Reinir Padua with Marvin Sy
October 23, 2010
MANILA, Philippines – An international law expert claimed yesterday that the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) that cleared an associate justice of plagiarism could be considered a violation of the international convention on copyright.
Former Dean Merlin Magallona of the University of the Philippines College of Law said the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works defines plagiarism “in terms of result, not in terms of intention.”
Magallona and other UP law professors said this definition is contrary to what the SC decision that cleared Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo stated, that there should be malicious intent for plagiarism to exist.
He said a “breach of an international convention preceded from the acts of the High Court.”
It is the duty of the Philippines to adhere to the convention as its obligation as a state party to it, he added.
UP College of Law professors also assailed the SC order directing them to explain why they should not be penalized for criticizing the concerned justice.
Magallona, who is among the 37 UP professors named respondents in the show cause order issued by the SC, is an international law expert and had served as undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Del Castillo was accused of copying without proper attribution some quotes and footnotes from three foreign law journals in a ruling issued last April that junked the bid of over 70 Filipino women abused during the World War II to compel the government to support their demands for official apology and reparations from Tokyo.
The SC justices voted 10-2 clearing Del Castillo of plagiarism last week.
The SC said the alleged plagiarism was a result of an “accidental removal of proper attributions to the three authors” by Del Castillo’s legal researcher while drafting the decision on a computer.
Magallona admitted that there has not been a case where a country was sanctioned for a violation of the provisions of the convention on plagiarism.
But according to Magallona, the writers in the journals that have allegedly been plagiarized “are likely to connect themselves to their government” so the state, if it is a party to the convention, could bring the issue forward.
“If state parties would make a complaint, the convention would initiate a settlement of a dispute,” Magallona said.
He said that if the matter is not resolved through arbitration, the matter could be brought up before the International Court of Justice.
SC decision may cause wholesale plagiarism
Lawyer Ibarra Gutierrez III, a UP law professor who had wanted to sign to the college’s statement but who was out of the country at the time the original copy was circulated, said it defies explanation that “23 instances of very concrete plagiarism could be attributable to the error of an assistant.”
Gutierrez said the SC’s actions will “open the floodgates for wholesale plagiarism being committed.”
“(With the SC decision) if you catch a student failing to attribute (sources in academic papers), the person cannot automatically be held accountable for plagiarism,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez tagged as “tyranny of the judiciary” anything that prohibits the people from criticizing the courts. He said it was unacceptable.
Current UP College of Law Dean Marvic Leonen said that the statement of the professors accusing Del Castillo of plagiarism was not meant to discredit the SC.
Leonen said the UP professors wanted “to save the standing of the SC in the eyes of our people and of the international community.”
“We thought we are partners in bringing about reforms,” Leonen said.
Leonen said the law professors are now preparing to answer the SC’s decision.
He said many UP College of Law graduates have come forward volunteering to represent the embattled law professors.
“Through a lot of crises, this institution (UP College of Law) has survived,” Leonen said.
The UP College of Law will celebrate its centenary on Jan. 11, 2011.
Leonen noted that all the 37 UP law academicians who signed the statement are “very important” not just in the Philippine legal profession but are also recognized internationally for their specific expertise.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan called on the SC to leave the faculty members of the UP College of Law alone on the issue of the alleged plagiarism of Del Castillo for lack of basis and so that it can focus on more important matters.
In a statement, Pangilinan said that it would be in the best interest of the SC to exercise judicial restraint and drop its action against the UP law professors.
“It would be best for the Supreme Court to consider the matter a closed case and refrain from pursuing the contempt case against UP College of Law faculty members,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan said the Supreme Court should learn to choose its battles and to my mind, this isn’t one of them.”
“The position taken by the UP faculty members on the issue finds solid support and is buttressed by the dissenting opinion of Justice Sereno,” Pangilinan said, referring to Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
“This alone should prove that there is no basis to sanction the UP College of Law faculty members,” he added.
Pangilinan previously criticized the SC for its decision to stop impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez at the House of Representatives and the status quo ante order against the President’s removal of National Commission on Muslim Filipinos commissioner Bai Omera Lucman.
He said that the Supreme Court has developed a propensity to step beyond that which is its jurisdiction.
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