All this talk of plagiarism is, I’m pretty sure, making the tiresome task of checking papers all the more exasperating for the sad bunch also known as the UP English Department—we who must welcome students in all their untutored glory into our classrooms and fulfill the thankless job of teaching them the basics of academic writing. Fresh out of high school, where the matter of plagiarism, more often than not, remains unacknowledged, the instances of its occurrence unchecked (it was common and acceptable practice in my own high school for us to lift passages wholesale from our science textbook and slap them right into our lab reports), students are understandably clueless when they first step into the basic academic writing classroom, and it is our task to show them how to read, research, and write responsibly and rigorously, or in other words, teach them to think, and not just in isolation but in relation to/in conversation with the thoughts of others, and not just to concoct ideas in the chaotic chambers of their minds, but to transport these ideas to the (hopefully) coherent and communicable format of words on paper. This task, by the way, has become all the more challenging since the implementation of RGEP, which makes the academic writing course an option, not a requirement, but that’s another long story.
And so it really doesn’t help that as we’re plodding through papers and crawling our way to the deadline for grade submission, as exams are marked and failing grades meted out to those who still don’t get it, those who still can’t/won’t think for themselves and—out of intractable ignorance, severe laziness, chronic forgetfulness, mind-numbing panic, or unforeseen personal melodramas (all explanations being synonymous with lame excuses at this point)—plagiarize, we get a Supreme Court that denies any fault of plagiarism on the part of one of its justices because of the lack of malicious intent. This, despite the number 23—apparently the number of instances plagiarism occurred in the said Supreme Court decision. And then, another number: 37, or the number of UP Law professors slapped with a show cause order by the Supreme Court for publicly condemning Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo’s act of plagiarism. Exonerate the justice, penalize the teacher. Once again, this proves how anti-education this country is: if we’re not preventing access to information (case in point, the RH Bill), we’re dispensing the wrong ideas (case in point, this issue). We’re also distracting ourselves from the urgent matter of reparation for the 70 comfort women, their case overshadowed by the hysteria over a badly penned decision.
I am actually one to bristle at the instant equating of plagiarism with crime, and this because postmodern literature, even in small doses, is enough to disabuse one of the notion that quotation without quotation marks is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing. Jonathan Lethem has a very enlightening and entertaining essay on plagiarism as an artistic act (look out for the reveal in the end), and Travis Macdonald has an equally meaty piece on erasure poetics. The tradition of theft is a longstanding one in art, and it is called many names—allusion, collage, graffiti, detournement, procedural, erasure, and so on. Appropriation and optional attribution, in such cases, create possibilities for new forms and thoughts, directly engaging the endless regurgitations made easy by technology as well as inevitable remoteness and evolving permutations of originality. There’s exciting work to be had there, which one would fail to encounter if one dismisses them immediately as plagiarism, period.
But Del Castillo’s decision is plagiarism at its most boring—irresponsible, careless, and just plain wrong. That he didn’t mean to do it is certainly no excuse, and that the Court wants to reroute the punishment to be farthest away from him as possible—directing it instead at the professors who called him on his crime—is even more inexcusable.