermore, she notes that she does not support the way her work was used by the Senator, “While I want you to know that this choice has health consequences as does the decision to use any pharmaceutical drug, I in no way would ever condone taking this choice away from you!”
On Pope’s article, a person named “lezel” who claims to be writing in the name of Senator Sotto’s Chief of Staff, Atty. Hector A. Villacorta comments. However, despite media reports of admission by Sotto’s camp to plagiarism, Villacorta’s words reveal no such confession, “Let me say that after asking my staff, indeed your blog was used but only in quoting also from the same book of Dr. Campbell-McBride. We are both indebted to the book’s author but if you wish that you also be credited with the contents of the book, let this be your affirmation. I can do it and by this message, I am doing it.” [Emphasis and proper capitalization mine.]
Regarding Pope’s accusations of plagiarism, Villacorta asserts the innocence of Sotto, “What have we done to deserve your incriminating words? The Senator did not lift it himself, we did. Did you want us to tell him to admit what he did not do? Who would you like to crucify for this oversight?” [Proper punctuation and capitalization mine.]
Villacorta then ostensibly asks for pardon, “Forgive us our single trespass. We had no malice, we thought you would be happy about it. There was no injury. Hope this makes you feel better.” [Again, proper capitalization mine.]
Pope responds to Villacorta, “I don’t like the fact that my blog was used without my permission against the education of the women of the Philippines and their reproductive rights.” She does not accept Villacorta’s claim that the Senator was innocent saying, “If his staff did it, he condoned it. He is responsible for your actions.”
Directly contradicting Sotto’s claims since his appearance on ANC, Pope maintains, “My Blog was quoted, not Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. I put her work in my words and you copied my words.” She also appears not to have appreciated Villacorta’s appeasement, “No, your lame comment does not make me “feel” any better.”
The account under the name “lezel,” through which Villacorta’s message was relayed, later responds to Pope, “A blog is meant to be shared and we shared it.” [Proper capitalization mine.]
ABS-CBN News confirms that the message was indeed the words of Villacorta. The author’s identity as Sotto’s Chief of Staff was also reaffirmed to Rappler. Later research turns up that this lezel appears to be a certain Lezel De Villa, who posted the same message from Villacorta on her Facebook account.
Investigative journalist Raissa Robles reports that, upon being informed by several commenters, it also appears that, for his second turno en contra speech, Sotto also had word-for-word plagiarisms from at least 4 sources, including several blogs (contradicting Sotto’s claim to not using blogs at all): The Margaret Sanger Papers Project of New York University, Marlon C. Ramirez’s Talking Sense, FeministsforChoice.com, and TheTruthofContraceptives.blogspot.com.
In an interview with Rappler, Sotto Chief of Staff Hector Villacorta maintains that Sotto has nothing to apologize for because, “He can’t apologize for something he did not know.” Rappler reports, that Villacorta, as Chief of Staff, takes responsibility for the scandal.
Villacorta says that they committed the error “in good faith,” despite repeating the same error on four other sources. He also says that it was “inelegant” to have quoted a blog. Despite having a law degree, Villacorta also adds that blogs are “part of public domain.” It should be noted that Sarah Pope’s blog, The Healthy Home Economist, is copyrighted and not in the public domain, given the statement below each of her articles showing that the rights to the content of her site are under Austus Foods LLC.
Villacorta further denies that they plagiarized the sources revealed by Raissa Robles, “I doubt it’s word for word because we’ve been going over and meeting about this research for months. It’s the product of our minds.” This doubt should be sorely tested by Robles’ highlighting of the said word-for-word copies on her article.
In another interview, one with GMA News Online, Villacorta further submits his opinion, “You have a blog, it is meant to be shared, it’s in the public domain, so it’s not plagiarism.”
Villacorta also reveals that it was actually him commenting under the name “lezel,” using a staff member’s account.
