Sunday, September 30, 2012

Make peace

“HACKTIVISTS” defaced websites last Sept. 26, 2012 to protest the CyberCrime Prevention Act of 2012.

With rock music in the background, an individual or group that goes by “Anonymous Philippines” denounced the government for “effectively (ending) the Freedom of Expression”. A provision on cyber libel can be interpreted to imprison any Netizen or block access to any site.

Last Sept. 25, the Supreme Court (SC) issued a temporary restraining order to the Movie Television Review and Classification Board to prevent the public showing of “Innocence of Muslims” on TV and in movie houses.

Local Muslim leaders have petitioned for the banning of the video, uploaded on YouTube. They claim that it invades the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion without fear or hatred.

Last Sept. 28, it was reported that some bishops saw a conspiracy to bring down the Church in the recent controversies involving Msgr. Cristobal Garcia. They alleged that the government is spearheading this smear campaign to demonize the Church, an opponent of the reproductive health bill.

In its October 2012 issue, the National Geographic magazine reported that the illegal trade in ivory, which slays elephants for their tusks, can be traced to the mania among Filipino collectors for ivory icons. Garcia, a prominent collector, reportedly introduced the writer to antique retailers involved in the black market trade. The church official has also been suspended from the Cebu Archdiocese while being investigated by the Vatican for charges that he abused altar boys 20 years ago in the United States.

Hacking, religious hate, conspiracy theories. What a full week this seems, and it isn’t even over yet.

The chain of reactions set off by these three incidents shows how keyed up we are to fight fire with fire. Even when the threat seems to be still in the offing, we rush to the “clear and present danger” we imagine but have yet to see.

By doing so, we come to be what we are trying to prevent.

Why? More importantly, can we prevent our, so to say, jerking like this?

Aggression is a behavior that is culturally transmitted, reported The Economist in its Apr. 15, 2004 article on Robert Sapolsky’s study of baboons in Kenya. The Stanford University primatologist recorded that tuberculosis killed nearly all the males in a troop he was studying. Since the infection came from a garbage dump that was the troop’s main source of food, the fatalities were nearly all of the males in the fittest condition to fight for food.

Ten years later, Dr. Sapolsky found the behavior of the troop males to be still peaceful. Although male newcomers still fought other males, they chose rivals of more or less the same strength, not the ones who were smaller and weaker. The new males also picked less on the females.

Although no animal other than humans has been observed to transmit manners, Dr. Sapolsky and his fellow researcher theorized that the males that joined this troop found it easier to be accepted by copying the behavior of insiders. After the macho fighters were wiped out by the epidemic, the remaining females were more receptive to male newcomers, who could be possible sires. This pacifism coded itself into the new males’ behavior.

While I am not sure if we are better or lower than the baboons, humans have a choice.
Our class watched two versions of the video, “Innocence of Muslims”. Viewing that video did not convert anyone in the class to be an Islamophobe.

Our reactions to that video, though—whether it is to violently protest or as violently, call for its banning—tell us more about ourselves than about Islam, Mohammad or Muslims. That’s a differentiation that should separate the baboons from humans.

( 0917-3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebus Sept. 30, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Sunday, September 23, 2012

ML for kids

RECORD-KEEPING is curious. All the national dailies marked the 40th anniversary of Marcos’ signing of Presidential Decree 1081, which placed the country under martial law (ML) on Sept. 21, 1972.

Even the Manila Bulletin, venerable for its indifference to the rules of lay-outing and newsworthiness, devoted 1.5 pages to feature “Martial Law@40: Never Again” in its F Section for youths.

Unlike in other broadsheets, PD 1081 and its aftermath don’t appear on the front page of MB or its main opinion-editorial section. There are two columnists writing separately on two celebrations falling also on Sept. 21: the national day of Malta and the independence day of Armenia.

Is ML a subject for kids? I agree with the editors: “never again” should be chanted by those born years after the Marcos regime but never too young not to know this period of our history.

Curious to re-view ML through the lens of youths who cannot hum in a heartbeat the Bagong Lipunan hymn, I took the cue to reminisce online from Ambeth R. Ocampo’s Sept. 21, 2012 column, “Looking Back,” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

According to Ocampo, the diary of Marcos, “fascinating” for its insights into ML, is available for free, along with other diaries of Filipinos and foreigners writing about the country, in

While Ocampo is drawn to reviewing the past through the eyes of a man whose role was central to its unfolding, I am struck by the Tweet-like journalizing of the 10th president of the country while he plots and executes Oplan Sagittarius, the imposition of “Batas Militar”.

