Shattering the silence: An open letter to the Philippine writing community

Alfred "Krip" A. Yuson || Photo via Eileen Tabios
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From the moment that sports blogger Jaemark Tordecilla brought to the light of public attention the fact that Alfred “Krip” A. Yuson had plagiarized an article by GMA News Online sportswriter Rey Joble, entire portions of which appeared in a piece under Yuson’s name in the April 2011 issue of Rogue magazine, we, members of the Philippine reading public, have followed the issue avidly and with great concern as to its resolution.

Our interest is rooted primarily in the fact of Yuson’s prominent position in the cultural matrix. As Tordecilla pointed out in his exposé, Yuson is a Hall of Fame awardee of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, arguably the most prestigious literary distinction in the country. In addition, he has authored and/or edited several publications in different genres, has won recognition for his work at home and abroad, evaluates the output of other writers for the purpose of competitions and workshops—not least among them the annual Silliman University National Writers Workshop, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year—teaches with the Department of English at Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), and helped found organizations like the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC) and the Manila Critics Circle (MCC). Finally, many of the texts that he has produced have found their way into the classroom as standard readings, which likely secures a place for him in the canon of Philippine literature.

It need hardly be said that Yuson’s stature as a writer, teacher, and gatekeeper affords him not only great power, but also a commensurate degree of responsibility. We believe that he has shown himself undeserving of the one and unequal to the other by virtue of how Yuson has thus far dealt with the matter in Tordecilla’s blog and in his own weekly The Philippine Star column. In these responses, rather than simply acknowledging the offense and apologizing for it, he offers up excuses—his advanced age, deadline pressure, and exhaustion, among others—deployed in rhetoric that belies his claims to contrition.

Moreover, Yuson seeks to confuse the issue by invoking the fraught relations between author and editor, in spite of the fact that his engagement with these relations, as well as with the concept of plagiarism, lacks the self-reflexivity, rigor, and intelligence required in order for it be tenable or acceptable. That he would resort to such subterfuge and at the same time admit that he had deliberately omitted any indicators that he had lifted material from Joble, like reportorial credits and purportedly “clunky” quotation marks, is breath-taking in its audacity and impunity. Surely integrity ought not to be incinerated upon the altar of aesthetics.

It is in this regard that we commend GMA News Online for its decision not to renew Yuson’s contract as editor at large. It is in the same regard that we profess ourselves disturbed and outraged by the deafening silence with which the writing establishment has met this controversy. The plagiarism of Yuson does not involve him alone: to the extent that he is representative of—because deeply imbricated in—the larger world of Philippine letters, his act also necessarily implicates the figures and structures that make up that world. The prevalent reluctance, nay, refusal among Yuson’s peers to openly condemn him would seem to indicate cowardice at best, and complicity at worst. Neither speaks well of our writers, journalists, scholars, and institutions—and may even be symptomatic of a more deeply entrenched cancer of corruption in our cultural sector.

What is certain is this: allowing the scandal to fester in a season of indifference would be tantamount to a virtual relinquishment of any moral authority and credibility that the Philippine writing community may have.

In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned:

Condemn the act of plagiarism that Yuson committed. We reiterate what is generally accepted knowledge in journalism and the academe: plagiarism consists of misrepresenting the work of others as one’s own, and is considered a heinous violation of ethical standards. Furthermore, when one lifts information or material from a source without the appropriate quotation marks, formatting, and documentation, one has already committed plagiarism, and no amount of laziness, carelessness, or forgetfulness can be admitted as an exculpatory factor. We also denounce Yuson’s attempts to evade accountability for his actions by forwarding arguments that, as the Center of Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) has pointed out, tend toward the legitimization of plagiarism. Finally, we decry Yuson’s callous and cavalier treatment of Rey Joble and the effort that he put into his work as a sportswriter.

Challenge the members of the Philippine writing community to make an unequivocal stand against Yuson’s plagiarism. At the very least, we expect Rogue magazine and The Philippine Star to emulate GMA News Online in its commitment to integrity. Associate Justice Maria Lourdes P. Sereno, in her dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court decision to exonerate her colleague Mariano del Castillo from charges of plagiarism, argues that when entities involved in the intellectual life of a culture uphold guidelines against plagiarism, these bodies “are not making themselves out to be error-free, but rather, they are exerting themselves to improve the level of honesty in the original works generated in their institution”. It is true that valuable questions have been raised about the very notion of originality from various fields of inquiry, but we contend that the specificity of the situation at hand calls for no such questions, and would invest it with more profundity than it deserves.

