An open letter to Atty. Hector Villacorta, from a humble blogger

Sir, if I might have a word with you.

Before Sen. Tito Sotto’s plagiarism extravaganza this week, I had no idea who you are. You moved in powerful circles in the nation’s capital while I quietly scribbled my thoughts in my little corner of the Internet. Alas, those happy days are gone. Now you’re everywhere I turn in the Philippine blogosphere, littering our space with your arrogant delusions. I’m tired of this. There’s an important debate going on regarding a bill that will drastically affect our country’s future, and you and your big mouth are sidetracking us.

I never thought that an unpaid blogger might have something to teach a senator’s chief of staff, but someone needs to stop you from making a bigger fool of yourself and your boss. Nobody in your office seems willing to do it, so I will. Listen up.

This all started when parts of an anti-Reproductive Health Bill speech made by Sen. Sotto were revealed to be lifted from an article by Sarah Pope, an American health blogger. He denied it, implying that bloggers are too insignificant to steal from, but everyone with a working bullshit detector just laughed in his face. When Sarah heard that a senator from halfway around the world not only stole her intellectual property but also, in her own words, “twisted the message of my blog to suit his own purposes against the women of the Philippines,” she felt the need to respond. (As an aside, see what I did there, when I attributed the words to the source? That’s a quote, Attorney. We’ll get back to that later.)

Now here’s where you come in. You stormed into Sarah’s comment section, dripping false humility and weary condescension, and proceeded to offer an ill-advised pseudo-apology that triggered a chorus of facepalms across the nation. Since then, more blatant plagiarism by Sotto has been uncovered, and you’ve spouted off more of your special brand of idiocy. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. It’s time for you to learn what you’ve been chattering about.

Let’s see. There’s a wealth of misinformation from you in this article from ABS-CBNnews.com. Let’s try to deal with that, shall we?

YOUR WORDS:

  • “Blog site is public domain.”
  • “Blogs are public domain. Anybody can use it [sic].”
  • “Bloggers, beware what you put out on the web. You should not cry if used by the web.”

THE FACTS:

No, Attorney,  a blog isn’t automatically in the public domain.  If an intellectual property doesn’t qualify for a copyright, or if its copyright has already expired, only then is it part of the public domain. Since blogs qualify for automatic copyright protection, and since that protection takes a long time to expire, the information that you and your staff copied for the senator was not, in fact, in the public domain.

You can’t evade  this. The Philippines signed several international copyright agreements, including one specifically designed to protect intellectual property online. We also have our own Intellectual Property Code. You asked where the laws are that would prove the crime of plagiarism was committed. Here they are, Attorney. And yes, just because these laws exist doesn’t guarantee implementation, but it’s kind of disturbing when a lawyer and a senator are either ignorant about them or actively defying them.

YOUR WORDS:

  •  “Nagtatampo pala sila pag naqu-quote sila.” (Trans: Their sensitivities get hurt when they are quoted.)

 THE FACTS: 

That was not quoting, Attorney, that was stealing. To quote means to properly acknowledge the source. You know, like I did with Sarah’s words up there and your own ridiculous sound bites. In blogging we do it by linking to whatever website we used as source.  In speech, you have to actually mention the origin out loud. In academic research and scientific literature, there’s a formal system that gives every first-time college thesis writer nightmares. I assume you are familiar with the last one, because you must be using scientific research for Sen. Sotto’s anti-RH Bill arguments, right? Right?

The point is, attribution is important. Without it, you are letting people believe that the words are your own, essentially claiming credit for them. In short, plagiarizing.

YOUR WORDS:

  • “Government is exempted from the copyright rule. As a general principle,  you cannot withhold information from government.”

 THE FACTS

I hesitate to venture into this territory because you’re a lawyer and I’m not. But the Philippine Constitution can be read by anyone, and maybe you just need a friendly reminder.

As far as I know, we are not yet a Big Brother society, though we do have a Big Brother television show. Here in the Philippines, we still believe that privacy is a right. Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights assure me that even the President himself can’t force me to let him read my high school diary and use it for his own purposes without a court order. Of course, if it were a matter of national security, I’ll let him read even the unsent love letter to my old crush, but only if he promises not to post it on Facebook.

As for the claim that working for the government exempts you from obeying the law, we only have to look at the cases of those Supreme Court justices charged with plagiarism to know that that’s just another one of your little daydreams. If you mean parliamentary immunity, sure, but it doesn’t make Sotto less of a lying thief. It just makes him a cowardly lying thief.

