Wednesday ∗ 07 Apr 2010

Why Sorry Ain’t Enough

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.

Posted in: akademya, kapitalista, komentaryo

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34 Comments/Pingbacks

  1. sunsh
    April 8, 2010 at 8:44 am

    agree! agree! agree!

  2. Aileesa
    April 9, 2010 at 1:21 am

    As an ADMU alumna and a former teacher, I’m so glad to read such a reaction from a member of the Ateneo faculty. I fervently hope there are more of your colleagues who share your sentiments.

    My own take on the issue:

  3. Wilson Lee Flores
    April 9, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Wow! well said!

  4. ina
    April 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    @sunsh: hahahaha! but remember those modules we had to teach? goodness!

  5. ina
    April 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    @aileesa: i think i’m just able to say this because i’m not teaching in Ateneo anymore, and maybe because i know that many of them do/would share my sentiments if it were easy to speak. :)

    thank you for passing by! will read you entry in a bit.

  6. ina
    April 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    @wilson: thank you! :)

  7. Teban
    April 11, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    I soooo agree. I am sharing this in FB. thanks.

  8. mykel andrada
    April 12, 2010 at 12:06 am

    i like! :) ang tanong ko: tingin mo si MVP ang nagsulat ng email niya kay nebres? o pinadraft niya rin? charot! :)

  9. Theresa Navarro
    April 12, 2010 at 7:51 am

    very well said.

    you’ve articulated (excellently, i might add) what several people are feeling and thinking about the issue.

    thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

  10. ina
    April 12, 2010 at 8:10 am

    @teban: thank you for passing by! and yes, do share! :)

  11. ina
    April 12, 2010 at 8:15 am

    @mykel: hahaha! kung pinadraft din niya ang letter na yon, with all its bad english, mygad, talagang gusto na siyang pabagsakin ng mga ghostwriter niya!

  12. ina
    April 12, 2010 at 8:18 am

    @theresa: thank you for passing by! :) glad to know that many people, while silent, feel/think the same way.

  13. Theresa Navarro
    April 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

    this has been an ongoing discussion in my life right now, hahaha — at home, at work – where a lot of us are ateneans, at dinner with friends…you’re right about it being an issue bigger than a lot of people think. some of us have already written to the alumni office (i imagine their mail on this issue alone is overflowing) and talked to former teachers and colleagues. i wish we could all take a vote and have it reflect on the decision of the powers that be.

    it boils down to integrity, and what the ateneo stands for. what we want to teach the students, what we need to be reminded of.

  14. Tin Lao
    April 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you for writing this very lucid note. I agree with it completely. I will pass it on.

  15. ina
    April 12, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Ateneo’s Board of Trustees has released its decision: They are asking him to reconsider the resignation.

    And it appears with the graduating batch’s letter to MVP asking him to stay.

  16. Raymund del Rosario
    April 12, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Ina! You probably would not remember me but we were classmates in Spanish II in UP. During that semester, you excitedly showed me what I believe was your first-ever published work; that was in the Inquirer. I still remember the title and the pseudonym that you were using at the time. :-)

    I’m really glad that I saw this very well-written article of yours online. I hope that the Ateneo administration will soon realize that their decision stains the integrity of the Filipino academic community in a major fashion.

    Would it be fine to post the link on my Facebook wall?

  17. ina
    April 13, 2010 at 12:12 am

    @raymund! juiceko, talaga? i super have a weak memory when it comes college peeps, unless blockmate kita, and even then. yes to your fb wall. and wait, let me find you on fb!

    thank you for passing by!

  18. Tony
    April 13, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    thanks for this excellent and thoughtful piece. it leaves us hoping that not all is lost and that people connected with the Ateneo have not thrown away their moral and ethical compass.

  19. ina
    April 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    hi sir tony: but. the BOT has decided. i wish mvp the grace to say no to the BOT. :)

  20. Anne
    April 14, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I agree with your post. Thank you for writing this. As an Atenean, I’m very, very disappointed with the BOT’s decision. Many of my Atenean friends also disagree with the decision. Academic ethics and values compromised.

    Thank you again for writing this blog post. Hope it’s okay if I repost/share.

  21. ina
    April 14, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    hi anne! yes, go ahead and repost/share. :) thanks for possing by!

  22. Dondi Mapa
    April 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    We should ask for the resignation of Fr. Ben Nebres. We should also ask him to relinquish his PLDT board seat.

  23. Meg, Ateneo Alumna and a Filipino Mom in Bangkok
    April 15, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Thank you! I’ve just found your blog because of Ms Zafra’s – and yes, I’ve googled your name and appreciate all the research you’ve done on previous speeches.

    When the Board’s decision was announced, I wrote the Ateneo Alumni Office to express my disappointment. Maybe more alumni should write directly. I respect greatly the power of the blogging community but not every blog gets read by the Board.
    This is the announcement:

    Ateneo Alumni Office

    It doesn’t matter why the Board decided not to accept the resignation. Mr. Pangilinan should stick to his resignation offer. (“I would want to” just doesn’t cut it. This time, he should write the letter in a formal tone, and say, ” I wish to resign but I will continue to help” etc.)

    It doesn’t matter what the Alumni Association meant with this Statement of Support.