Enjoin the institutions of Philippine letters to cooperate in order to educate their constituents and the wider public about plagiarism. Contrary to Yuson, plagiarism is not a “blooming buzzword” but a chronic problem, which many a teacher will no doubt confirm. Recognizing and avoiding plagiarism is a matter of acquiring particular skills, which, as this incident would seem to illustrate, are not taught as well or as widely as they ought to be. The need for these skills will become especially urgent as our society becomes increasingly knowledge-based. We presume to suggest that Ateneo de Manila University, unfortunately entangled as it has become in various plagiarism disputes, take the initiative in bringing students, teachers, writers, readers, and institutions together to work through this admittedly complex matter. Regardless of who takes the lead, however, Yuson’s offense constitutes a teachable moment for us all, and should not be allowed to pass from our cultural memory unremarked and ignored for the sake of a spurious harmony.

(SGD.) Karen Connie Abalos (SGD.) Mark Angeles (SGD.) Genevieve Aquino
Planet Philippines; Illustrado Magazine; University of the Philippines Manila Kilometer64 Poetry Collective University of the Philippines Los Baños
(SGD.) Reginald S. Arceo (SGD.) Philip Jorge P. Bacani (SGD.) Noel Sales Barcelona
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila Lawyer Editor-in-Chief, INANG BAYAN
(SGD.) Johnalene Baylon (SGD.) Brian Brotarlo (SGD.) Manuel Buencamino
Writer Writer Opinion columnist, Business Mirror
(SGD.) Karl Bustamante (SGD.) Asia Flores Chan (SGD.) Liberty Chee
Editor, Marshall Cavendish International Singapore Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Graduate Student, National University of Singapore
(SGD.) Charles Edric Co (SGD.) Adam David (SGD.) Cocoy Dayao
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila Writer Editor-in-Chief, The Pro Pinoy Project
(SGD.) Christa I. De La Cruz (SGD.) Erica Clariz C. De Los Reyes (SGD.) Karlitos Brian Decena
Graduate student, University of the Philippines Diliman Alumna member, Heights; Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop Journalism student, University of the Philippines Diliman; Contributor, Firequinito.com
(SGD.) Johann Espiritu (SGD.) Elise Estrella (SGD.) Anna Razel Estrella
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila Private citizen Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila
(SGD.) Jesser Eullo (SGD.) Katrina Fernando (SGD.) Karen Mae Frondozo
Faculty member, De La Salle University-Dasmariñas Copy editor Graduate student, University of the Philippines Diliman
(SGD.) Russell Stanley Geronimo (SGD.) Lolito Go (SGD.) Ronald F. Gue
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila; Fellow, 48th Silliman University National Writers Workshop Kilometer64 Poetry Collective Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila
(SGD.) Marie Rose G. Henson (SGD.) Ken Ishikawa (SGD.) Leonides C. Katigbak II
Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Private citizen Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop
(SGD.) Jabin Landayan (SGD.) Gomi Lao (SGD.) Dean Lozarie
Teacher Creative Director Journalism student, University of the Philippines Diliman
(SGD.) Aleck E. Maramag (SGD.) Alessandra Rose F. Miguel (SGD.) Francis T. J. Ochoa
Alumna, De La Salle University; Fellow, 48th Silliman University National Writers Workshop Alumna member, Thomasian Writers Guild; Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop Assistant Sports Editor, Philippine Daily Inquirer
(SGD.) Jonathan Corpus Ong (SGD.) Wilfredo B. Prilles, Jr. (SGD.) Nikki Erwin C. Ramirez
Alumnus, Ateneo de Manila University; Sociologist, University of Cambridge City Planning and Development Coordinator (CPDC), Naga City Co-founder, NullPointer.ph
(SGD.) Marck Ronald Rimorin (SGD.) Del Camille Robles (SGD.) Orlando Roncesvalles
Writer; Blogger Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Blogger, FOO Law and Economics
(SGD.) Gerry Rubio (SGD.) Joanna Ruiz (SGD.) Faith Salazar
Publication Consultant, The CSC Statesman, Catanduanes State Colleges Editor, Ateneo de Manila University ISBX Philippines
(SGD.) Jaime Oscar M. Salazar (SGD.) Maria Teresa M. Salazar (SGD.) Chris de Pio Sanchez
Graduate student, University of the Philippines Diliman Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Consultant
(SGD.) Vincenz Serrano (SGD.) Nik Skalomenos (SGD.) Angela Stuart-Santiago
Ateneo de Manila University Private Citizen Writer; Blogger
(SGD.) Jamila C. Sule (SGD.) Ergoe Tinio (SGD.) Martin Tinio
Teacher, On-Um.org; De La Salle University-Dasmariñas Marketing Associate, Adarna House Analyst
(SGD.) Jaemark Tordecilla (SGD.) Xenia-Chloe H. Villanueva
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism UP Quill; Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop

April 28, 2011
Philippines

[NOTE: The signatures for this open letter were solicited from 9:00 PM (GMT +8) on April 26 until 5:00 PM (GMT +8) on April 28.]

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