On Jan. 3, 1971, a Sunday, Marcos wrote: “… I had a light lunch of docon and paltat.” After leaving Gabu for Nichols Airbase, he is met by “Imelda and the children,” who have brought him “pospas” that he eats in the car.

The chicken-flavored porridge, a folk remedy, is probably taken to soothe a bum stomach. “It is most probably due to the tension arising out of the plan for the proclamation of martial law…”

The mention of ML jolts the domestic narration. The fellow comforted by porridge brought by his wife and children has the power to start a chain of events that will darken the land and bring suffering for two decades and counting.

Unlike Tweets and blogs, diaries of the past were written for the writer’s eyes only. That is why reading old diaries is beguiling: one presumes the outpouring is uncensored, written without the pressure of playing to an audience or justifying oneself for posterity.

On another Sunday, Sept. 17, 1972, Marcos writes at 10 p.m.: “We escaped the loneliness of the palace for this old Antillan house now known as Ang Maharlika, the State Guest House several blocks from the palace… The departure of our children has made the palace a ghostly unbearable place.”

Waking up from a long siesta in the room of son Bongbong (now senator)—“which has the worst bed and lumpiest mattress”—Marcos has sardines and “pancit (noodles)” for early dinner. He browses in the library: “… to my delight I discovered the books I have been wanting to read for some time including Fitzimmons, The Kennedy Doctrine, Sorensen’s The Kennedy Legacy, The Dirty Wars edited by Donald Johnson… Days of Fire by Samuel Katz (The Secret History of the Irguny Zrai Sanmi and The Making of Israel, Chou-en-lai by Kai-Yu, Room 39 by Donald Macfaddan (The room of the British Intelligence in WWII), the History of the World in the 20th Century by Watt, Spencer and Brown.”

On a Saturday, Sept. 23, 1972, Marcos wrote: “Things moved according to plan although out of the total 200 target personalities in the plan only 52 have been arrested, including the three senators, Aquino, Diokno and Mitra and Chino Roces and Teddy Locsin.

“At 7:15 pm I finally appeared on a nationwide TV and Radio broadcast to announce the proclamation of martial law, the general orders and instruction.”

The diary of Marcos is more than a keepsake. It is a hall of mirrors: does the human make the man less monstrous or more?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebus Sept. 23, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Readers of all ages

Of the many works of art strewn around the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines, the moss-covered reclining figure of a man curled in concentration still arrests me every time the Ikot jeepney unloads passengers near the checkpoint.

Carved from stone and sprouting moss and ferns, The Reader has the air of someone who has just closed a book but is still lost inside the maze. My guess is that he wasn’t reading a reference required for class. Yet who knows? Factorial ANOVA might be to someone what J. M. Coetzee means to me.

The book can be any book as a door can be any door for the seeker. Once you step in and stay till the end, Seeker becomes Reader, the timeless captive, rooted by a tale, disconnected and set free.

Did I say “timeless”?

This moss-grown fellow hardly resembles the child of today’s polymedia libraries.
Based on the Third National Book Development Board (NBDB) Readership Survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations last May 2012 and presented last August 2012, Filipinos who are mostly likely to read a non-school book are not brooding loners, contemplating the Future of the Novel in the minute screen of their big toe but well-adjusted extroverts, quick to snap up information from newspapers, radio and TV programs, video tapes and—gasp!—malls.

GMA Network reported in their website last Aug. 23, 2012 that the Third NBDB Readership Survey also points out that going online fans affairs with books, with an SWS official declaring that “all Internet users are non-school book readers”.

This is very good news. At the same time, it fuels my techie sons’ argument that the Internet does not make them less literate. Aside from being a true daughter of my generation, stolidly clinging to rules of grammar and punctuation even in texting, I think it’s not just the rules that are bent when young LOTR fans worship the ground Peter Jackson levitates on but fall asleep in the middle of J. R. R. Tolkien’s winding tale of how the Fellowship of the Ring came to be.

