Plagiarism: what goes on in the mind of the Filipino?

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.

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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.


[Photo courtesy: GMA7 and Awesomely Luvvie]

38 Replies to “Plagiarism: what goes on in the mind of the Filipino?”

  1. IRONIC that the author of this essay consistently used someone else’s exapmles/words to convey a message?

    The Philippines is sooooo screwed. I mean, even if it were possible to fix what is wrong with the country: Where would you even start?

    1. “The Philippines is sooooo screwed. I mean, even if it were possible to fix what is wrong with the country: Where would you even start?”

      Oh Im refering to this. Seriously – asking where to start or where to end this mega-fucked-up situation is like asking who came out first – Chicken or Egg?

  2. I am a Filipino and a proud one to be. Certainly, we are aware of the many things that needed to be changed in our country. I do agree that an overhaul of the system is necessary. But you speak of as if there is nothing good about us and many other Filipinos! You talk as if only the Philippines have dishonest citizen . Tough luck you say that a mistake of one becomes a collective mistake of the enitre nation. But there are many people in different nations who have citizens who commit even graver mistake and crime. How easy for you to judge us. I personally abhor the dishonesty of this man and he must do a restitution for this act, I feel extremely bad that you look at yourselves as if you are flawless and perfect. Who are you judge all of us. Do you actually know who we are? or you believe only everything that you read and condemn all of us as bad. Be careful in judging less you be judge yourself

    1. So what do you suggest? That “We” should speak softly? You know like “tahan na bebe tahan na.. kawawa naman bebe ko”?? Naah that didn’t work.

    2. You missed the point of the article, iha. Kaya nagsulat yung author ng ganyan ay sa kadahilang Filipino din siya puso. Else why would he care writing about other nationalities.

      Good for you if you are not the typical Filipino that he is referring to. But if are as what he described then it is time to change attitude.

      This is not judgement to the Filipino people as a whole, but only highlights what is wrong with our society, because how we are viewed internationally is what matters than what little virtue the exceptional Filipino has.

      Buksan ang isip iha. The truth hurts, totoo lahat ng sinabi niya about the typical Filipino.

    3. “I am a Filipino and a proud one to be.” This is too cliche. And then what? Why is it that when we are criticized we get so defensive, livid, offended, saying that “I’m proud of being Pinoy!”, etc. That’s bullshit. It’s a common misconception– just because a Pinoy criticizes his/her country, people assume that he/she is a pessimist and he/she’s not proud. Can we not constructively criticize? We say bad things and we voice them out because we want CHANGE– and the first step to that is acknowledging our mistakes, you know.

      1. @Regine, You got that right, if a foreigner visits the Filippines he will be appalled and will struggle to find any good in the place, even the beaches are filthy! But say something about the situation and they turn full-on retarded!

    4. @ MICHELLE, where do you see anyone refer to themselves as “flawless and perfect”? HUH? What is wrong with YOU, has a lot to do with what is wrong with the country. That is you hear things that are not being said, in other words :You hear what you want to hear, not what is actually said. A fantasy reality does not exist and YES, I do personally know quite a few Filipino’s. While I do not judge them, the ones I know I do judge those I have had to do business with and every single one of them tried, in one way or another, to flat-out rob, cheat or scam me. Let me be clear, to judge is not to condemn, get it now? Get over yourself, get some self-esteem ad maybe you will see reality and not be so frickin’ sensitive, ugh!

      1. I read somewhere that he returned the money and everything else he won from the competition, in which the embassy will no longer press charges against him. Then again, knowing that this isn’t the first time he did it, now that his name is known everywhere else his deeds are still gone unpunished, I bet somebody might do it instead.

  3. I don’t understand why the kid did it. $1000 is not a lot of money to risk your reputation and it’s not like he hasn’t traveled before. Plus it looks like he has done pretty well in other activities like the debate team, so it really made no sense to take that risk.

    1. Well, for me $1000 is a lot already..I can earn it in around 4 months, I’d have to toil the long hours at work, the stresses, the bullshit and everything in between to get that.

      And he got it by winning a competition in which he stole someone’s photos and claimed it for himself..that’s like spitting on the face on every one that works hard just to get that $1000. If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s this kind of BS.

      I know some other people who can earn this faster than I do, but I take pride in my work and what I am doing right now even if it takes a long time for me to have it but hey nothing’s sweeter than knowing you worked your ass off just to earn this much.

      Sadly, he’s got to learn his lessons the hard way. So what should be done? Public Spanking? Public Apology? I heard somewhere that he also wants to keep the Just wow. Apparently, in the end, he just wanted the money. But since he is good at that, he might be able to get a job at the you-know-what..*wink, wink* 😀

  4. Like I tell my children. “You are not sorry for what you did, you are sorry that you got caught”.

    Maybe he is a “victim” of bad parenting and DSWD needs to pay his parents a visit so they can be held to task for their failure /sarc

    1. I heard that this is possible. I heard that during an interview of Solis his parents were defending him for what he did. I have yet to watch that video tho, but I won’t be surprised if his parents nurtured that cheating trait of his

    2. I saw his interview and he said he did it because he needed money for his schooling. Then he amended it later because he also wanted ‘new’ stuff.

