The Filipino as Frodo (or why you shouldn’t shut up about Sotto)

This past month, I watched in disbelief as the most important political debate of my generation devolved into a circus starring Senator Tito Sotto III as the clown. While proponents of the Reproductive Health Bill* struggled to move the deliberations forward, Tito Sen declared himself champion of the opposing camp and planted his feet firmly in the way.

Fair enough. But then he opened his mouth during his first turno en contra speech, and it all fell apart. The nation tuned in, expecting well-reasoned arguments, only to hear plagiarized ideas, outdated research, and manufactured drama. It all went downhill from there (here’s a timeline and another one if you just woke up from a coma and missed it), with the last turno en kopya disaster turning out to have a conclusion directly translated from a Robert F. Kennedy speech.

In the public smackdown that followed, I noticed something rather unusual. The Senate was silent. The people were in uproar, but there was no backlash from the other members of the institution that Sotto’s antics were debasing in front of the entire world. Juan Ponce Enrile, whose legacy as senate president is at stake, practically gave Sotto a hug for being so misunderstood. Even the volatile Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is as much an academic as she is a public servant, was uncharacteristically tolerant. Really, senators? You don’t care about the blatant lying and stealing within your ranks at all?

You know what this reminds me of? The fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings**. Remember how Frodo had to take the One Ring to Mordor when the great powers of Middle Earth refused to even touch it? They feared the temptation of the ring, so it fell to a simple little hobbit to vanquish the darkest evil in the land. “Even the smallest person,” the Elf-queen Galadriel told him, “can change the course of the future.”

Now I don’t know if our leaders’ failure to denounce Sotto’s lack of integrity can be compared to the noble rejection of the ring’s power, but Rappler’s Carla Montemayor offered some conjectures. No matter what the reason, their hands-off response to Sotto’s shenanigans has allowed his corruption free rein in the Senate. And now it falls to ordinary Filipinos and whatever tools we can muster to call him out. It’s up to us.

So we  write, and write, and write. We pour out our indignation, our anger at being treated like simpletons by a senator who owes his power to us.

We combat the misinformation, manipulations, and outright lies that Sotto and his ilk spout on a regular basis. Refusing to be fooled, we link to reputable studies, point out logical fallacies, and hover over our keyboards ready to google fu the heck out of the hype.

We rally behind two of us, writer Miguel Syjuco and teacher Leloy Claudio, who challenged one of the highest officials in the land to a debate about his so-called evidence against the bill. (Sotto refused them, of course, because God forbid he should ever exert actual intellectual effort.)

We fire off tweets and memes and Facebook posts, today’s equivalent of placards and people power chants. We laugh and mock and rage at Sotto, but underneath it all, we just want an apology. We just want to believe that there’s decency and integrity in our sworn leaders. (SPOILER ALERT: Not gonna happen, guys.)

We start petitions to penalize or oust Sotto which, let’s be realistic, would probably only be ignored by old school politicians who wouldn’t comprehend that behind these digital signatures are flesh-and-blood Filipinos desperate for change. But we sign them anyway, because we want our names to be included in the lists of those who care enough to try.

In the end, that’s the real reason we  even have a fighting chance. Not because we have political clout, religious influence, or crowds of reporters hanging on to our every word.  Our power rests on the simple fact that we give a damn. Apathy is so much easier. After all, haven’t we learned after decades of corruption that cheating is inevitable? Yet we refuse to accept that. We refuse to just shrug it off. And it’s making a difference.

Every time we make the decision to care, we claim our place as agents of change. We become the Ako ang Simula generation, defined not by age but by the refusal to entrust our future on the whims of a handful of men who have their own selfish agendas. We practice democracy as it’s meant to be. It may not change the world now, but it’s certainly changing us by making us think about what we can and should do for our country.

We may still lose this battle, mind you. Sotto, after all, survived the exposure of his link to a drug lord as he pretended to spearhead the fight against drugs. But the fact that we are still fighting means something. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who knows how it feels to be helpless in the face of evil, says, “There may be times when we are powerless to fight injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

If we do as he says, if we keep protesting with our words, actions, and votes, we may yet prove Galadriel right. Ordinary Filipinos, the ones you can find not in seats of power but in internet cafes, classrooms, or street corner tambayans, may yet change the course of our country’s future. I for one am willing to try.


