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Former University of Southern Mindanao professor apologizes for plagiarizing her student’s thesis

By Yoniel Acebuche Published May 08, 2024 12:46 am

It's hard to imagine having someone claim your research work as their own—even more so if that someone is your adviser.

That's what happened to an AB English graduate named Jemima Atok, whose adviser Riceli Mendoza—former professor at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM)—issued a public apology on social media for plagiarizing her thesis. It's been making the rounds online since it was posted on the USM Department of English Language and Literature's Facebook page on Monday, May 6.

In the viral letter, she said sorry to Atok for the "emotional pain" she caused her and her family.

"I am very sorry to publish your thesis in my name. I am truly sorry that I failed to recognize you as the author and the owner of the published paper/article. Instead, I claimed it as my own," she wrote. "I honestly acknowledge my fault and rest assured that this may never happen again in the history of academic endeavor. I earnestly implore your forgiveness. Please accept my sincere apology, Jemima and family."

How the incident happened remains unclear, though it's evident in the scanned document that Mendoza is no longer part of the USM faculty.

What is plagiarism?

Citing Black's Law Dictionary, the Supreme Court defines plagiarism as the "deliberate and knowing presentation of another person's original ideas or creative expressions as one's own." 

Among the most common types of plagiarism, according to research platform Research Square, are direct plagiarism with and without citation, self-plagiarism, single and multiple source plagiarism, blended plagiarism, wholesale or partial plagiarism of ideas, unoriginal work as plagiarism, incidental plagiarism, and accidental plagiarism.

Thesis work as intellectual property

Chapter 10, Section 193 of the Republic Act No. 8293, known as the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines, discusses the right "to require the authorship of the works be attributed to him, in particular, the right that his name, as far as practicable, be indicated in a prominent way on the copies, and in connection with the public use of his work."

In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, intellectual property lawyer Daniel Fordan said the law clearly provides that the author's name should be prominently mentioned when his or her work is used publicly.

"Thesis advisers should know that their advisee's works are not theirs. Should they wish to publish it, the most that they can be is a co-author subject to the rules of the institution in which the same would be published. In any case, it cannot be published without the consent of the advisee," Fordan noted.

"Nothing prevents students, of course, from indicating their adviser's name in the publication as an adviser. But if they want to make them co-authors, there may be certain requirements that they would need to comply with. Otherwise, there may be academic dishonesty again for misattribution," he added.

What can you do when someone claims your research work as their own?

When someone steals your research work, Atty. Susan Villanueva, an IP lawyer and professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, advised filing a complaint with the university so that the professor can be sanctioned in accordance with their policy on plagiarism of the university."

Atty. Emerson Cuyo, the IPOPhl's Bureau of Copyright and Related Rights director, said whenever someone exercises any of your economic or moral rights as copyright owner, the law provides remedies for copyright infringement.

"We often advise that they first write a demand letter letting the 'infringer' know of your demands. Should the first demand fail, we suggest another demand this time coming from your legal counsel," he said.

If nothing happens, Villanueva and Cuyo suggested pursuing legal action. "The author can file administrative (with the Bureau of Legal Affairs of the Intellectual Property Office), civil (with prayer for injunction and damages), or criminal cases against the infringer," said Villanueva. "It's up to the copyright owner which remedy she thinks is appropriate."