Sotto says sorry to Kennedy family

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said sorry yesterday to the Kennedy clan for his use of a portion of a speech of the late US Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the fourth and last part of his speech against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

Sotto admitted copying the text of the Kennedy speech, saying imitation was the highest form of flattery.

“If it upsets the Kennedy family, then I’m sorry. That is not the intention that we had when we used it,” Sotto said.

He made the remark in a privilege speech yesterday hours after a group filed a complaint against him for plagiarism before the Senate ethics committee.

“What seems to be a simple case of probable misinformation has turned out to be misinterpretation and now has become a case of persecution,” Sotto said.

Sotto defended his decision to use a phrase he received via text, which he said he belatedly learned was part of Kennedy’s speech on the Day of Affirmation in 1966 in South Africa.

Sotto had it translated into Filipino, the original of which read: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history this generation.”

Sotto said Christian leader Derek Ross, of True Love Waits, sent him the inspiring text message.

“When he gave me that line, I translated and delivered the message in Filipino. I found it fitting to what I was fighting for. So I didn’t steal it or claim it was mine,” Sotto said.

“In the words, the worst that they could say is that I copied it. I didn’t really know whom it came from but it was a nice inspirational line. They said the lines came from Kennedy’s famous speech,” Sotto said.

The group Filipino Freethinkers led 33 other people in calling on the Senate to sanction Sotto for supposedly “plagiarizing other people’s ideas and works in a series of speeches he delivered on the Senate floor.”

They added the verified complaint brought under Rule 2, Section 5 of the Rules of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, is anchored on “improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate.”

They also took note that Sotto had refused to acknowledge that he copied portions of his speech from authors of blog sites and books without proper attribution.

They were referring to the blog of Sarah Pope; Marlon Ramirez on the opinions of Margaret Sanger on recreational sex and contraception; Peter Engelman; Janice Formichella; the book, Truth of Contraceptives; C-FAM and Kennedy’s 1996 speech.

The group was led by the UP Center for Women’s Studies director Sylvia Estrada-Claudio and Dr. Antonio Contreras who is former dean of the De la Salle University’s College of Liberal Arts.

The complainants cited Section 193 of Republic Act 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines, which specify the “moral rights” of authors.

The complainants insist that the Senate is the right body to determine Sotto’s liability, “precisely because legislators have immunity from suit.”

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said the plagiarism complaint of the daughter of the late US senator against Sotto is a matter between them, as both are entitled to write and answer the letters.

The office of Kerry Kennedy has confirmed that a statement was issued on Sotto’s “unethical, unsanctioned theft of Robert Kennedy’s intellectual property and the intellectual property of all those whose work he has plagiarized.”

Kennedy signed the statement dated Nov. 9.

“That is between the Senator (Sotto) and Ms. Kennedy. She is entitled to write a letter and he is entitled to answer,” Thomas said and declined to give further comment.

Sotto had repeatedly reiterated that he did not plagiarize the Kennedy speech nor the other blogs mentioned in the ethics complaint filed against him.

“I am confident that I did not plagiarize,” Sotto said.

“I welcome the ethics complaint against me so that I can have a chance to explain my side. At the outset, what is apparent to me is that all this brouhaha grew out of my strong consistent stand against the Reproductive Health bill,” he said.

Sotto said he accepts the criticisms and the continued attack against him if these become the consequence of his advocacy. “So be it,” he added. -With Pia Lee-Brago

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