The Tsunami that hit Malcolm

The normally pleasant and peaceful atmosphere of Malcolm Hall in University of the Philippines in Diliman was recently hit by a legal tsunami.
The early signs of the impending tsunami became apparent when in support of  the Philippine comfort women’s quest for justice, 37 of my colleagues signed a public statement entitled “Restoring Integrity”. Confirming what they deemed were acts of plagiarism committed by Justice Mariano Del Castillo in the case of Vinuya versus Executive Secretary, my colleagues said: “The plagiarism and misrepresentation are not only affronts to the individual scholars whose work have been appropriated without correct attribution, but also a serious threat to the integrity and credibility of the Philippine Judicial System.”

As an academic faculty, they were of course gravely concerned about plagiarism per se: “In common parlance, ‘plagiarism’ is the appropriation and misrepresentation of another person’s work as one’s own. In the field of writing, it is cheating at best, and stealing at worst. It constitutes a taking of someone else’s ideas and expressions, including all the effort and creativity that went into committing such ideas and expressions into writing, and then making it appear that such ideas and expressions were originally created by the taker. It is dishonesty, pure and simple”.

Of course, my colleagues were particularly concerned about plagiarism in the Supreme Court  for what I personally consider as obvious reasons: “A judicial system that allows plagiarism in any form is one that allows dishonesty. Since all judicial decisions form part of the law of the land, to allow plagiarism in the Supreme Court is to allow the production of laws by

dishonest means. Evidently, this is a complete perversion and falsification of the ends of justice”.

The statement continued: “The Court cannot regain its credibility and maintain its moral authority without ensuring that its own conduct, whether collectively or through its Members, is beyond reproach. This necessarily includes ensuring that not only the content, but also the processes of preparing and writing its own decisions, are credible and beyond question. The Vinuya Decision must be conscientiously reviewed and not casually cast aside, if not for the purpose of sanction, then at least for the purpose of reflection and guidance. It is an absolutely essential step toward the establishment of a higher standard of professional care and practical scholarship in the Bench and Bar, which are critical to improving the system of administration of justice in the Philippines. It is also a very crucial step in ensuring the position of the Supreme Court as the Final Arbiter of all controversies: a position that requires competence and integrity completely above any and all reproach, in accordance with the exacting demands of judicial and professional ethics.”

They ended their statement with the following “prayer”: “1) The plagiarism committed in the case of Vinuya v. Executive Secretary is unacceptable, unethical and in breach of the high standards of moral conduct and judicial and professional competence expected of the Supreme Court;

(2) Such a fundamental breach endangers the integrity and credibility of the entire Supreme Court and undermines the foundations of the Philippine judicial system by allowing implicitly the decision of cases and the establishment of legal precedents through dubious means;

(3) The same breach and consequent disposition of the Vinuya case does violence to the primordial function of the Supreme Court as the ultimate dispenser of justice to all those who have been left without legal or equitable recourse, such as the petitioners therein;

(4) In light of the extremely serious and far-reaching nature of the dishonesty and to save the honor and dignity of the Supreme Court as an institution, it is necessary for the ponente of Vinuya v. Executive Secretary to resign his position, without prejudice to any other sanctions that the Court may consider appropriate;

(5) The Supreme Court must take this opportunity to review the manner by which it conducts research, prepares drafts, reaches and finalizes decisions in order to prevent a recurrence of similar acts, and to provide clear and concise guidance to the Bench and Bar to ensure only the highest quality of legal research and writing in pleadings, practice, and adjudication”.

The tsunami was in the form of a decision cum show-cause order. As professor Ibarra Gutierrez said: “It was the longest show cause order” he had seen. Indeed, since the document was seven pages long. The Order purportedly asked my colleagues to SHOW CAUSE why they should not be disciplined for violating the Code of Professional Responsibility.  It was the opinion of the Court that for concluding that there was plagiarism even before the court-created ethics committee could begin its task of determining the existence of such, it was unethical for the UP law professors to have concluded that there truly was.

Two female Justices dissented from the Show Cause order. For Justice Conchita Morales, the order was in reality an indictment without due process: “ the Court appears to be lending only a semblance of due process x x x. The Resolution is replete with conclusions that already adjudged them guilty of violating the canons of ethics. Aside from concluding that the publication  x x x was “totally unnecessary, uncalled for and rash x x x the Resolution classifies it as an “institutional attack”. Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for her part  said that “Ordering the respondent members of the UP Law Faculty to “show cause” in this indirect contempt case is like ordering the little boy who exclaimed that the emperor has no clothes to explain why he should” not be crucified for his public observation x x x it is not the place of the court to seek revenge against those who, in their wish to see reform in the judiciary, have the courage to say what is wrong with it”.

Overnight, many of my colleagues, many of whom used to enjoy utmost privacy in the confines of Diliman, have become celebrities, if not heroes. Thus far, they have gotten tremendous support from the Philippine media and from angry citizens deploring “judicial tyranny”. Many of those expressing support to the College did so on  the Internet. More importantly, at least three of the four foreign authors, whose works the College concluded were plagiarized, have also expressed their support for the beleaguered faculty. The latest is Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association. In a letter to the Supreme Court, Mr. Ellis said that the show cause order is an affront on the human rights of the faculty.

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