*For the record, I am pro-RH bill. I believe it is pro-poor, pro-life, and pro-development. However, even if I were on the other side of the fence, I still wouldn’t want someone who has earned the nickname The National Embarrassment speaking for me.

**In fairness, it doesn’t take much to get me thinking of the LOTR. My brain practically lives in Middle Earth.

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58 thoughts on “The Filipino as Frodo (or why you shouldn’t shut up about Sotto)

  1. Atleast, Sen. Sotto is doing his job. I’d rather have a senator like him who copy pastes and translates foreign people’s writings than to have a leader with originality but is corrupt.

    • We’re all guilty of plagiarism at least once in our life. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone” John 8:7 (should we always post like this and name our source??? )

      • Wow, you seem really put off at the idea of having to give credit where credit is due. Hmm. Anyway, the reason this blew up is not only because Sotto plagiarized. It’s because he refused to admit his wrong and apologize for it. Such a simple thing. We could all have moved on if he had the humility to do so, but he chose arrogance and repeated his transgression over and over. Remember, the Bible also says in Luke 17:3, “Be careful. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.”

        • I agree with evenstarwen. The way he just puts off the issue abt him committing plagiarism when I heard him on the radio the other day speaks so much about his arrogance that this was not going to affect him at all. It was like he never made an effort to understand why he was charged with it in the first place and dismissed the subject as something that was created by his political rivals who were anti-RH bill. Gaano ba kahirap ang mag-sorry pag nagkamali? I am anti-RH bill because I dont think it was well researched enough but evenstarwen is right, i dont want Sotto to be the poster boy for my cause.

        • @Izi: His persecution complex is driving me nuts. Whenever any kind of criticism comes his way, no matter how valid, his excuse is that it’s all a conspiracy against him. Take his recent response to the national uproar over the libel provision he inserted in the Cybercrime Law. It’s as if the only reason we want to protect our freedom of speech is so that we can pick on poor, bullied Sotto. He’s acting like a child, not a senator.

    • “Political corruption is the use of power by government officials for illegitimate private gain.”

      Know your terms before using them.

      He’s doing his job? Did you not read the post above?

  2. If we tolerate what Senator Sotto did on plagiarism, don’t be surprised when your children would rationalise to you if ever they get caught cheating in school “If a senator can get away with it, why can’t we”. Great article Arwen. Wish I had such literary talent.

  3. im with you on that. i cant understand what is in the bill that they really hate about? it will reduce abortion, protection from most of std and boost family’s economic well being. i find it very absurd when they talk about flushing the unborn? that is why its called contraceptive, them eggs and sperms wont meet like in the case of condoms so there wont even be so called fertilization! the only thing i suspect why this bill wont push thru is because of the responsibility of the companies that employs 200 and more employees( if i got that right) will be hit by this bill. remember most if not majority of the politicians are businessman and if not is paid by lobbyist. they dont want to discuss it intellectually because of hidden agendas. our personal decision for a very personal matter should not be influenced by people who in the first place can not give birth. these people together with their families uses contraception every single day but yet they dont want other people to have the same decision that they themselves been making. more power to all filipinas who believe in the sincerity of this bill!!!

    • Unfortunately, no amount of arguments based on scientific and medical data will convince those who are either blindly following dogma or looking out for their self-interests. Hindi naman sana mahirap intindihin ang ebidensiya eh. But that’s their choice. I think our job is to just keep pushing until our leaders listen. We need the RH Bill now. By the time another chance like this comes again (what, in another 14 years?), we would have lost too much.

  4. I am the maker of the “I don’t always plagiarize” meme. maybe you’ve seen that. It went viral and somehow I felt that it we were able to kick Sotto’s butt. I’ll try to do more in the future lol

  5. I love the way you compare the Filipino to Frodo. In the movie version of “The Two Towers”, Sam says to Frodo: “…there’s good in this world… and it’s worth fighting for.” Perhaps it’s the same spirit that motivates us to rally, to make online campaigns against those who are not serving the people as they should. 🙂

    Great blog, by the way. 🙂

    • Thank you! That’s one of my favorite quotes. There’s another one from the book which also makes me think of the Philippines:

      “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”

      Even though it can be heartbreaking to see our country so far behind what it should be, we shouldn’t stop loving it. Thanks for your visit!