It appears that Villacorta understands plagiarism as copyright violation, saying, “Hindi naman copyrighted ang blogs kasi.” (Blogs are not copyrighted.) It is important to point out that plagiarism is not necessarily copyright infringement. Rather, it is taking someone’s work and presenting it as your own.
GMA News Online’s own coverage of the matter reveals that even a misplaced comma in Pope’s article (“According, to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD…”) is also present in Sotto’s published text of the first part of his turno en contra speech.
International news agency, the Associated Press, picks up on the Sotto plagiarism scandal, distributing it to various other news desks all over the world.
Apparently taking responsibility for any scandal, Sotto finally comments on the matter to GMA Network’s 24 Oras as reported by ABS-CBN News, “Whatever it is, the buck stops with me. I’m the senator.”
ABS-CBN Show Bandila, also hosted by Karen Davila, reports further on the scandal. They interview Villacorta who says, “What law did we violate? Only [Sarah Pope’s] sensitivity was affected.”
Pope on ANC’s The World Tonight, subsequently re-aired on Bandila, advices Sotto’s camp that they should have acknowledged that they “made a mistake” and that “proper credit should have been given for this information that was taken illegally from [Pope’s] blog.” She says that they should have said, “We’re sorry and can we move on?”
ABS-CBN News reports further that on Pope’s appearance on The World Tonight, she accused Sotto of “acting as though he’s above the law… to get his agenda through the Philippine legislature.” She continues, “That’s just wrong, that’s very poor behavior.” She later calls on Filipinos to “think about this when they go to the election booths when he’s up for reelection.”
Commenting on Villacorta’s supposed apology, Pope calls it a “ridiculous insulting rude comment” and that it “should be an embarassment to his office.” She demands an apology from the senator himself, “[I]f he, Senator Sotto writes a sincere letter of apology saying ‘this was a mistake, we apologize,’ I would post that on my blog.” Then, she would “consider this issue done.”
The Philippine Star reports Sotto announcing that he will postpone the closing of his turno en contra speech in order to defend himself on Wednesday against the public outcry against plagiarism in his speeches. He blames RH advocates, “It’s their fault. I am ready to close my turno but now I will postpone this for my privilege speech.”
He maintains his same defense, despite using verbatim Pope’s and several other sources’ exact words without attribution, saying that Pope was not “the author of the book,” referring to the writings of Natasha Campbell-McBride. He goes on to admit that he also “did not mention several other people’s names.”
Refusing to apologize to Pope and his other unattributed sources, Sotto again lashes out at RH advocates, “This is clearly a wrecking job.” He states his own view on the matter of plagiarism, “Plagiarism, whether you give attribution or not, applies only if you contend that the contents are yours.”
Bukluran UP System, the alliance of student organizations across the University of the Philippines (UP) system of campuses, calls on Senator Sotto to resign over the plagiarism scandal. The group’s National Spokesperson, UP Manila University Student Council Chair Jason Alacapa, says that Sotto’s resignation would be the “dignified thing to do.”
The group cited the resignations of Hungarian President Pal Schmitt and German prime minister prospect Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg over plagiarism as precedents for such an action. Recalling Sotto’s own dismissal of the stature of Sarah Pope as a blogger, the group’s Deg Daupan says, “…kung blogger lang iyon, senator lang si Sotto. Itong mga nag-resign sa ibang bansa, presidente at prime minister-to-be.” (If that was just a blogger, Sotto is just a senator. Those who resigned in other countries were a president and a prime minister-to-be.)
Noting a predictability of the plagiarism scandal, Topher Porras, Secretary-General of the RH AGENDA UP student organization, “This plagiarism case is not surprising. The anti-RH camp has been misinforming the public through lies and superstitions from the very start.”