Yea, what does it matter which door if all kinds of seekers go in those doors? In the crush of the morning rush at the MRT, I stood beside a young white-garbed student who had eyes only for her hand-held phone. Since I was tiptoeing to reach the overhead hand grip, I was, more or less, hanging over her shoulders.

This gave me a very good view of her My Phone screen. At first, the lines I picked out (“Kumusta? … Magkita tayo”) shamed me into thinking I was reading an SMS. Unfortunately, in the sardine-can intimacy of MRT crowds, a Peeping Jane cannot swing very far.

Back to hanging again over the student’s shoulder, I found out that she was reading an e-book, “Meeting You,” written in Filipino by an Asian-looking lady that looked of the same age as her rapt reader. The text was all in Filipino. The diction was not the sort that trips from the pen of National Artist Rio Alma (“Buwan, Buwang, Bulawan”), but it was surprisingly easy to follow.

Despite the absence of periods and paragraphs and an anarchy of commas, my first e-book reading ended too soon when its owner got off at her station. On a teacher’s salary, I’m never going to start a habit that’s connected to a gadget. However, that MRT episode made me rethink my biases about reading.

Unless you maliciously flush a book, stories that are printed lead long lives.
Unlike lovers, you can pass them along. Unlike toys outgrown by owners, books hibernate until the next generation seeks and discovers them. As for the truly precious, they flit in and out of the multitudinous rooms of our imaginations.

However, as the Third NBDB Readership Survey results seem to suggest, the kind of door does matter. With the average non-school book reader getting younger—from 17 years in 2003, to 16 in 2007, and 15 in 2012—the new portals matter in converting more young people to a pastime that may yet become a lifetime affair.

If a writer can enthrall a young girl at rush hour to scroll up and down the tiny screen of her mobile phone to seek the end of the tale (at last! a period is finally sighted!), then long live the multimedia portals that anoint the converted into becoming lifelong seekers.

( 09173226131)

*First published in the September 16, 2012 issue of Sun.Star Cebus “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, September 08, 2012

In praise of copycats

VICENTE “Tito” Sotto III is better than any hotshot academic delivering a standing-room-only lecture on intellectual property rights.

Teachers usually expound on theory. The Senate Majority Leader is accused of committing plagiarism, not once or twice but thrice, as of last count.

In early August, after he made his second “turno en contra” speech against the Reproductive Health Bill, Sotto was accused of copying word-for-word portions of an online post written by American blogger, Sarah Pope.

Last Wednesday, in his last “turno en contra” speech, Sotto again faced allegations that he translated into Filipino and copied without credit lines spoken by the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Two days later, ABS.CBN reported online that a U.S. blogger and contributor of “Ms.” magazine, Janice Formichella, accused Sotto of plagiarizing an article she posted on Feb. 5, 2010. In the speech delivered on Aug. 15, 2002, Sotto used a mixture of Filipino and English, with the English lines cribbed word-for-word from the article posted by Formichella.

What sense can be made from all these? So that we don’t add “nation of cheats” to our claims for notoriety, let’s heed the lessons the senator has been demonstrating, with intent or not:

First, hire speech writers that know research and writing. Being a very busy person (or assumed to be one), Sotto relies on others to write his speeches. Aside from knowing grammar and content, writers should apply grade school basics from writing themes: “say it in your own words” or if not, precede quotes with “according to”.

Second, write your speech. It’s not a rule to write a long or erudite one. Though if you have nothing to say, keep it short and polite. Or don’t say anything at all. If English is not your thing, say it in your local tongue. Why do we gauge intelligence by a person’s command of English? Shouldn’t sincerity and conviction be more important than form? One speaks from the heart and with full possession of one’s faculties. To speak is not to repeat someone else’s words. That is performing.

Third, prepare before you face an audience. If someone ghost-wrote, read your speech beforehand. People who can’t spare the time to write a speech are most in need of a speech. Not knowing when to end is as much a crime against public patience as not understanding what you’re saying.

Fourth, read carefully. Quoting sources means preserving their essence and keeping the context. Both Pope and Formichella blogged for informed choice; Sotto cribbed their words to fit his anti-RH arguments. According to a ABS-CBN report, it was the awkward translation, “maliliit nga galaw,” of Kennedy’s lines from his “Day of Affirmation” speech for post-colonial South Africa (“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…”) that alerted social media user Michel Eldiy to Google the phrase and discover the plagiarism.

