Filipino senators caught plagiarising

Robert Kennedy's speech stolen and used to argue against family planning

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 4:39am

Two Filipino lawmakers are facing ethics committee investigations for plagiarism, in a case that has drawn complaints from the daughter of the late US Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

The Senate Ethics Committee said on Thursday that it was about to start its hearings on the cases of Senators Vicente Sotto III and Pia Cayetano, who are accused of giving speeches with portions lifted verbatim from unacknowledged sources.

The two stand on opposing sides of an acrimonious senate struggle over a reproductive health, or family-planning, bill. Sotto, the senate majority leader, is widely seen as speaking for the conservative Catholic Church hierarchy in opposing the bill, while Cayetano supports it.

In August and early September, Sotto delivered speeches that he said would be an "exposé" of nefarious interests pushing for the bill's passage.

But in his attempts to do so, as Filipinos on social media swiftly uncovered, he copied key parts of his speeches from Kennedy as well as three American bloggers. Kennedy's daughter, Kerry, wrote a letter demanding an apology for what she said was Sotto's "unethical, unsanctioned theft" of her father's intellectual property.

She was particularly outraged that Sotto had used her liberal father's words to argue against access to family planning. "Using Robert Kennedy's words to stop women from having rights is really very twisted," she said.

Sotto lifted, almost line-for-line, portions of Kennedy's "Day of Affirmation" speech against apartheid, delivered in South Africa in 1966. "Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events," said Kennedy - and Sotto.

Initially denying outright he had plagiarised anything, he shifted to the assertion that "plagiarism is not a crime" in the Philippines.

The senator eventually gave a grudging apology: "If it upsets the Kennedy family, I'm sorry." He noted that "copying or imitation is the highest form of flattery".

Sotto has not apologised to the American bloggers he allegedly plagiarised.

For her part, Cayetano is accused of plagiarising two paragraphs of a speech by a health undersecretary as well as one paragraph from the United Nations Environment Programme in speeches she gave in April and June. Cayetano says it was a "technical glitch" that prevented footnotes and citations from being shown.