      I don’t pity this kid. He knew fully well what he was doing and its not entirely noble. I don’t understand why UP forgave him. When Manny Pangilian was forced to resign from Ateneo because of a plagiarized speech written by his speech writer.

  5. Good post. Just one comment. “the chattering classes” is a very tired cliche done to death in western countries and rarely used anymore. When it was used, it was only ever to silence debate by negative connotations of people rather than taking on the issue.

  6. It isn’t intellectual property theft either. I will repost my comment on FB with some minor edits.

    “Plagiarism” has nothing to do with copyright infringement or intellectual property laws. “Plagiarism” is an academic term. If it is still labeled as plagiarism, then there is no copyright infringement issues. On a separate note, the “international community” including self-righteous Filipinos must get down their high horses and understand that no one person can or has “proprietary” rights to a word or set of words! If the laws do not consider “plagiarism” as a violation of intellectual property, that would be telling that there is “no property” stolen here. Words are borrowed ALL THE TIME! if we have to cite the sources at all times, we will all be guilty of plagiarism – even the supposed “claimant” of the phrase. All our words, paragraphs, thoughts, are inspired from somewhere. Imagine if you have a thought or a line that stuck in your memory in your primary years (hearing it from someone reading it from a book or quoting a line from a movie based on a book), which ultimately shaped your thoughts. Having no capacity at a young age to distinguish the moral difference or modern day requirement of language proprietorship 20 or 40 years after, how does one know that our thoughts are our own?

    The issue here is that, “this photo was not plagiarized”, it was stolen. That’s a stark difference. I find it sad that an online publication like Rappler has difficulty understanding the difference between plagiarism and “intellectual property theft”. Plagiarism is an academic term which do not refer to “property” but to words or ideas that holds NO “commercial” value. The Photo has commercial value. That Photo is a property of someone. It was taken by someone using his own camera, his own eyes, his own self, his own moment. That moment cannot be replicated by anyone ever. A moment, cannot be constructed. The chemistry of a moment happens only once. Time cannot go back. He created that photo. He owns that photo. It is his property. That property was stolen.The word is “copyright infringement” not “plagiarism”.

    A photo without words CANNOT (EVER) be plagiarized. It can be stolen.

  7. And Copyright Infringement is worse than plagiarism. You can’t correct it by apologizing. You gotta pay for it. You can be sued for it.

  8. My suggestion for Mark Solis is this: Pay Children At Risk Foundation the full amount he won among all others he misrepresented as his own plus interest.

    and then, it seems he has the talent to see potential. He should use his skills in legal ways. Not every knows how to find a piece that can win. Mark Solis, obviously have that ability. He should be a talent consultant and when he encounter’s a photo he believe can win an award, he should strike a deal with the owner that he knows where to submit that photo where it may win and charge a fee for that skill instead of stealing it.

    See? many of our people have valuable talents but are often misdirected. They just need to be guided to something proactive instead of condemning them. We all make mistakes and we do wrong. Often times because many of us do not know which direction is the right way.

    We all need help but we are still accountable of our actions. With that, we need to pay for in order to remember not to do it again.

    1. He either has the talent to look for a winning piece or he got lucky because the piece he chose won and unlucky because he got caught.

  9. This also goes without saying that the true owner/photographer must be acknowledged. The financial penalty gives a genuine apology some teeth.

  10. Thing is, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We have a whole generation of students who “go to Recto for fake paper,” if you catch my drift. Thus, they graduate thinking they can fake everything, and knowing no skills for a legally-based lifestyle.

  11. A cheat is a cheat is a cheat. I hate to criticize our society but from top Government leaders to normal folks, regardless of whether Filipino or not and it matters most to me as it reflects our kind of society and people sadly generalise everyone. Apology not accepted as it was done on purpose and he now shames himself all over. Who would hire and believe a lying cheat and tarnishing a well respected University he graduated from. Kakahiya, kapal ng mukha. Where are the “proud to be pinoys” now hmmmm? I’m not proud to be one after reading this.

  12. Perhaps what’s in the mind of the Filipino, is that stealing ideas is not wrong. Because he’s entitled to use other’s ideas. “Ideas don’t belong to the originator, they’re for all of us. Anyone can think of those ideas anyway. Intellectual property? Bah! Balderdash! Who is this guy to think his idea should be his property? He’s nothing! No one has a monopoly on thought!”

    This means that plagiarism comes from lack of respect for other people.

  13. Marami talagang kapalmuks dito. And his excuses are more self-serving now that he wants to keep the prize money. Ethical behavior escapes the Filipino mind. In addition to looking at his picture above, he looks like a douchebag.

  14. An idiot Senator like Sotto, who does not have a brain was the one caught plagiarizing, not us….So long as these kinds of idiots, populate the Senate. We will always have plagiarizing Senators…

  15. Michele, I don’t think he’s judging. He’s pointing out flaws for there to be an improvement. Is he saying that only Filipinos do dishonest things? No. But this site is about the Philippines and how to improve this society. If there was a site called get real Taiwan, then people would be posting things about Taiwan there.