Fifth, read. Sotto said he did not know Kennedy wrote the passage that a friend texted him. Liking the lines, he asked his staff to translate and include these in his last speech. If the senator can persevere in reading kilometric lines of SMS, he should try e-books or the printed ones. Beautiful writing awes one to give credit where it is due.

Sixth, apologize. What infuriates us about Sotto is not that he stings back his accusers, whines about being cyberbullied, or dismisses his critics as “komiko”. It is that he refuses to admit his mistake. If he had said, “I am sorry,” the first time and if there had been no other accusation, we could have focused on the RH Bill. Had a life outside of Google. Smelled the flowers.

Seven, learn. To make this issue truly matter, we should make our votes reflect the lessons. Short memories aside, we have no one to blame if we put another Tito Sotto in any position of responsibility, even or especially in the barangay.

( 0917-3226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebus September 9, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The original sin

DOES plagiarism offend?

In schools, where higher learning is supposed to be more than a diploma, to plagiarize is to commit, as one pundit says, the sin against originality. Two professors used up a combined six hours in two separate sessions to impress on our graduate class how grievously we would sin, as well as the deep hole we would be digging ourselves in, if we got caught passing papers that copied without citing authors: failure for the paper and a formal complaint filed with the college. Plagiarists get a minimum penalty of one year of suspension.

Yet, plagiarism is not just a spat over papers in academia, a small pond bursting with publication time bombs and prickly egos. Journalist Fareed Zakaria discovered this in the fallout following the discovery that he cribbed a paragraph from an April 2012 New Yorker article written by Jill Lepore that he included, unattributed, in his Aug. 20, 2012 column on gun control in TIME Magazine.

Zakaria apologized “unreservedly” to Lepore. TIME and CNN still suspended him. While his employers later absolved and reinstated him after a probe, the scandal has been brutal for a man called by Esquire Magazine as “the most influential foreign policy adviser of his generation”.

Compare the price Zakaria continues to pay for using a paragraph without attribution with the travails of Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III. Sotto moaned to reporters that he is the first senator being cyber-bullied on social network sites for the plagiarism he is accused of committing against American blogger Sarah Pope in his “turno en contra” speech against the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.

Senator Pia Cayetano is also accused of using unattributed portions of reports in her pro-RH Bill speeches. The plagiarism charges plaguing the Senate may have prompted Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to propose a law on plagiarism. Let’s ask the bloggers for help, he commented.

It seems strange to consult the blogosphere about authenticity. A lot of piracy gets carried out online. Many teachers, librarians and researchers blame computers and the Internet for making plagiarism viral through online searches and “copy and paste”.

Yet, the online world also eases the tracking of plagiarism. There are software editors and teachers can download for free to screen submissions. The University of the Philippines Virtual Learning Environment (Uvle) subjects all uploaded files to a plagiarism detection service.

The Internet also promotes transparency by embedding in articles hypertext, the blue-colored word or phrase one clicks to reach the origin of information. Getting hold of the original article is better than reading someone’s interpretation of it, goes the research drill. Yet, in Sotto’s speech, his writers did not just cut out the blogger from whose post they first read about the researcher they chose to cite, they also copied the blogger’s synthesis of the research, almost word-for-word, according to texts uploaded by Rappler.

At all costs, one should avoid doing like Sotto to avoid ending in a Sotto-sized hole. The senator snarled back at critics rather than probe first his speech writers. He denied the plagiarism, and after his own staff admitted to the cribbing, bashed the blogger he plagiarized. More inexcusable than being a cheat and a boor is being lazy: too lazy to think, too lazy to say it in his own words.

Or is it the opposite? Zakaria admitted to the New York Times that overwork may have led him to plagiarize, signaling a much needed time-out for “stripping down”. The man is host of CNN’s flagship program on foreign affairs, Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a columnist of the Washington Post, an author read by powerbrokers, and a speaker commanding $75,000-per-hour.

Should we be more forgiving of an excess of zeal that ends in “accidental” plagiarism? Fielding accusations that he cribbed again in one of his recent books, Zakaria also makes people curious about the similarities between his Harvard Commencement Address last June and a speech he made in Duke University two weeks earlier. Copying oneself without credits is self-plagiarism.

Not being able to know if one is being true to oneself or not is also called something else. Offenders get more than one-year suspension.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebus Sept. 2, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column