    And Class 2010’s badly written (“in behalf of” – huh?) statement accepting the apology doesn’t matter either.!/note.php?note_id=382933330683

    As you said, SORRY AIN’T ENOUGH.

    I told my kids (both accepted at the Ateneo but went elsewhere) that this is history in the making – and that it is a lesson they must remember all their lives.

  24. GabbyD
    April 15, 2010 at 10:33 am

    “Ateneo has to realize that its decision on this matter will affect every classroom from here on in within and beyond the Ateneo. ”

    why? this isnt an academic excercise, right?

    so students who argue “MVP did it, so can i” are not justified coz its different.

  25. Lux Domino
    April 15, 2010 at 11:34 am

    They tried to fool us before with the intention of putting the blame to the “new” ghostwriters… so, what’s now the spin of MVP’s PR men?

    Well, we know that he’s a cheater as he admitted cheating in High school and now we also know that he is also a liar.

    The recent revelation exposed the true nature of this man… who knows what he has done before through cheating and lying just to make it to the top?

    And the new revelation is also a One Big Slap to “The Ateneo” when they absolved MVP. For an educational institution to let go of their principles for a few pieces of MVP’s silver, then it says a lot on the morals of this once fine institution. Ateneo is now going to be known as a Plagiarist’s haven and the coddler of the Most Valuable Plagiarist.

    Let us not side-track by focussing on his speechwriters as they are not the issue here. It is just a spin that MVP’s PR men would love us to do and instead focus all our attention to MVP. He proudly acknowledged the “mistake” but with all the excuses and putting the blame on others, I highly doubt the sincerity.

    Now it is quite evident that MVP’s “i’m so sorry” apology was not a sincere act but more of a calculated move to preserve whatever credibility he has got.

    Enough of the hypocrisies of MVP and Ateneo!

    There’s an old Chinese Proverb – “If a man fools me once, shame on him. If he fools me twice, shame on me.”

    Let us not be fooled.

    Now we know better… we may forgive but never shall we forget.

  26. Marilen
    April 15, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Excellent. I taught at the Ateneo many years ago, and was dismayed beyond all telling at the position taken by Fr Nebres, the decision of the Board of Trustees, and the letter published by the graduating class of 2010. How far we have fallen.

  27. yvette
    April 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    very well said!

  28. Gabriel Allon
    April 15, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    I am not surprised. Even the mere Filipino mortals do not even respect intellectual property (buying pirated movies, games, computer programs and even clothing). authors, producers and designers have made their living out of this. and we blatantly steal. If you cannot hold people accountable for dishonorable acts, we are no better than those who plagiarize, steal and get away with it.

  29. John
    April 16, 2010 at 1:31 am

    “Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone.”

  30. ina
    April 16, 2010 at 2:25 am

    @gabby d! hi! :) actually, the academe as an institution, cuts across our universities. and this IS an academic exercise because this was a commencement speech in the last academic exercise which was the graduation ceremony, one where the guest of honor read a plagiarized speech.

    and students, as it is, even when you’ve caught them and have proof, will deny plagiarism to death.

    now with MVP, they will think all they have to do is write an apology and it will be forgiven.

  31. ina
    April 16, 2010 at 2:35 am

    @gabriel, hi! :) i will be the last person to invoke the IPR law, because within it are many ways in which the third world and impoverished countries lose out even more in the game of cultural and intellectual advancement. i think it’s a totally different issue altogether.

    MVP failed to cite his sources, and pretended that what he was reading/saying was his in these speeches. he read plagiarized text, and was actually passing it off as his own. that is the issue here, plain and simple.

  32. GabbyD
    April 16, 2010 at 6:28 am


    no doubt he is guilty of plagiarism. he admits to it. he is sorry. and he asked for punishment.

    the only question is what the the appropriate punishment is.

    plagiarism in an academic context is very wrong.

    but i’m not sure i buy your assertion that a commencement ceremony is the same as other academic exercises such as tests, papers, dissertations, etc.

    plagiarism is wrong in academe, coz its cheating — u are being graded on ideas/composition/technical skill; hence the ideas ought to be your own.

    plagiarism is the same as copying during an exam.

    also, your example about students in school is evidence for my position; in your story, they denied it. the students here deserve even more punishment. MVP acknowledges it. so its different.

    in ricky carandang;s blog, i was thinking that this is an emotional reaction disproportionate to the actual crime because of the perception that the rich get away with things al the time.

    he has apologized. he promised not to do it again (implicity, at least). its an embarrassment that will haunt him forever. people should continue to make fun of MVP for this for the rest of his life.

    hhmmm… perhaps this is the reason for the outcry for punishment…the fear people will forget about it soon?

  33. ina
    April 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    as a teacher, it’s the fear that since someone in a commencement exercise which is the highest of all academice exercises as it presents the best the university has to offer was able to get away with reading a plagiarized speech, then every other student will think his or her own plagiarism is peanuts compared to that. and therefore every form of intellectual dishonesty will become defensible.

    and you forget that mvp IS ALSO the chairman of ateneo’s board of trustees, the highest position in the university equal to the university president. how can any student or teacher for that matter respect intellectual honesty now?

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