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A tale of two law schools

(Article published in the Aug 18, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)   

It was just one of five submissions in the Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration filed with the Supreme Court, sitting en banc, by the Roque & Butuyan Law Offices, counsels for the petitioners Malaya Lolas in the case of Vinuya et al v. The Honorable Executive Secretary et al, G.R. No. 162230, for certiorari with an application for a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction.  But in two days, it overshadowed, at least in the media reportage, even the main thrust of the case which was to get the Philippine government to champion the cause of the lolas before the international courts.  The issue of plagiarism in the ponencia took a life of its own.   

 The lawyers of the petitioners claimed that the Supreme Court in its decision issued on April 28, 2010 wholly lifted “without proper attribution, from at least three sources—an article published in 2009 in the Yale Law Journal of International Law, a book published by the Cambridge University Press in 2005 and an article published in 2006 in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law”--and made “it appear that these sources support the assailed Judgement’s arguments for dismissing the instant Petition when in truth, the plagiarized sources even make a strong case for the Petition’s claims.”

 The supplemental motion was apparently uploaded in the world wide web giving notice to the world, including the authors of the allegedly plagiarized works.  One of the authors, Evan J. Criddle (who co-authored the aforesaid article in the Yale Journal of International Law), probably flattered by the copying, expressed more concern than the plagiarism about the fact that his material was used to support a conclusion contrary to his.  Whose conclusion is correct is for the elite, as they think of themselves, community of international lawyers to decide. 
 










     

The good justice, in a letter to his colleagues, sought to defend himself.  He told his fellows that “there was every intention to attribute all sources, whenever due.  At no point was there ever any malicious intent to appropriate another’s work as our own.” 

 He reminded them that “this ponencia was thrice included in the Agenda of the Court en banc.  It was deliberated upon during the Baguio session on April 13, April 20, 2010 and in Manila on April 27, 2010.  Each time, suggestions were made which necessitated major revisions in the draft.  Sources were re-studied, discussions modified, passages added or deleted. The resulting decision comprises 34 pages with 78 footnotes.”

 The media, which got hold of the letter, was not appeased; plagiarism is one of its practitioners’ “insider’s obsession”, said Stanley Fish, a professor of law at Florida International University in Miami and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences a the University of Illinois at Chicago, in his item that coincidentally (I suppose) appeared last week, on August 13, at the Op Ed section of the International Herald Tribune.  “It’s no big moral deal; which does mean that plagiarism shouldn’t be punished—if you’re in our house, you’ve got to play by our rules—just that what you’re punishing is a breach of disciplinary decorum, not a breach of the moral universe.”

 But local media apparently think otherwise, or at least, behaved as if it thought the contrary.  An editorial in a broad sheet on July 25, after claiming that the Chief Justice “has generally waffled and even shielded the ponente, Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo” said that the Court “has…stolen ideas and words from other sources…” and “…comes forth as court not only of intellectual thieves, but also of intellectual lemons.” 

 The Supreme Court was constrained, for the first time, to constitute, on July 27, a Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards, charged with, as its initial mission, to conduct an investigation and make its recommendations.

 This did not hold back quite a number of UP law faculty members from making themselves heard.  Also on July 27, they labeled the plagiarism as “unacceptable, unethical and in breach of the high standards of moral conduct and judicial and professional competence expected of the Supreme Court.”  They asserted that “such a fundamental breach endangers the integrity and credibility of the entire Supreme Court and undermines the foundations of the Philippine judicial system by allowing implicitly the decision of cases and the establishment of legal precedents through dubious means.”  They insisted that “in light of the extremely serious and far-reaching nature of the dishonesty and to save the honor and dignity of the Supreme Court as an institution, it is necessary for the ponente of Vinuya v. Executive Secretary to resign his position, without prejudice to any other sanctions that the Court may consider appropriate.”

 Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez was noticeably concerned with the timing of the UP statement.  “Both [referring to the Vinuya case as well as the Ethics Committee investigation] are pending cases, that is why I cannot understand why they have to come out with those statements calling for the resignation of Justice del Castillo” and scandalized perhaps, added, “and these are law deans!”

 Many members of the Ateneo law school community at Rockwell, instead of taking issue with their counterparts in Diliman, also reacted.  They said, in substance, “let’s wait.”  Too Thomas Moreish, if I may so say.

     

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