The recent news of Filipino photographer Mark Joseph Solis plagiarizing his entries in international competitions has the social media chattering classes up in arms and in a state of “outrage”. Particularly noticeable is that since Rappler broke this story with the headline “UP student plagiarizes prize-winning photos”, the focus has been on the premier state university. I’ve seen a few statuses decry the use of such a headline that makes it prone for people to blame the University of the Philippines for Solis’ doing what he did. Well, tough luck and too bad for UP, and tougher luck and even worse for Filipinos; that’s just human nature for you. A misdemeanor of one group or individual will reflect on the entire institution it associates with.
What Rappler did, that’s sensationalism for you; it sells, and thus feeds the bottom line of any business. I guess it’s ironic that outfits like Rappler that claim to be a “social news network” that “delivers uncompromised journalism and a thirst for change” wind up doing the very same things traditional media does, but I digress.
Several social media personalities and “bloggers” have been calling for sanctions to be implemented against him and for him to seek help and his mental health to be ascertained. Like, yeah, whatever. Are we seeing an irrational angry mob mentality like what we saw with Robert Carabuena and the Amalayer girl? True enough that he shouldn’t walk away scot-free from this, but punishing Solis alone will not prevent others from doing it. He certainly wasn’t the first to do this and he definitely will not be the last.
To have a better understanding of this issue and to make better sense of it, we need to analyze a few things:
First, we ask why plagiarism should matter to Filipinos.
Plagiarism is defined as the “appropriation of another person’s work as one’s own without crediting the original author”. In short, it is theft, of intellectual property. It is often referred to as intellectual dishonesty; not that Filipinos collectively value intellect highly, nor do they collectively come down hard on dishonesty in their daily lives, anyway. Though one may not see something being carried away like you would in an actual robbery, the fact is an idea, concept, paper, or in this case, photograph, was taken without permission from the source.
Filipino society, unfortunately, is one wherein even bigger and more visible acts of impunity are routinely tolerated, and sometimes encouraged. The current issue surrounding the pork barrel is one that has been allowed to go unchecked and unabated for years. Sulpicio Lines, Inc., now known as Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC), found itself in the news recently, and as a result its track record for maritime disasters was highlighted again, yet no one is raising a hoot for the victims of what are considered preventable tragedies. One can see illegal or pirated DVD’s still being sold on the street and in certain enclosed areas, and people buying them. Filipinos still throw their trash and everywhere, and haven’t done much except cope to adjust to the seemingly worsening rains every year.
As it turns out, the natural thing to ask is: doesn’t plagiarism seem small compared to the robbing, looting, gross negligence, killing, and the general bruising of fragile egos that happens in Filipino society? If Filipinos see nothing wrong with stealing actual objects for one reason or another, I doubt that they will find anything wrong with stealing non-material things. Which aren’t as visible and obvious, by the way.
Fellow GRP writer Mike Portes makes a point worth considering: such actions affect our credibility and our ability to command respect internationally. Tough luck for Filipinos as a people, because we have come to depend on other countries not only to host our overseas foreign workers for jobs that they couldn’t get at home, but for validation that we as a people possess good qualities and are important to the world. There is no escaping the reality that when any one Filipino is caught doing wrong, it reflects badly on ALL Filipinos. Trust, once broken, is very difficult to get back; wherever Filipinos are in the world, this reality will not change.
What should Filipinos do? Prove that they can collectively learn from the mistakes of one of their own and adjust accordingly.
Next, we ask why those who do wrong would become habitual or repeat offenders.
Is there anything about the environment Filipinos find themselves in that is conducive to not only committing offenses, but to keep committing them over and over again? Well, Filipinos are not known to follow simple guidelines. As fellow GRP writer Ilda has mentioned in the past, Filipinos have this baseless sense of being more important than anyone else. They tend to put their own interest first before other people’s.
Let’s face it, we all get a kick or a high from doing something illegal or immoral. Unfortunately, it also becomes easier the more we do it. Combine that with a society like the Philippines, where the enforcement of and compliance to rules and regulations are both weak. One has no impediment to doing things over and over again because he/she is emboldened.
Intellectual property theft is an obscure, almost alien concept here in the Philippines. Even until now, there doesn’t seem to be any law that penalizes it. GRP colleague benign0 has described before what I think is an accurate representation of how Filipinos view it:
In any case, most ordinary Filipinos won’t be able to grasp intellectual property theft and copyright infringement anyway. Recall the question I posed at the start: Is anyone really harmed by intellectual property theft? To the ordinary citizen of a nation not exactly known for originality, innovation, or bold creativity, copyright infringement does not compute. Ownership of original work quite simply does not make sense to an unoriginal people.
The above discussion reflects two dimensions to the concept of repeating offense: “It is not illegal anyway”, and “Nobody is going to notice or care.”
As it turns out, Solis not only plagiarized pictures once, but at least three times.
Finally, we ask why people who get caught say sorry.
Are people truly repentant and regretful of the wrongdoing they did, or are they just sorry they got caught? In the case of Mark Joseph Solis, some Filipinos think it is the latter. Watch this video of him being interviewed by GMA7 and see for yourself which one it is. Take note, though, that he attempted to justify why he did what he did: because, supposedly, he needed the money.
Read also in this link his letter of apology to Gregory Smith, an owner of one of the pictures which he passed off as his own. Of particular interest is this passage:
Unfortunately, I was driven by my youth, lack of experience, and the inability to see the repercussions of my actions. The sheer amount of the prize, the stiff competition, and the unique opportunity to be abroad blinded me from undertaking what is supposed to be an honest and a rightful conduct. It was a regrettable lapse on my judgment, and no words can express how sorry I am for taking your photo as mine.
And he’s still trying to justify what he did. Typical of a Filipino to make excuses.
To end this article, think about the following comment made by GRP webmaster benign0 in another article of his:
Indeed, youth excuses us for our transgressions. But to learn from said transgressions, the consequences must be experienced. So in this case said consequences need to be applied.
Whether one is a child or a grown up, the experience of getting burned when touching a hot kettle is the same — which is why EVERY normal person learns to avoid touching a hot kettle.
Such natural consequences do not discriminate on the basis of age. So when man-made consequences are consistent and blind not only to age, but also to race and social class, then the learning borne out of said consequences becomes more effective and more embedded in the psyche of both individuals and the collective.
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