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Showing up the cause

(Article published in the Oct 27, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)   

 That I am an Atenean may have something to do with my skeptical view of UP Law’s recent show of force.  But still,  in my view, the state university’s stalwarts, in their near-diatribe against the Supreme Court’s most recent order in the current weather disturbance that may be called the plagiarism tempest in a tea pot, certainly “doth protest too much.”

The railing and the ranting we hear all around is, purportedly and on the surface, against the show cause order issued by the Supreme Court on October 20 against the 37 UP Law deans and professors who had earlier made a public statement wherein they accused without naming, Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo of plagiarism in his ponencia in the case of Vinuya et al v. The Honorable Executive Secretary et al, G.R. No. 162230, promulgated April 28, 2010.

Rep. Rufus Rodriquez, graduate of the UP College of Law, was quoted as saying that the said show cause order would have “a chilling effect on law deans, professors and faculty members [saying outright] what they believe to be errors in decisions of the Supreme Court.” “It won’t be healthy for the legal community…” allegedly said a dean of another law school (not the Ateneo law dean who up to the time of this writing has been quiet, or at least unwilling to be quoted; he was probably “discerning”).  Even Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. was said to have found the show cause “a little odd.”

UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen, who was one of the 37 who signed the statement that offended the Supreme Court, at the Malcolm Hall last Friday in a press conference which I suspect he himself called,  could hardly conceal his gloating when he announced that “we are overwhelmed by the offers of support.  We have produced many lawyers and they have come to offer to represent us.” 


No question about that. It does seem to me strange, however, that a mere show cause order could provoke such screaming and shrieking.  A show cause order, as we know, is no more than the initiation of proceedings, authorized under Section 4 of Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, that a court motu propio may institute when it has reason to believe, among other grounds, that certain improper conduct, though not committed in its presence, nevertheless tends to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice.

It is a mere first step in a long process that requires a hearing of both sides of the issue and, despite its imperious tenor, does not per se mean that those required to explain are already adjudged guilty by the court issuing the show cause order. On the contrary, there certainly is no certainty that those hailed to court by the court itself ordering them to justify their behavior would find themselves in the receiving end of penalty.  For all we know, the court, upon hearing of their explanation, just might be convinced of the cause they are able to show.

The uproar of UP Law against the Supreme Court’s show cause order, ranging from motherhood slogans of “chilling effect” to tired clichés of “silencing of criticism and dissent,” is so disproportionate to the purported stimulus that one cannot but suspect that there is more to it than meets the eye. Me thinks that such exaggerated response, particularly the self-proclaimed existence of “overwhelming support”, goes beyond assertion of academic freedom or exercise of the right of free speech.  A deeper motive seems to be hiding somewhere.

And from where I sit, fanning myself with the buntal hat that I used to wear while walking the streets of Tecson (now Vicente del Fierro), Solis and Juan Luna as a pupil of the Lakan Dula Elementary School (6 years only) and as a freshman high school at the Torres High, Ampil Annex, all in Gagalangin, Tondo, Manila, I dare to say the UP Law defenders seem to have been orchestrated, wittingly or unwittingly, to act in concert for the purpose of deflecting public attention to the UP Laws’ own breach of scholastic candor.

That breach of proper behavior was pointed out, albeit only “incidentally”, by the per curiam decision of October 12, 2010 in “IN THE MATTER OF THE CHARGES OF PLAGIARISM, ETC., AGAINST ASSOCIATE JUSTICE MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO, A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC”.

In the final paragraphs of the decision, the Court said:

“Incidentally, in the course of the submission of petitioners’ exhibits, the Committee noted that petitioners’ Exhibit J, the accusing statement of the Faculty of the U.P. College of Law on the allegations of plagiarism and misinterpretation, was a mere dummy.  The whole of the statement was reproduced but the signatures portion below merely listed the names of 38 faculty members, in solid rows, with the letters “Sgd” or “signed” printed beside the names without exception.  These included the name of retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, a U.P. professor.

Because the Committee declined to admit a mere dummy of Exhibit J, it directed Atty. Roque to present the signed copy within three days of the August 26 hearing. He complied.  As it turned out, the original statement was signed by only a minority of the faculty members on the list.  The set of signatories that appeared like solid teeth in the dummy turned out to be broken teeth in the original.   Since only 37 out of the 81 on the list signed the document, it does not appear to be a statement of the Faculty but of just some of its members.  And retired Justice V. V. Mendoza did not sign the statement, contrary to what the dummy represented.  The Committee wondered why the good UP dean submitted a mere “dummy of the signed document when U.P. has an abundance of copying machines.” (Underline mine.)

Why did UP Law submit a mere dummy, and not many copies signed in counterparts? Good question.  But then, maybe, as this Atenean suspects, the Supreme Court, like Homer, may have nodded.  It could be that contrary to the Supreme Court’s assertion of fact, UP Law does not really have an abundance of copying machines.  Maybe what the UP Law has an abundance of are dummies.  Ergo stat submission.