I will tell a few real-life stories about acts of plagiarism and how it affects those who come within their ambit. These experiences form the basis of why plagiarism strikes a deep chord in me.
Back in college at the University of Santo Tomas, we formed a group of student writers who were very active in the campus literary scene and in campus journalism. Our group of friends held positions in the university newspaper The Varsitarian; the writers’ group The Thomasian Writers Guild, and The Flame, the journal of the College of Arts and Letters.
We never thought of ourselves as campus writers. Probably because we admired our writing mentors so much—back then, they included various writer-teachers from other universities who taught us in the writing workshops organized by poet Ophelia Dimalanta with the generous tolerance of UST—we finished each workshop with the conviction that we were excellent writers who happened to be students.
For this inflated regard of ourselves, society can only blame the following writers: Ophelia Dimalanta, Cirilo Bautista, Vim Nadera, Krip Yuson, Isagani Cruz, Gemino Abad, Ricky de Ungria, Marne Kilates, Mike Bigornia, Virgilio Almario (National Artist for Literature), and Fidelito Cortes. If I remember correctly, we may have had Marjorie Evasco and Susan Lara in a few workshops as well.
(However, all the swooning of the female campus writers in our group can only be blamed squarely on de Ungria and Cortes. De Ungria elicited sighs from one female writer whenever he removed his watch at the beginning of the session—that’s a romantic gesture? Cortes elicited exclamations of “He looks so clean! So nice-smelling!” from two other females, one of whom is now one of the most respected TV reporters in the country.)
The point being, all the members of our group were very, very close. And we loved and nurtured all the other campus writers who were our juniors. Still, there were occasional spats. Liezl, for example, who was of Chinese ancestry, for no rational basis at all, took umbrage at the presence of Anna during our weekly workshop sessions. “How could you even stand that… that… Indian pussycat?!” she asked us, indignantly, in reference to Anna’s surname, which was, alas, not Indian at all. If I remember correctly, Anna had an Afghan father.
Anyway, this is the context you must remember when I tell you that we were all devastated when we found out that one of the writers in our group, one of the young ones, had been accepted at the U.P. National Writers Workshop on the strength of what turned out to be plagiarized work. Playwright (who has gone on to direct horror films, as well) Jun Lana discovered it.
This same person, whom I will refer to as Urban, was later discovered to have also submitted a few other plagiarized works at the Ustetika, the UST Literary Awards. Urban actually won prizes and medals for these stolen works.
One night, while that was happening, I was chopping some garlic and onions at the dorm where I was staying—because that’s what great poets do for inspiration. No, seriously, I think I was making a dip for some grilled pork belly. I had to stop all this chopping because I had a visitor—actually, two visitors.
They turned out to be Urban and his girlfriend, Lorna (not her real name; I’m gonna get a kick out of her reaction when she reads the name I’m giving her here), who was a senior member of our group. Sensing the seriousness of what they wanted to talk about, I suggested that we go out for dinner—yes, garlic and onions, be damned!
I took them to one of my favorite fine dining spots in the neighborhood: a watering hole for smoky, sweaty tricycle and jeepney drivers. The place had a Japanese name but only served chicken and pork barbecue—still the most delicious ones I’ve had my entire life. Goaded on by the ambiance of mortal despair around us, Urban and Lorna spilled it: Could I talk to Ophelia Dimalanta, who was at the time the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters where Urban was a studen and ask for mercy on his behalf?
They both knew that expulsion was in Urban’s looming, immediate future. He had already left the U.P. National Writers Workshop in disgrace. He would own up to the plagiarism in UST, return the prize money, return the medals, but could he please not get expelled, please? I told them what any friend would: “Let me talk to Ma’am Ophie and find out what your options are. You are in deep shit.”
A few days later, Urban showed up at The Varsitarian office. He had, seemingly, lost the ability to smile. He was a tall, good-looking guy, so I guess he could get away with not smiling—but there was no hiding the pain in his eyes. The Varsitarian is the organizer of the Ustetika, and at that time, I was the Associate Editor. Urban could not bring himself to actually enter the office, so I was the one who went out to meet him.
He handed to me the Ustetika medals and the prize money. We talked a bit. Then he left. I still saw him a few times. Then, he was gone. I can’t recall if he was actually expelled or just allowed to transfer to another school.
Intermission. Plagiarism is, essentially, cheating. It’s laziness. It’s dishonesty. It’s also stealing. Serious stuff. So let’s have some comic relief:
A few years before the unfortunate incident with Urban, we had another case of plagiarism, but it was committed against one of our members, Joseph Voltaire “Volt” Contreras. Somehow, an Ateneo student got hold of a copy of The Flame, where one of Volt’s short stories got published.
The young man liked the story so much, he copied it word for word and submitted it to his English class, as his homework. Conveniently, he left out Volt’s name and told the teacher it was his own work. Of course, someone found out and told Volt. Volt then told Dean Ophelia Dimalanta about it.
By then, the Ateneo student was already in hot water. His English teacher found out about his plagiarism and failed him in class. He was under threat of expulsion. His fate rested in the judgment of Ateneo writer and professor Danny Reyes—I can’t recall what Reyes’ position in Ateneo was at the time. Reyes, though, happened to be a good friend of Dimalanta.
So, this enterprising young man went to UST to meet with Dimalanta and Volt, and to throw himself at their mercy—would she intercede on his behalf and ask Danny Reyes not to expel him?
The young man proposed a deal, which was sweet: Could Volt please admit that he was the one who plagiarized the story? Yes. That was the proposal. Volt, the short story’s real author, would admit to be the plagiarist and the plagiarist would be presented to Danny Reyes as the real author.
In return, the young man, who was rich, was offering Volt several things in exchange for the charade. Volt would be given money, of course. He would be given the student’s car. Volt wouldn’t agree, so the young man threw in the kicker: He would give Volt his girlfriend. You are reading this right. The plagiarist was willing to give his girlfriend away to Volt, just so he could save his ass and not get expelled.
Volt said no. Dimalanta said no. The plagiarist was expelled. I don’t think any of you readers would fault me for not having any respect for plagiarists.
In conclusion, let’s set aside all these distressing matters. Lately, we heard about how President Noynoy has taken the cudgels once again for his good friend, former DILG Usec. Rico Puno. Puno, who is embroiled in a botched arms deal that has “corruption” written over it, stays in the President’s good graces. This is truly an inspiring story of friendship amid adversity, and which deserves a theme song: