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Photo thief wants to keep cash prize

A photo that won the top prize for Mark Joseph Solis in the ‘Say Peace 2011’ contest  sponsored by OPAPP reportedly belongs to Alexandre Sattler, who took the shot in Nepal on Nov. 8, 2006.

MANILA, Philippines - After citing youthful lapse of judgment, the lure of travel abroad, and the prize money, Mark Joseph Solis now says that poverty drove him to lift someone else’s photo and submit it as his own to a contest sponsored by the Chilean embassy in Manila.

He has not returned the prize money of $1,000, and issued an appeal that he be allowed to keep it.

In an interview with GMA News TV, Solis explained that he only wanted help ease his family’s financial problems.

“Hirap din sa buhay, minsan gusto mo rin ng bagong gamit kahit papano, minsan kapos sa tuition, in fact ngayon hindi pa ako nakakabayad ng tuition ko sa UP (Life is hard, sometimes you want new things, sometimes you lack tuition money, in fact I haven’t paid my UP tuition yet).”

Solis, along with his mother Amelia, showed the news crew their modest rented home, which they are also renting out to other people to augment their income.

However, netizen Maricris Valte, who used to work with Solis, urged the fact-finding committee of the University of the Philippines (UP) to conduct a lifestyle check.

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“Watching Mark Solis’ interview on GMA News TV, where he claims that money problems forced him to resort to misrepresenting himself. I want to puke! I’ve seen his house in Las Piñas and the venue of the GMA-7 interview doesn’t look anything close to his house. He has more expensive gadgets than I have! I challenge the fact-finding committee of UP to investigate his and his family’s lifestyle,” Valte posted on her Facebook account.

When asked to elaborate, Valte told The STAR that Solis used to work in a project that she was managing and that they rode in the same service car that ferried him from his home in Las Piñas to their seminar venue in Tagaytay.

Valte also disputes Solis’ claims that he led the research arm of the Philippine Society of Public Administration (PSPA). “He was contracted for my project Dec. 1, 2012 and unless this is where he spent those times that he was absent from work, there is no way that he could have been ‘leading’ the research arm of PSPA. I recommended the pre-termination of his contract effective March 8, 2013.”

Another case of misrepresentation, Valte pointed out, is the political science thesis of Solis titled “Accountability Deficit and Electoral Violence: The Case of Civilian Volunteer Organizations in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao,” which received a mark of 1.25, reportedly the highest in his class.

“As Dr. Maria Ela Atienza of Pol Sci dept said, there is no undergraduate thesis in Pol Sci, unless you belong to a 5-year BA-MA Honors program (and Mark did not belong to this program). In such case, you get a grade of P or F for your thesis, with no numerical equivalent,” Valte said.

Meanwhile, University of the Philippines president Alfredo Pascual yesterday said he shares the outrage felt by everyone over the issue involving graduate student Solis, who won in a photo essay competition by submitting a photo lifted from the Internet.

“I would like to assure the public that the UP administration is treating this matter very seriously. I share the outrage felt by everyone,” said Pascual in a statement.

“Upon my instructions, the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) has formed a fact-finding committee to establish the circumstances and chronology of events as well as the digital footprints related to this issue and to recommend measures to be undertaken to ensure that justice is served,” he said.

UP NCPAG dean Maria Fe Mendoza said the fact-finding committee is composed of a senior faculty, a junior faculty, and a student representative.

Solis, a graduate of political science in UP, is currently enrolled in his first semester at the UP NCPAG for his masters degree.

“We share the indignation of many people who find the action of Mr. Solis profoundly deplorable. Let us allow due process to take its complete course,” UP-NCPAG said in a statement.

Earlier, UP vice president for public affairs J. Prospero de Vera said the three-person fact-finding committee was given until Oct. 4 to submit its recommendations.

“The fact-finding committee, after the appraisal of the facts, will say whether (or not) they think there are violations of university rules and regulations,” said De Vera.

As regards requests posted on the Internet asking the university to withdraw the political science degree granted to Solis, De Vera said UP could not just decide on the matter without giving him due process.

“There is a process involved as far as taking back degrees because that is given by the Board of Regents,” said the vice president.

“The board will have to act on it based on a complaint, based on an investigation, and based on the use of due process through the student disciplinary tribunal,” he said.

UP Diliman chancellor Caesar Saloma had said the university is currently in the process of revising its student rules and regulations.

Saloma said the 2012 Code of Student Conduct – a draft of which was released on the UP website – is still under consultation and has yet to take effect.

The present one in effect is the 1998 rules and regulations on student conduct and discipline.

Section 1 of the 1998 rule states that “students shall at all times observe the laws of the land and the rules and regulations of the university.”

The Cultural Center of the Philippines, partner of the Chilean embassy in the Calidad Humana project, yesterday issued a statement deploring Solis’ act of plagiarism.

“His action becomes even more shameless when he personally received his prizes from Ambassador Roberto Mayorga during the celebration of the National Day of Chile,” CCP said. “We understand that Mr. Solis will be living in the shadow of his shame.”

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPPAP) likewise said that their own investigation is underway and that if Solis is proven guilty the reward will be recalled “without prejudice to the filing of civil and criminal cases if warranted by circumstances.”  – Janvic Mateo, Jose Rodel Clapano, Verns Joven

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