MANILA, Philippines--Manuel V. Pangilinan on Saturday quit as chairman of the board of the Ateneo de Manila University after it was revealed that sections of the speech he made during the school's graduation rites last week were from speeches made by TV personality Oprah Winfrey and author J.K. Rowling in past years.
In a letter to Ateneo president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J.-- the contents of which were posted late Saturday night -- the businessman said he was informed that his graduation remarks delivered last March 26 and 27 had been borrowed from certain other graduation speeches.
``With much regret, Fr. Ben, I would wish to retire from my official duties at the Ateneo,'' said Pangilinan, who was elected to chair Ateneo's board of trustees from 2008 to 2011.
In particular, at least two sections of his remarks were near duplicates of lines from the commencement address of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling at Harvard University in June 2008. The speech, entitled ``The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,?? is copyrighted to Rowling.
In his graduation speech before the Schools of Humanities and Social Sciences, Pangilinan also said: ``But having a lot of money does not totally make you a successful person. What you want is both money and meaning. You want your life and your career to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings real richness to your life, to be surrounded by people you can truly work with-because you trust and treasure them, and they cherish you in return. That?s when you?re really rich, that?s when you really succeed.??
The paragraph closely resembled remarks made by US talk show host Oprah Winfrey in her June 2008 commencement address at Stanford University, where she said: ``But having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person. What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings the real richness to your life. What you really want is to be surrounded by people you trust and treasure and by people who cherish you. That's when you're really rich.??
Even Pangilinan?s opening joke about having lost weight while preparing the speech echoed a similar joke made by Rowling in her Harvard remarks.
In his letter to Fr. Nebres, Pangilinan apologized to the Ateneo president, the university and the 2010 graduating class.
``I have had some help in drafting my remarks, but I take full responsibility for them,?? he said, without specifying the nature of the help he received in writing the speech or the person who drafted it.
``In mitigation perhaps, the body and substance of my speech represented my own story and my thoughts. And I have labored long hours to get those speeches done,?? Pangilinan added.
``It is my hope that their impact has not been lost on the graduates. That said, this post-fact event I am certain has devalued the words I have uttered at graduation - whether original or copied.??
Pangilinan has been deeply involved with the Ateneo since the late 1990s. He was instrumental in raising funds for the university and also spearheaded efforts to revamp its curriculum. He also managed the Ateneo Blue Eagles seniors basketball team, leading it to three championships in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). A few years ago, the businessman also donated funds to construct the multi-story MVP Center for Student Excellence at the Ateneo?s campus in Loyola Heights, Quezon City.
The side-by-side comparisons of Pangilinan?s speech with those of Winfrey and Rowling first circulated over the weekend through a Facebook page called ``Overheard at the Ateneo?? which is an informal online forum to exchange school gossip and discuss issues affecting the university.
In his letter, Pangilinan said that the Facebook comments have begun to spill over to issues beyond graduation and were now ``alluding to my misconduct with respect to Meralco, with former President Erap, and so forth,?? thus requiring him to head off the controversy and ``prevent it from spinning out of control.??
Pangilinan -- who also chairs telecommunications giant PLDT, where Nebres also serves as independent director -- said the incident has been ``a source of deep personal embarrassment?? for him.
``I am truly regretful for it,?? he added.
``I already have too many battles to fight, and some of them I wish not to have to fight. In this instance, I do not want to, and would seek only the honorable--and principled way out. The matter at hand may rest after this public apology, but it gives me a lot of personal discomfort to continue to be closely involved with Ateneo affairs after this incident.??
``I am afraid the damage has been done - wala talaga akong mukhang ihaharap pagkatapos (I can?t face anybody after this),?? he added.
In his reply, Nebres said: ``We respect and appreciate your taking responsibility and your immediate apology.??
``This does not diminish our admiration and respect for your person and for your care and accomplishments for our country and for the Ateneo,?? he added. ``In fact, your acceptance of responsibility and apology command our utmost respect.??
However, the Ateneo president stopped short of accepting Pangilinan?s resignation and said he would like to discuss the matter further with the board of trustees and Pangilinan himself.
Incidentally, Pangilinan was conferred and honorary doctorate degree by the Ateneo during the same graduation ceremonies for his contributions to the school and society as a business leader, sportsman and philanthropist, among others.