The Philippine Daily Inquirer publishes an editorial, calling the scandal “so comical” and “so ridiculous” that they “invite disbelief.” Entitled, “‘Iskul Bukol’ in the Senate,” the editorial refers to Sotto’s stint in a comedy television show about students and their mischief. In addition to plagiarism, the editorial points out that Sotto used “dubious or at least ambiguous research” and “emotional blackmail” to stop the Reproductive Health Bill from passing. The editorial calls this “the real joke.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sotto’s partner as the staunchest opponents of the RH Bill in the Senate, comes out to defend Sotto, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports, against accusations of plagiarism. On Sotto’s word-for-word copying of several sources, Enrile says, “He did not deny that the speech was a product of research. Meaning, there was attribution.” He goes on to say, “Is there an idea in this world that was not copied from others?” On using copyrighted material, Enrile declares, “Once you release an idea to the public, unless you copyright it, it can be used.” As reported earlier on this piece, Sarah Pope’s content is copyrighted under Austus Foods LLC.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Senator Pia Cayetano, co-author of the Senate version of the RH Bill, was “blasted” by “netizens” for “the same offense” of plagiarism as Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto.
It was pointed out that two of Cayetano’s privilege speeches also contained word-for-word copies from sources apparently unattributed. These two speeches were “Privilege speech on the status of the Philippines in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” and “On World Environment Day.”
However, upon being informed of the lack of attribution, the office of Cayetano immediately added the necessary references. On Twitter, Cayetano responded to the accusations, “If at any time, I fail to attribute, I immediately make the necessary corrections and amends.” She continues, “Citing authors and sources is part of the writing process I am happy to do because it shows the depth of research done.”
In contrast, Sotto’s immediate response after facing the initial charges of the scandal was to deny even using blogs at all. His camp has still failed to acknowledge Sarah Pope and the (at least four) other unattributed sources as references in his speech.
It should be noted that these statements by Cayetano were all readily available on Twitter. Despite the Inquirer mentioning an attempt to “get a comment from Cayetano,” the paper’s piece has no mention at all of any of these responses from Cayetano.
Sotto’s camp admits to not reading Campbell-McBride’s work at all, according to ABS-CBN News. Upon trying to access her writings, Sotto’s office apparently could not get a copy of her book off the Internet. Believing instead that Pope’s work was an accurate depiction of her work, they decided to use her words. Sotto Chief of Staff declares, “Researchers tried clicking the book but ayaw mag-download.” (It wouldn’t download.) “Kaya ang pinakamaganda, refer to blog dahil baka accurate naman,” (That’s why the next best thing was to refer to the blog because it might be accurate.) Villacorta went on to explain.
This defense completely contradicts Sotto’s initial claim that he was quoting Campbell-McBride and not Sarah Pope, who he believes is just a blogger.
Sotto Chief of Staff Hector Villacorta says, in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, that “copying is a common practice” in the Senate. Citing that bills are usually refiled by other legislators without much revision or attribution to previous authors, Villacorta rationalizes, “Re-filing is an accepted practice. It is also called copying.” He goes on, “We plagiarized the US Constitution… but do they call us a plagiaristic country? No, because the law is based on precedent.” He said these in response to accusations that his office plagiarized not a bill or a legal document with boilerplate wording, but a personal privilege speech delivered in the name of Senator Sotto.
Further justifying his office’s actions, Villacorta calls upon his religious opinion, “Even our image was copied from God. We are all plagiarists.”
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, co-author of the RH Bill in the Senate, excused the plagiarism, saying, “Maybe the speech just writer overlooked it… we should give more leeway to senators as long as later on they admit that they took it from some other source…” It should be pointed out that while Cayetano immediately placed citations on the speeches found to not have them, Sotto’s camp has still refused to officially acknowledge the several bloggers whose words were delivered in the Senator’s name without attribution.
Villacorta further states that it is “awkward” to deliver a speech that says, “according to this blogger who quoted this author,” even though this was, in fact, what his office did. He goes on, “A whole gamut of ‘according to’ would also not make the speech credible,” referring to the speech Sotto delivered that cited outdated 1970’s sources.
In an “ambush interview” at the Senate, Senator Pia Cayetano responds to allegations of plagiarism. She notes that on the speech where she was accused of plagiarizing the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the footnotes her office had for the speech were accidentally left out when it was uploaded to their WordPress site. She also mentions that she had already cited the UNEP as a source in the relevant paragraph. Contra Sotto, she concedes that “dapat talagang ma-identify ang mga source.” (Sources definitely have to be identified.)
In the case of her speech on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), she complains that her accusers should have done a little research. She reveals that this speech was never delivered in the Senate. She delivered an entirely different speech “ad lib.” Then, her undelivered speech was accidentally uploaded to their site instead of the transcript of the manifestation she actually delivered in the Senate.
She says that she finds it “quite malicious” for her accusers to “impute malice on this.” She further acknowledges, “that your literary work should always be protected and should always be acknowledged.”
ProPinoy reports that the copy posted on the official Senate website of Sotto’s first turno en contra speech has been taken down without notice. It is available for access on Filipino Freethinkers servers.
Sotto’s turno en contra speech has apparently been moved to a different URL. This new transcript perhaps much more accurately reflects ad lib remarks and revisions Sotto made as he was delivering the speech on the Senate floor. It is, however, noteworthy to point out that this new transcript removes the (PERSONAL EXPERIENCE) note at the end that implied original authorship of the speech. It also removes the incriminating typographical error that matched Sarah Pope’s own blog from which Sotto’s office copied word-for-word segments, which were delivered without attribution in his name.
After much delay, Sotto finally delivers his speech defending himself from accusations of plagiarism, which was delivered mainly in Tagalog. He opens his speech by condemning his accusers of doing a “demolition job.” He opines regarding his accusers’ motives, “…upang humina ang aking panindigan laban sa RH bill.” (…so that my resolve is weakened against the RH bill). He claims that his accusers did not listen to his speech and decided to find a “small” issue to throw at him, “…ang mga kalaban ay naghanap ng maliit na isyung makakapuwing sa akin.” (…the enemies looked for a small issue that would blind me.)
He maintains, as if it were a sufficient replacement for proper attribution, that his blanket turn of phrase would be enough to deflect accusations of plagiarism: “Hindi ko po iniimbento ito. Itong mga kino-quote ko po ay mga fact na pinatotohanan ng mga eksperto sa larangan ng agham at batas.” (I am not inventing these. These things I’m quoting are facts that have been proven by experts in science and law.) Sotto is accused of plagiarizing Sarah Pope (among others), an anti-vaccination blogger and economics graduate who has no degree in law or science.
He further claims that he is the first Senator that has been a victim of cyber-bullying, particularly, he says, by supporters of the RH Bill. He opines, “Bahagi siguro ito ng kanilang istratehiya, lalo pa’t may milyun-milyon silang pondo.” (This is probably a part of their strategy, especially since they have millions in funds.)
Sotto claims that none of the points of his turno en contra speech were answered. Of course, a casual search on the Internet will provide a plethora of rebuttals of the content of his speech, such as those by Prof. Sylvia Claudio of the Center for Women’s Studies, which is just one among many.
He quotes no less than three different dictionaries, and this time properly cites them, in defining plagiarism. However, he does not defend himself regarding the definitions he had just presented. Instead, he says that plagiarism is not a crime, “…walang krimen ng plagiarism sa Pilipinas. Kahit hanapin ninyo pa sa Revised Penal Code, sa Intellectual Property Code, at maging sa Special Penal Laws, wala kayong makikitang krimen ng plagiarism.” (…there is no crime of plagiarism in the Philippines. Even if you look in the Revised Penal Code, in the Intellectual Property Code, even in the Special Penal Laws, you will not find the crime of plagiarism.)
