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NCLA revises winners list of Gawad Bienvenido Lumbera literary contest after plagiarism issue

By NICK GARCIA Published Oct 25, 2022 5:20 pm

The National Commitee on Literary Arts (NCLA) has released an updated list of winners of the Gawad Bienvenido Lumbera literary contest after three initial winners were found to have stolen other people's works.

In a statement Oct. 24, NCLA said it took down its initial announcement of winners of the writing competition honoring the late National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, posted on Oct. 11, upon learning that three contestants submitted plagiarized entries.

An ad hoc committee concluded its investigation on Oct. 21 and "determined with finality" the list of winners, the NCLA added.

"Thank you for your understanding, and we apologize for the inconvenience caused by this unexpected problem," the NCLA said on Oct. 24. It posted the final list of winners in the same day, at 7 PM.

Local authors took to social media to express their disappointment.

Joel Pablo Salud, PhilSTAR L!fe columnist whose books include nonfiction titles In the Line of Fire: Lectures and I, Journalist, and Other Newsroom Introspections, said the incident was "really sad."

In another public Facebook post, Salud said plagiarism is a sign of an "even deeper malady," i.e., the "craving to be famous."

"Writing is not about discovering fame," he said. "Writing is about discovering yourself. Within that cumbersome isolation of writing, what do you see?"

In a public Facebook post, Abdon Balde Jr., author of Sibago and Awit ni Kadunung, called on the NCLA to expose the names of the three plagiarists.

"Karapatan naming mamamayan na malaman kung mayroon at ano ang katiwaliang nangyayari sa sangay ng gobyernong gumagamit ng pera ng bayan," Balde said.

"Huwag tayong mang-angkin ng gawa ng iba," said Bebang Siy, who wrote the creative nonfiction books It's A Mens World and It's Raining Mens.

No imprisonment for mere plagiarism

But Siy, a copyright advocate, told PhilSTAR L!fe that culprits won't get imprisoned for mere plagiarizing of works. She cited the two types of rights over an original work, as mentioned in Republic Act No. 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code.

Economic rights deal with the work's distribution methods and how its owner can earn from it.

Moral rights, meanwhile, deal with one's ownership of the work and how their name is attributed to it.

A person commits copyright infringement the moment they pass off another person's work as their own. They violate the original owner's economic and/or moral rights to distribute their very own work and attribute it to their own name.

In the case of literary works, Section 173 states that translations, adaptations, and alterations of any kind without permission are also protected by copyright.

Criminal penalties for those who commit copyright infringement only happen when they use plagiarized works for commercial purposes. Section 170 indicates a two- to five-year imprisonment and a P50,000- to P200,000- fine.

Everything also boils down to aggrieved parties filing a complaint against the plagiarists and seeking damages, Siy noted.

While aggrieved parties may press charges, it will cost them a lot in terms of lawyer fees—and time.

At best, Siy said they may write a formal letter to the plagiarists' school or employer warning about the incident and how the issue would supposedly affect their institution—pressuring them to take action.

Should authorities act on the matter, possible punishment against students may include failing grades or expulsion. Employees may be dismissed from service, she added.

Organizers may also perpetually ban the erring contestants from future literary contests, Siy said.

Otherwise, the very punishment that plagiarists would incur is their reputation going down the drain as the word of mouth gets out. Their accounts would simply serve as cautionary tales to the community they belong to.

Siy noted past plagiarism cases that didn't really become criminal offenses:

  • 2020 Aspiring musician CJ Villavicencio, who won an online talent show using an Eraserheads medley that's unmistakably similar to the arrangement from the musical Ang Huling El Bimbo;
  • 2013 – University of the Philippines alumnus Mark Joseph Solis, who won a Chile-sponsored photography contest by using a photo from Brazil photographer Gregory John Smith; and
  • 2012 – Former senate president Tito Sotto, whose speech on reproductive health lifted portions of United States senator Robert F. Kennedy's speech in 1966, translating them to Filipino.

"Iyon ang problema sa atin, we don't take it (plagiarism) seriously," she said. "Dapat talaga merong mas matinding parusa."

So how would plagiarists from a literary contest like Gawad Bienvenido Lumbera be penalized under the rule of law?

Since the contest required participants to sign notarized declarations stating that their works were original, their acts of plagiarism constitute perjury—which is punishable under the Revised Penal Code.

Article 183 states that those who lie under oath shall be imprisoned to a minimum of four months and a maximum of two years.

Gawad Bienvenido Lumbera aims to recognize the best poems, short stories, and essays written in Filipino, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Kapampangan, and Bikol.

Winners will receive cash prizes of P15,000 for first place, P12,000 for second, and P10,000 for third.

The online GBL awarding ceremonies will be held on Nov. 16.