So Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III allegedly committed plagiarism when he supposedly lifted some words from the work of several bloggers and used them in his anti-Reproductive Health (RH) Bill speech. Big deal. According to “investigative journalist” Raissa Robles, by doing so, Sotto had committed an affront to “intellectual honesty”. As we are to be led to believe by Robles and the rest of the mob that is the Philippines’ chattering classes, it is an absolute outrage: 345 words or “a mere 7% of [Sotto's] 4,760-word speech”. Shocking!
Thing is, Filipinos did not elect Tito Sotto for his intellect. He was elected because he was a showbiz celebrity (of the 1970′s Tito Vic and Joey lowbrow comedy act fame). So I find it kinda funny that people are now hopping mad about this so-called outrage. Why now? Tito Sotto has been a member of the Philippine Senate for yonks. Surely it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that a guy not known for his intellect but nonetheless given a mandate by “the people” to take his place in a chamber where the application of one’s intellect is expected would sooner or later bomb.
Let us step back from this latest “outrage” and examine from a broader perspective what plagiarism really means to Filipinos. Recalling a few observations I made growing up in the 1970s, I’d say Filipinos are banal plagiarists. The theme songs of not a few of my favourite television shows were works of blatant plagiarism. The late Comedy King Dolphy’s John and Marsha used a Tagalog knock-off of Michael Jackson’s hit “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. Sotto’s own Iskul Bukol ripped off the melody and beat of Elvis Presley’s “I’m All Shook Up”. I remember hearing an original recording of The Style Council’s “Mick’s Blessings” for the first time and exclaiming “Hey, that’s the theme from Goin’ Bananas!” I wonder if the show’s producers paid royalties for its use?
Then there was Jeanne Young’s game show Spin-a-Win. The mechanics of the game down to the actual wheel that was spun for the “win” were all copied from the American game show Wheel of Fortune. Unfortunately, as I recall, Miss Young was made more busy calling outcomes behind her spinning wheel instead of walking up and down the big letter board in a slinky dress the way they did it States-side.
Suffice to say, back then there was none of the “outrage” we see on display today. Everyone involved in that two-decade-long orgy of copyright infringement by now had laughed all the way to the bank and all but gotten away scot free.
I guess Senator Sotto is just a victim of bad timing.
If I were Sotto, I wouldn’t be worried. The majority of his base of voters probably have not even heard of the word “plagiarism”. Indeed the lost art of Pinoy-style plagiarism, it turns out, has not been lost. Back in 2010 no less than the prestigious Manila Film Festival showcased what was widely regarded as a good ol’ honest-to-goodness Filipino cinematic rip-off…
[...] the new ‘Panday’ movie is being criticized for being a blatant rip-off of the 2010 Hollywood blockbuster remake of ‘Clash of the Titans’. All the film needed was Medusa to complete the cast of Perseusâ€™s nemesis. There was nothing special about the â€œspecialâ€ effects either.
How do these filmmakers sleep at night knowing that they are not really creating a work of art but just copies of some other peopleâ€™s work? They are not even making people think; they are not even stirring emotions or provoking people into doing something with their lives; they are not even inspiring young people to aspire for greatness. What they are producing is just stuff you can discard after one use. In short, most Philippine films are a total waste of the peopleâ€™s time and money.
So folks, give Senator Tito Sotto a break. The Philippines, after all, is a democracy as we are inclined to once too often proudly point out. And in a democracy where popularity trumps everything else of consequence, the quality of its leaders quite closely reflect the character of the society they rule.