    There’s dishonesty and corruption in every society. But some societies have a higher level and higher frequency of it than others. You can never see pirated videos on sale in Switzerland. As in never. You don’t have fake ID and fake diploma stands as in Cubao in the USA. If there is a site like that, the police will close it.

    What happens in the Philippines is that people just can’t handle any kind of criticism and without criticism, there’s no improvement.

    If a thief steals from me, should I not criticize him? Or should I just smile?

    Another country like that is Thailand, again, can’t handle anyone criticizing people if they do bad. Hence, they just never grow.

    If you want your country to grow and develop, you need to be able to see the flaws and then correct them. America does that all the time.

  16. Constant cheating and lying and not respecting
    laws is the reason why so many Filipinos cannot get visas to go anywhere. The bad reputation reflects on the whole country.

  17. I’ve always wanted to deny the possibility of us Filipinos being just outright copycats. There are so many instances in our history specifically our entertainment industry where just the shear act of copying major works happen a lot. I can give a few examples:

    1. Panday 2 Movie (Kraken scene)
    2. This copyright infringement case.
    3. TV 5 – They have a show there that pretty much copies the style of the talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live.
    4. Some Filipino Movies.
    5. Filipino super heroes like Lastikman and Gagamboy.

    The list just simply goes on. Some of you may still add to this list but the bottom line here is we either lack the capability to come up with something original or we are just lazy. And I think that the “Crab Mentality” that some Filipinos posses may be the key to this.

    We know very well that some Filipinos tend to get jealous when they see others improve or innovate on something. They just destroy that other person’s will and reputation to develop new concepts or ideas. So we are stuck with old ideas because some of us can feel unappreciated. This may not seem much of a reason so I try to look back in history to see if there’s even an indicator that will tell us if Filipinos, despite being ethnically diverse) are culturally “programmed” to copy.

    I just remembered Quijano De Manila’s (Nick Joaquin) article entitled “A Heritage of Smallness” where he explains why many of our local films are low in quality and most are recycled plots. His explanation simply puts it is to make a quick buck. Screw innovation, just make some money with the same idea people will buy it anyway.

    So this seems to be the answer: Filipinos copy simply because of money. Remember that that UP student’s motivation was also money. The movie Panday 2 tried to cash in with Clash of the Titan 2 by trying to copy the kraken scene. The producers are probably loaded with the impression that copying that scene will somehow entice audiences or make audiences think that their movie and Clash of the Titans 2 are equal in quality. So is that other movie Resiklo that came out around the time of the Transformers movies.

    The falsification of public documents, as some posters here mentioned, is also motivated by the same reason like what Napoles and Co. did.

    But even if poverty or profit is the cause,copying or stealing the work of another isn’t warranted. And people working in the entertainment industry aren’t exactly poor, they have more than enough resources to come up with something unique yet they don’t or they rarely do so. This simply tells us that whether a Filipino citizen is rich or poor, copying is still a normal thing and we still try to justify our reasons when we get caught.

    As far as judging the whole University goes, we’ll have to look at the type of people graduating or working there there. Example is MILF founder Nur Misuari, he was a Political Science Professor there. Go figure. Something seems to be wrong with the whole institution or they just simply have a string of bad apples coming in and out.

  18. It is no wonder as to why most people think of any school in the Philippines as a diploma mill. Because it just churns out people with degrees, but has to go to TESDA to actually acquire skills because our esteemed university was just incapable of having the latest and the greatest tools for our education and yet they are the greatest when it comes to our tuition fees.

    Well, on the other side of the coin those same people are just too lazy and would prefer to have a big typhoon here so that there wouldn’t be any classes because “tinatamad po akong pumasok” 😀 No wonder, aside from Pride, we have Sloth too..

    I Lie, I Cheat, I Steal…If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying..I Lie, I Cheat, I least I am honest about familiar with the late great Eddie Guerrero would have known that. Used in pro wrestling it was great, it was funny and entertaining..However when it is done in real get flak for it because it certainly is not right.

    Now, everyone does make mistakes, nobody is certainly immune to that. The problem with mistakes lie on if you actually learned anything from it and be humbled about it or maybe you just went the low road and leveled up to another level of stupidity. Did he learn anything from this? Maybe, Maybe not. Apparently his reactions as of late sound like a self-serving, money-grubbing, son of a you-know-what.

    This speaks out to what kind of society we have right now. I guess, integrity, honesty, sincerity are “uncool” words now. So instead, I’d rather be a liar, a cheat, a scam because it feels rather cool, huh? If this is the kind of society I’m living in now, then I’d rather commit myself to a self-imposed seclusion to society. But sadly, I can’t I got work to do tomorrow morning..and hell yeah it is a Sunday. 😀

  19. If someone deserves to get punished for Plagarism, It would be Sen. Sotto.

    But ofcourse, it’s the people who put him in there, so punish all yourselves.

  20. This boy needs to take accountability for what he’s done- stolen intellectual property and besmirched our collective reputation. That has a wider negative impact. For theft, he must be punished by the law. NO more excuses- be punitive with this scoundrel.

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