MANILA, Philippines?Tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan has offered to retire from his official duties as chair of Ateneo de Manila University?s board of trustees in connection with a plagiarism controversy triggered by graduation speeches he had delivered.
But Ateneo president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., stopped short of accepting the retirement offer and said he would like to discuss the matter further with the board of trustees and Pangilinan himself. Pangilinan was elected to chair the board from 2008 to 2011.
In a letter to Nebres, the contents of which were posted online late Saturday night, Pangilinan admitted that portions of the speeches that he delivered at Ateneo on March 26 and 27 ?had been borrowed from certain other graduation speeches.?
He apologized for the plagiarism, said it had been a source of ?deep personal embarrassment,? and added that he was left with little choice but to ask to be relieved of his official duties at the university.
During the March 27 graduation ceremonies of Ateneo?s Schools of Humanities and of Social Sciences, Pangilinan received an honorary doctorate for his contributions to the university and Philippine society as a business leader, sportsman and philanthropist.
But portions of the March 27 speech were found to have been lifted from the speeches of US President Barack Obama and such personalities as ?Harry Potter? author J.K. Rowling and TV talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Conan O?Brien.
The March 26 speech, delivered before Ateneo?s Schools of Management and of Science and Engineering, carried these lines from a speech by O?Brien: ?Forty-four years ago, I sat where you now sit. I also thought what you now think: What is going to happen to me? Where can I find a job? Am I really graduating a virgin??
2 new writers
Pangilinan?who also chairs telecommunications giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), where Nebres serves as independent director?is known in media circles to use the services of at least two staff members as his speech writers.
But public relations men who claimed to represent the tycoon in this crisis said Sunday morning that the draft for the March 27 speech was prepared by ?two new speech writers.? No names were given.
A PR practitioner who works for Pangilinan on certain projects said the two new writers were ?Ateneo students? who ?wanted to impress? the tycoon.
?They wanted to come out but Pangilinan insisted that he will take responsibility,? the PR practitioner said on condition of anonymity.
A portion of Pangilinan?s letter to Nebres reads: ?I have had some help in drafting my remarks, but I take full responsibility for them.?
Pangilinan has been involved with Ateneo since the late 1990s. He has actively raised funds for the university and also spearheaded efforts to revamp its curriculum.
He managed the Ateneo Blue Eagles seniors basketball team, leading it to three University Athletic Association of the Philippines championships.
He also donated funds for the construction of the multistory MVP Center for Student Excellence on the Ateneo campus in Quezon City.
In another graduation speech at the Ateneo in 1996, Pangilinan proudly said he had written it in a London hotel room in between business meetings.
A portion of the March 27 speech received rave reviews online immediately after the graduation ceremonies: ?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.?
But it was found to be a near-duplicate of lines from Winfrey?s commencement address at Stanford University in June 2008: ?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.?
At least three other portions of the March 27 speech were lifted from the commencement address delivered by Rowling at Harvard University in June 2008.
That address, titled ?The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,? is copyrighted to Rowling.
Even Pangilinan?s opening joke about having lost weight while preparing the speech echoed a similar joke made by Rowling in the same address.
Side-by-side comparisons of Pangilinan?s speech and those of Winfrey and Rowling first circulated last weekend through a Facebook page called ?Overheard at the Ateneo,? an informal online forum covering not only school gossip and anecdotes but also serious issues involving the university.
In his letter to Nebres, Pangilinan said the Facebook comments had begun to spill over to other issues, requiring him to head off the controversy and ?prevent it from spinning out of control.?
By Sunday morning, the Facebook page had been taken down. But certain blogs carried additional information about portions of the March 27 speech that were lifted from Obama?s commencement address at Arizona State University in 2009 and a speech by O?Brien at Harvard University in 2000.
Pangilinan expressed ?much regret? in his letter to Nebres. ?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,? he said.
In his reply, Nebres said: ?We respect and appreciate your taking responsibility and your immediate apology.?
But Nebres said the controversy ?does not diminish our admiration and respect for your person and for your care and accomplishments for our country and for the Ateneo.?