I’m sure I missed a few other things, but I’m tired. Obviously one of your staff knows how to use google, so next time, please just ask him to do some research before you use any big words in your interviews.

Or there’s also the possibility of Sen. Sotto just saying he’s sorry. Then this will all eventually blow over and we could go back to concentrating on the RH Bill. Just two words, Attorney. How hard can it be?

Sincerely,

A blogger

UPDATE: Here is a neat timeline of all the events in the Sotto Plagiarism Extravaganza from the site that first broke the story. WARNING: May trigger a reflexive facepalm so hard it might break your nose.

GET INVOLVED: There’s an online petition for the Senate’s Committee on Ethics and Privilege to sanction Senator Vicente Sotto III for his misdeeds.  Why should you care? As the novelist Miguel Syjuco writes so eloquently, “If the senator can’t accept responsibility for something as paltry as plagiarism, where the penalty’s hardly more than a public apology, will he take responsibility in future issues where penalties are more grave? If the senator can’t address our grievances fairly when they’re so small, will he face future grievances that are more costly? “

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27 thoughts on “An open letter to Atty. Hector Villacorta, from a humble blogger

  1. I am still dumbfounded by how ignorant some people are about internet copyrights. It’s no different than if these people lifted whole segments of a printed book and claimed them as their own. It’s stealing, end of discussion.

  2. The mere fact that he used someone else’s idea is already plagiarism. I just can’t believe how Sotto and his party reacted to this. I thought they would just admit that they indeed copied some parts of the speech and apologize but they did otherwise. It’s very disappointing to see such demeanor from a national figure. I’m Filipino but I can’t just be on the senator’s side. Embarrassing.

    • Arrogance, plain and simple. It’s the attitude that bloggers like Sarah Pope “generally do not count in the hierarchy of importance of much greater creatures in the universe such as …. uh, ok, Philippine Senators,” as Direk Joey Reyes wrote in his post about the issue.

  3. He is working in public service at a high level, so Villacorta’s behavior should be above reproach. Despite this fact, I consider it a certainty that Hector Villacorta uses illegal and unlicensed software applications within his office, buys pirated dvd’s, rips the exact thoughts of many hard-working writers (either straight from literature or from the blogosphere) among other varieties of theft that he would so easily dismiss as “lacking jurisprudence”.

    I would also characterize him as ‘lazy’, and ‘sloppy’, and also rudely dismissive of the concerns of others. He and Sotto should be removed from any jobs that are associated with public service.

    • It is a sad fact that if we were to purge our government buildings of officials that match your description, most of them would be practically empty. I just hope that we would take advantage of the chance offered by the RH bill deliberations to observe our leaders and try not to repeat the same mistakes next election.

  4. Flawless article. I wonder if Sotto could write as well as you do? Without plagiarizing his words. And to think, BLOGGER KA LANG! lol…

    It seems Sotto is not aware that majority of bloggers are highly educated people; some of them hold esteemed positions in their own day time jobs.

    I’m also very sad that Villacorta and Sotto don’t know what constitutes plagiarism; even re-phrasing is plagiarism. I hope they should educate themselves first before opening their traps on national TV.

    Kudos to you for writing this piece. BTW, I have shared this on my FB account. Keep writing.

    • Thank you, I will. Kahit blogger lang ako. hahaha. 😉 Thanks for reading and sharing! I think it’s important that we keep speaking out so that this issue doesn’t get swept under the rug and forgotten, as I’m sure Sotto and friends would like it to be.

  5. Very well-written. The senator and his chief of staff could have just said sorry, but they are just too stubborn to admit their faults. Ung lang naman ung issue talaga. And they just do it over and over. Di na natuto.

  6. Your research and presentation of ideas are noteworthy and breathtaking in their thoroughness. I’m inspired that there are still young people like you who use their time and talents to articulate their ideas well. That I agree with almost all of them is a bonus. Salamat!

    • The Internet gives us access to a world-class library at our fingertips. The information is there, and there’s no shame in making use of it as long as you credit the source (ahem). I guess I’m just wondering what makes it so hard for Sotto and staff to do it properly for a speech in the Senate when even I can do it for just a personal blog.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Pingback: The Cybercrime Law, RH Bill, and a Call to Vigilance | Evenstarlight

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