Katrina Stuart Santiago on the plagiarized speech of Manuel V. Pangilinan: “Why Sorry Ain’t Enough”

Why Sorry Ain’t Enough

April 7th, 2010

Katrina Stuart Santiago (Radical Chick)

Plagiarism is a major offense in the Ateneo de Manila University. Penalties range from disciplinary probation to suspension as outlined in your Student Handbook. Plagiarized work will receive a grade of zero.

This section was part of all the syllabi I put together when I was teaching English and literature in the Ateneo de Manila University, most recently from 2005-2008. And this is why it will be very sad if Manny V. Pangilinan’s resignation/retirement isn’t accepted by the Board of Trustees of the University. I have warned students about using other people’s words, have spent enormous amounts of energy at teaching them about proper documentation, have told them time and again that plagiarism is unacceptable, and is a crime. Rejecting MVP’s early retirement would do nothing for the cause of intellectual honesty.

MVP has done the honorable thing in writing what was in effect a resignation letter to the University President. All it takes now is for the Board of Trustees to see that while the apology was appropriate (in Fr. Nebres’ words), it cannot be enough.  Because in fact, this issue is bigger than itself.

This isn’t just about MVP pretending that he wrote his speech, or us all presuming that he had a speechwriter, or his speechwriters committing the act of plagiarism (for whatever reason including that they allegedly wanted to discredit him). This isn’t just about an Ateneo community discerning what it is that must be done here, given all notions of justice and fairness, owing to all the good things MVP has done for the school (yes, he has done plenty). This isn’t just about celebrating MVP’s admirable and manly act of taking full responsibility (it has even been called a gallant act) and owning mistakes that aren’t technically his own. This isn’t just about taking his side, and pointing a finger at his speechwriters.

Ateneo has to realize that its decision on this matter will affect every classroom from here on in within and beyond the Ateneo. It will have an effect on every student who sits in front of every teacher who spends precious time talking about intellectual honesty, and plagiarism, and the value of using one’s own words in telling one’s own stories. This is about whether or not we tolerate plagiarism as (ex-)members of the Ateneo and as part of the bigger academic community.

It is not surprising of course that the reactions haven’t been all about what’s right and wrong here. Because in mababaw-ang-kaligayahan Philippines, many are already happy with an apology. In kampihan Philippines, we demand that somebody else be reprimanded. In utang-na-loob Philippines, we will condone a mistake because we have benefited from it or from the man who admits to it.

We will focus on the fact that since MVP didn’t write the essay, he therefore didn’t plagiarize, forgetting that he was passing this off as his own speech, no speechwriters in sight. We will forget that someone like MVP should be writing his own speeches, or at least enough of it to know when the thought and sentiment of an essay aren’t his at all. We will make excuses and say he’s a busy man who still agreed to do the commencement speech for two graduation ceremonies, when in fact the right thing to do was for him to say no if he didn’t have enough time and energy to spend on writing a speech.

We will find a way to say it’s ok, you don’t have to go, even when that person has already said goodbye out of shame and embarrassment.

In fact, at this point, the kinder thing to do would be to accept MVP’s resignation and retirement. Maybe strip him of the honorary doctorate degrees, too. And know that he doesn’t have to be part of the Board of Trustees to continue to give to the University – in fact, wouldn’t that be the greatest judge of his character, if he continued to give? We know he has the capacity to do just that, tax cuts on donations to schools notwithstanding.

MVP, after all, is no small man. Which is the reason why he was able to admit to this mistake, but most importantly why we can’t just let him off the hook. Plagiarism is no small thing, and when it happens to such a big man, it becomes larger than (his) life.

It isn’t so much that we want MVP’s head on a plate. It’s the fact that if it weren’t him, that head would already be rolling. Most importantly, it’s the fact that if he gets away with this, no other head could ever be on that plate again.

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

One Response to Katrina Stuart Santiago on the plagiarized speech of Manuel V. Pangilinan: “Why Sorry Ain’t Enough”

  1. Meg says:

    Thank you for posting this entry from Ms. Santiago. I thank her and the blogging community for also pointing out that there were other acts of plagiarism.

    An apology is not sufficient – it was the least he could do!

    While forgiveness is a wonderful thing, and clearly charity was the overriding objective of the Board, this rejection of Mr Pangilinan’s resignation should not have granted it until reparation was made first.

    Even in the beautiful sacrament of Confession, a penitent must be contrite (which Mr. Pangilinan seems to have been) and must be willing to make amendment, and do penance.

    The Board should have let Mr. Pangilinan do his penance, and for him to move on to do more noble things, such as helping out with the capital outlays of the Ateneo, the support of the sports programs (and all that the community appreciates him so much for) — even without the title of Chairman.

    And to those who say, “He is without sin may cast the first stone,” that is so true. But it is not an appropriate response — because Zacchaeus the tax collector paid back four times what he cheated people out of, in Luke 19:8. And our Lord in his wisdom knew that ahead, and that is why he was invited to follow Him.

    Maybe the news of more plagiarism incidences will now lead Mr. Pangilinan to say, “I really must step aside in humility and shame, for embarrassing this Catholic academic institution.” That is the most noble thing to do now, since the Board has failed in its judgment. I am sure so many people would offer to write that letter for him – gratis, and original!

    With that kind of closure, the Ateneo will become even more true to her 150-year legacy of intellectual excellence and virtue. Lux in domino.

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