  6. Senator Sotto chose to characterize himself as the Sheep in this issue. Instead of admitting the obvious, he simply added insult to those who were injured – wrong move. With or without copyright, proper credit should be given to whom it is due. Admitting that you have made a mistake is a noble thing to do.

    • Based on his record, I’d say that the concept of apologizing is completely foreign to him. He has shown his contempt for the law, his own title, and the people he’s supposed to serve.

  7. Personally, I think there’s really nothing wrong when portions of Sen. Sotto’s speech aren’t original. But when it appears that he is not comfortable to admit publicly that he did just that, and there seems initially an effort to deny it, then that becomes an admission that indeed he did something erroneous.

    • I agree! There’s nothing wrong with quoting. A perfectly apt quote can add impact to any speech. But why doesn’t he just say so? Why claim it as his own? “Galing sa akin ‘to,” he categorically stated when asked on the senate floor. And yet it turns out kay Kennedy pala yung iba. Why even lie about it? Before, they said mentioning bloggers seemed “inelegant”. Siguro naman hindi na “inelegant” si Kennedy. I am honestly perplexed.

  8. Its great that a lot of Filipinos have expressed their opinions against the infantile antics of the Iskul Bukol Solon. More. We all need to go ‘Gandalf on Sotto’s saggy gluteus maximus.’

    • When I saw your heading “We defend the truth”, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. But when it came to the part where you claimed overpopulation is not a problem in this country, I lost all faith in your logical reasoning. I tried to struggle on, but the blatant scaremongering tactic “contraceptives will cause AIDS” completely lost me. You know what protects against sexually transmitted diseases (aside from abstinence)? Condoms. Oh, wait, the Catholic Church forbids that.

      Sorry, but the only thing this “letter for truth” does is highlight the stubborn blindness towards impartial and scientific information that’s typical of those opposing the RH bill. It’s heartbreaking how some people who claim to follow the one true God have lost sight of what “truth” means in the first place.

      • The feeling is mutual regarding said article. I could never comprehend why some individuals come to the conclusion of overpopulation not being a problem. There are currently 21 million people cramping up space in the greater Metropolitan Manila, It is currently the 5th most populated city in the world. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic everywhere, air, water, noise pollution are just few examples of the end result. Sadly, even Lucy Torres Gomez thinks the same way. She was interviewed on ANC and I was stunned when she mentioned why it isn’t a problem and never really expounded on why.

        • Because the Catholic bishops said so. Clearly, for Lucy Torres Gomez, that’s more convincing than any amount of evidence-supported data, or even simple common sense.

          What gets me is that the bill isn’t even about population control. Yes, if better family planning practices were established, then it would help solve overpopulation. But ask the mother trying to feed 8 children with a ninth on the way on a budget of Php 100 pesos a day if she cares about population control. She doesn’t have the luxury of debating over sociological data when she’s struggling to simply survive. The RH bill is for women like her, to enable them to make better choices for their families.

  9. Those that pretend to know it all are looking more and more desperate that they cannot even write on issues raised aside from PLAGIARISM or should I say HATCHET JOB against Sotto.

    • Not desperate enough to pretend to be two different people supporting each other’s comments on the same post. Sorry to tell you that I can see your IP address, Alison, and it’s exactly the same as Karen’s.

  10. Mga ungas talaga mga nagcocoment about Sotto and HATCHET JOB against him. Can you just move on? Nakakabobo naman ang layo ng mga comment. Hala tuloy na demolition job lang ginagawa ng magcocomment about him.

    • This is too funny. Miss Karen/Alison, kung gagawa po kayo ng dalawang pseudonym para ipagtanggol ang komedyante niyo, sana naman di masyadong obvious na iisang tao kayo. Change the writing style a little bit. Payong kaibigan lang. 🙂

  11. wow.. great work… i love how your brain works.. work with awesomeness..

    for this i’ll share and spread your words… my highness…

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

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