Plagiarism scandal erupts in Philippines birth-control debate
Filipino Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto is shown in this image taken from the Senate of the Philippines website.
Published Thursday, August 30, 2012 12:35PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 30, 2012 1:09PM EDT
In the Philippines a debate on birth control, which has been raging for 15 years, has triggered swirling and bizarre accusations of plagiarism.
The controversy began when Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto -- a former actor -- recently delivered a tearful and emotional speech about the dangers of birth control pills.
Sotto told an intensely personal story about how his wife had used the pills in 1974, and as a result the couple's newborn son had died a year later from a weak heart.
Sotto delivered the address as part of ongoing efforts to block a controversial contraception bill that has been before lawmakers for a decade and a half.
Sotto and other opponents in the intensely Catholic country believe birth control is tantamount to abortion, and therefore oppose the bill that would provide sex education in schools, reproductive health care, and affordable contraception.
The problem is, Sotto's speech appears to have been made up of a patchwork of passages copied wholesale from a number of blogs around the world.
One Filipina political writer, Raissa Robles, wrote on her own website that Sotto plagiarized from no less than five bloggers in his Aug. 15 speech, all without attribution or reference of any kind.
Among the plagiarized portions was a section about Gandhi and feminist Margaret Sanger meeting in India in the 1930s. The statements made by Sotto matched virtually word-for-word an article posted on the New York University website.
Another section of the speech was taken from the popular blog TheHealthyHomeEconomist.com, whose author reacted with outrage on Facebook:
"A Senator in the Philippines plagiarized one of my blog posts to use in a speech. Can't even believe this!!!" stated Sarah Pope, the writer who runs the website.
Sotto also took liberties with words that appear to be directly lifted from Talking Sense, by Marlon Ramirez, Feminists for Choice and TheTruthAboutContraceptives.blogspot.ca.
But it seems unlikely there will be any fallout. It doesn't appear that Sotto's actions have broken any laws, and the senator himself dismissed the suggestion he had violated any moral code.
According to the Philippines Inquirer News site, Sotto's chief of staff Hector Villacorta said his boss had done nothing untoward.
He compared Sotto's speech to other lawmakers reintroducing old bills which never became law -- a common practice, he said, in the Philippines government.
“Copying is a common practice. Why do you need to think of a brand-new measure when a good one that was not enacted already exists?” Villacorta said.
“We plagiarized the U.S. Constitution. All the amendments became our Bill of Rights. But do they call us a plagiaristic country? No, because the law is based on precedent,” Villacorta said.
He added: “Even our Insurance Code is a plagiarized document. The proposed freedom of information bill is plagiarized. What’s more, the Senate and House versions of the (birth control) bill are very similar. So who is plagiarizing who?”
Villacorta went so far as to say “the Bible reached us today because the monks copied from the Greeks. Everything really started from a little copying.”
Sotto has mostly left Villacorta to defend him against the allegations he plagiarized the speech. And he hasn't explained the claim that his wife was on the birth-control pill Diane in 1975 -- which eventually led to their son's death.
According to Bayer, the manufacturer of that drug, it was first made in 1978 and only released to Asia in 1985 -- 10 years after he said their son died.