The Dog Ate It

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You have to give it to Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo and his colleagues at the Supreme Court; apparently, his fellow Justices accepted the excuse that his computer did not have a tool or utility that warned him he was plagiarizing, and that his legal researcher inadvertently dropped a couple of citations in the footnotes.

What makes plagiarism a serious accusation is that it runs counter to scholarship; to miss a footnote or to copy extensively from a source that’s not being cited properly is simply an act of stealing.  To live a just life in society means giving one what is due to him or her; the intention may not be malicious and the act accidental, but denying a person’s due comes across as malicious, unjust, and more importantly, unfair.

I’m no lawyer, but taking Justice Del Castillo’s claim that there was no malicious intent in an accidental act of plagiarism – or for that matter, one that is merely being alleged – it is one that should be chalked up to yet another instance of impunity.  Surely, he could get away with it: the various defenses of clerical errors and lapses in computer programming (note: Copyscape) may leave him and his colleagues in the Supreme Court scot-free.

Not without the idea of sanctioning the 37 faculty members of UP Law for “violating the lawyers’ code for ethics.”  Justice Mariano’s defense of his unintentional and accidental plagiarism may be met with public contempt, but there seems to be contempt reserved for professional and constructive criticisms of your peers when they’re in the wrong.  Worse, to accept and make valid the “it’s my researcher’s fault” and “Word does not have a plagiarism checker” (again: the barest minimum is Copyscape) smacks of the same malice, injustice, and unfairness of “unintentional acts of plagiarism.”

It’s impunity yet again; students get expelled for accusations of plagiarism, very rich businessmen get pilloried for plagiarized commencement addresses.  Yet the very institution that serves as the vanguard of truth and justice in the Philippines – one that sends rapists to death chambers and kidnappers to prison cots – turns a permissive and blind eye to a very serious accusation leveled against a person who sits on its benches.  That it’s okay to plagiarize and make perfectly acceptable and defensible “dog ate my homework” defenses as long as you’re a Justice of the Supreme Court.

It’s hard to plagiarize; it takes the kind of blatant disregard for the ethics of scholarship to do so.  In order to plagiarize, one must be blatantly dishonest.  In order to get away with it without remorse and not a whisper of mea culpa, one must be blatantly unjust.

All that being said, what makes the strange case of Justice Mariano even stranger is that his conclusion was the exact opposite of what was propounded in the sources he did not cite.  It takes a certain kind of talent to be able to do that, but that’s another story.

* – image sourced from here.

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