Taking exception to attacks on his intellectual capacity he says, “Kahit mukha akong walang pinag-aralan kung ikukumpara sa mga pinag-aral nila at hindi kasing dunong nila, ang mahalaga ay ang ipinaglalaban ko.” (Even if I look unschooled compared to what they studied and not as wise as them, what is important is what I am fighting for.) He also mentions that his stint in the variety show, Eat Bulaga where he appeared with his brother Vic Sotto and fellow comedian Joey De Leon, was also made fun of. Sotto, who disparaged Sarah Pope as a mere blogger, says that he would rather be a clown than to say bad things about others.
In his closing, he reads a poem by Joey De Leon as well as enjoins his enemies to read Psalms 56, 63, and 64. He also mentions his god, “…ang tunay na Awtor ng aklat ng ating buhay at bawa’t kaluluwa ng isang sanggol na nabuo na sa sinapupunan ng kanyang ina.” (…the true Author of the book of our lives and of every soul of every baby that is already formed in the womb of their mother.)
He moves that the entire paragraph referencing Campbell-McBride, which included the plagiarized blog post of Sarah Pope, be stricken from the record.
Sotto does not mention Pope by name nor does he mention the word-for-word copies of other sources in his second turno en contra speech.
After several delays, Sotto finally delivers the third and fourth parts of his turno en contra speech on the same day. However, it was shown by several online commentators that the ending of his fourth speech was plagiarized from Robert F. Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation speech given to the National Union of South African Students in Cape Town. Though Sotto’s speech was delivered in Tagalog, it is quite clear that his words were unattributed translations from Kennedy’s famous speech.
Shortly after delivering his speech and amid the public furor on another clear case of plagiarism all within the span of a few weeks, Sotto defended himself on ABS-CBN’s Bandila. The segment showed Senate President pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada asking Sotto on the Senate floor whether the words he had just delivered were his own. Sotto responded that they were indeed his own words. He continued, “Kaya ko ho tinagalog. Kaya ho Pilipino na ang ginamit ko para ‘wag nang magbintang ‘tong mga kung sinu-sino, at subukan nila.” (That’s why I made [my speech] Tagalog. That’s why I used Filipino so that these nobodies won’t accuse me, and they can try.)
Regarding Kennedy’s words that he had translated and delivered in Filipino, he asks his accusers on Balita, “So para nga safe, tinagalog ko. O, sino ngayon ang kinopyahan ko na Tagalog? Meron ba silang alam na pinanggalingan na Tagalog doon?” (So it would be safe, I made [my speech] Tagalog. What is it this time that I copied that was in Tagalog? Do they know a source that is Tagalog [in my speech]?) Referring to his own stint as a comedian he says, “Nakakatawa na sila. Sila ang komiko, eh. Hindi ako.” (They are hilarious. They’re the comics. Not me.) Apparently incredulous at the fact that he delivered the same thoughts of Kennedy in 1966, but merely translated, he says, “Marunong palang managalog si Kennedy, ah!” (Oh, Kennedy can speak Tagalog!)
One of the other bloggers Sotto plagiarized in the second part of his turno en contra speech, Janice Formichella of Feminists for Choice has come out to confirm that she was indeed plagiarized. More than that, she says that here words were “twisted into an argument against an important reproductive rights bill.”
Formichella clarifies in the Ms. Magazine blog that, in context, her work was not a condemnation of Margaret Sanger but of Gandhi and his “little-known sexism.” She says that Sotto’s quote-mining is ironic because the part he lifted “aptly reflects [Gandhi's] hypocrisy as a political leader.” She says she would “love nothing more than to see this bill passed” and that she was angry that her work was used to delay the bill’s passage. She asks Sotto to apologize to “each of the bloggers he has plagiarized.”
In the GMA News Online report, Sotto instead says that it was “impossible” that Formichella was right because his office got the information from a book. He could not, however, provide the name of the book. Similar to how he considered Pope, Sotto says Formichella was “pathetic” and that she was just riding the bandwagon, “gusto lang niyan sumikat.” (She only wants to get famous.)
Image Captured from ANC’s Stream of Senator Tito Sotto’s Appearance on Headstart with Karen Davila