Is Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III being crucified for lifting statements based on fact? Would his critics rather that he used falsehoods to defend his stand against the reproductive health (RH) bill?
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile posed these questions as he defended a beleaguered lieutenant fighting against the proposed measure that has again divided this majority-Catholic country.
Sotto was called a “lying thief” by US-based blogger Sarah Pope for allegedly not being forthright in lifting portions from her blog quoting author Naomi Campbell McBride and using these to argue against the use of contraceptives.
Enrile and Sotto are the staunchest opponents of the RH bill in the Senate.
Sotto used McBride’s findings in a second speech against the RH bill on Wednesday to support his point about the dangers of contraceptives.
In another speech two days earlier, the senator said he and wife Helen had a son who died shortly after birth in 1974. Vincent Paul was conceived while Helen took contraceptives.
Local bloggers accused Sotto of plagiarism the day after the second speech was delivered. He denied lifting from Pope’s blog. He also pointed out that he and Pope were both quoting author McBride’s findings against the pill.
Sotto’s chief of staff, Hector Villacorta, explained later that Philippine law still regarded the Internet as public domain and that no legal liabilities should be raised when information was taken from this source.
“Let’s not crucify Tito for telling the truth about what happened to his family. If the data he read were true, why can’t he use it to bolster his argument,” Enrile asked.
The Senate President said it was foremost that Sotto present data that were correct. “If Tito used (McBride’s findings) to explain why he is against the RH bill, it is because he wanted to warn the rest of us about the tragedy that happened to his family. Should we not respect that?”
Enrile also took former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral to task for demanding that Sotto present Vincent Paul’s death certificate. He said this was a “peripheral issue” that should not merit attention.
“If Tito found merit in (McBride’s) findings and repeated them in a speech, the issue is whether the data are wrong and false. If the data (about the dangers of contraceptives) are correct, why can he not use them in his speech? He did not deny that the speech was a product of research. Meaning, there was attribution,” Enrile explained.
“Is there an idea in this world that was not copied from others? Even the word democracy is not indigenous to us. The concept was merely copied from others. We recognize it is an idea from the West. Once you release an idea to the public, unless you copyright it, it can be used,” he said.
Issue is truth
Enrile insisted the issue was whether Sotto’s data presented during the speech were true.
“He did it as a warning to others about the tragedy that occurred in his family. If I went to war, would I not warn others about its dangers as well?” he said.
The Senate has closed its period of interpellation or debate on the RH bill. Despite this, Sotto insisted on delivering his turno en contra—a series of speeches against the bill.
Enrile warned RH proponents this early of his plans for a face-off on the provision labeling contraceptives and other artificial methods of birth control like condoms and IUD as “essential medicines.”
“What disease does an IUD or a condom cure or prevent? I challenge the proponents to explain that to the public. Is not the purpose of these methods to reduce the population of the country,” Enrile asked. “In the case of a contraceptive pill, is pregnancy a disease that needs to be cured? Why do we need to prevent it?”