Shattering the silence: An open letter to the Philippine writing community

From the moment that sports blogger Jaemark Tordecilla brought to the light of public attention the fact that Alfred “Krip” A. Yuson had plagiarized an article by GMA News Online sportswriter Rey Joble, entire portions of which appeared in a piece under Yuson’s name in the April 2011 issue of Rogue magazine, we, members of the Philippine reading public, have followed the issue avidly and with great concern as to its resolution.

Our interest is rooted primarily in the fact of Yuson’s prominent position in the cultural matrix. As Tordecilla pointed out in his exposé, Yuson is a Hall of Fame awardee of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, arguably the most prestigious literary distinction in the country. In addition, he has authored and/or edited several publications in different genres, has won recognition for his work at home and abroad, evaluates the output of other writers for the purpose of competitions and workshops—not least among them the annual Silliman University National Writers Workshop, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year—teaches with the Department of English at Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), and helped found organizations like the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC) and the Manila Critics Circle (MCC). Finally, many of the texts that he has produced have found their way into the classroom as standard readings, which likely secures a place for him in the canon of Philippine literature.

It need hardly be said that Yuson’s stature as a writer, teacher, and gatekeeper affords him not only great power, but also a commensurate degree of responsibility. We believe that he has shown himself undeserving of the one and unequal to the other by virtue of how Yuson has thus far dealt with the matter in Tordecilla’s blog and in his own weekly The Philippine Star column. In these responses, rather than simply acknowledging the offense and apologizing for it, he offers up excuses—his advanced age, deadline pressure, and exhaustion, among others—deployed in rhetoric that belies his claims to contrition.

Moreover, Yuson seeks to confuse the issue by invoking the fraught relations between author and editor, in spite of the fact that his engagement with these relations, as well as with the concept of plagiarism, lacks the self-reflexivity, rigor, and intelligence required in order for it be tenable or acceptable. That he would resort to such subterfuge and at the same time admit that he had deliberately omitted any indicators that he had lifted material from Joble, like reportorial credits and purportedly “clunky” quotation marks, is breath-taking in its audacity and impunity. Surely integrity ought not to be incinerated upon the altar of aesthetics.

It is in this regard that we commend GMA News Online for its decision not to renew Yuson’s contract as editor at large. It is in the same regard that we profess ourselves disturbed and outraged by the deafening silence with which the writing establishment has met this controversy. The plagiarism of Yuson does not involve him alone: to the extent that he is representative of—because deeply imbricated in—the larger world of Philippine letters, his act also necessarily implicates the figures and structures that make up that world. The prevalent reluctance, nay, refusal among Yuson’s peers to openly condemn him would seem to indicate cowardice at best, and complicity at worst. Neither speaks well of our writers, journalists, scholars, and institutions—and may even be symptomatic of a more deeply entrenched cancer of corruption in our cultural sector.

What is certain is this: allowing the scandal to fester in a season of indifference would be tantamount to a virtual relinquishment of any moral authority and credibility that the Philippine writing community may have.

In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned:

Condemn the act of plagiarism that Yuson committed. We reiterate what is generally accepted knowledge in journalism and the academe: plagiarism consists of misrepresenting the work of others as one’s own, and is considered a heinous violation of ethical standards. Furthermore, when one lifts information or material from a source without the appropriate quotation marks, formatting, and documentation, one has already committed plagiarism, and no amount of laziness, carelessness, or forgetfulness can be admitted as an exculpatory factor. We also denounce Yuson’s attempts to evade accountability for his actions by forwarding arguments that, as the Center of Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) has pointed out, tend toward the legitimization of plagiarism. Finally, we decry Yuson’s callous and cavalier treatment of Rey Joble and the effort that he put into his work as a sportswriter.

Challenge the members of the Philippine writing community to make an unequivocal stand against Yuson’s plagiarism. At the very least, we expect Rogue magazine and The Philippine Star to emulate GMA News Online in its commitment to integrity. Associate Justice Maria Lourdes P. Sereno, in her dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court decision to exonerate her colleague Mariano del Castillo from charges of plagiarism, argues that when entities involved in the intellectual life of a culture uphold guidelines against plagiarism, these bodies “are not making themselves out to be error-free, but rather, they are exerting themselves to improve the level of honesty in the original works generated in their institution”. It is true that valuable questions have been raised about the very notion of originality from various fields of inquiry, but we contend that the specificity of the situation at hand calls for no such questions, and would invest it with more profundity than it deserves.

Enjoin the institutions of Philippine letters to cooperate in order to educate their constituents and the wider public about plagiarism. Contrary to Yuson, plagiarism is not a “blooming buzzword” but a chronic problem, which many a teacher will no doubt confirm. Recognizing and avoiding plagiarism is a matter of acquiring particular skills, which, as this incident would seem to illustrate, are not taught as well or as widely as they ought to be. The need for these skills will become especially urgent as our society becomes increasingly knowledge-based. We presume to suggest that Ateneo de Manila University, unfortunately entangled as it has become in various plagiarism disputes, take the initiative in bringing students, teachers, writers, readers, and institutions together to work through this admittedly complex matter. Regardless of who takes the lead, however, Yuson’s offense constitutes a teachable moment for us all, and should not be allowed to pass from our cultural memory unremarked and ignored for the sake of a spurious harmony.

(SGD.) Karen Connie Abalos (SGD.) Mark Angeles (SGD.) Genevieve Aquino
Planet Philippines; Illustrado Magazine; University of the Philippines Manila Kilometer64 Poetry Collective University of the Philippines Los Baños
(SGD.) Reginald S. Arceo (SGD.) Philip Jorge P. Bacani (SGD.) Noel Sales Barcelona
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila Lawyer Editor-in-Chief, INANG BAYAN
(SGD.) Johnalene Baylon (SGD.) Brian Brotarlo (SGD.) Manuel Buencamino
Writer Writer Opinion columnist, Business Mirror
(SGD.) Karl Bustamante (SGD.) Asia Flores Chan (SGD.) Liberty Chee
Editor, Marshall Cavendish International Singapore Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Graduate Student, National University of Singapore
(SGD.) Charles Edric Co (SGD.) Adam David (SGD.) Cocoy Dayao
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila Writer Editor-in-Chief, The Pro Pinoy Project
(SGD.) Christa I. De La Cruz (SGD.) Erica Clariz C. De Los Reyes (SGD.) Karlitos Brian Decena
Graduate student, University of the Philippines Diliman Alumna member, Heights; Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop Journalism student, University of the Philippines Diliman; Contributor, Firequinito.com
(SGD.) Johann Espiritu (SGD.) Elise Estrella (SGD.) Anna Razel Estrella
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila Private citizen Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila
(SGD.) Jesser Eullo (SGD.) Katrina Fernando (SGD.) Karen Mae Frondozo
Faculty member, De La Salle University-Dasmariñas Copy editor Graduate student, University of the Philippines Diliman
(SGD.) Russell Stanley Geronimo (SGD.) Lolito Go (SGD.) Ronald F. Gue
Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila; Fellow, 48th Silliman University National Writers Workshop Kilometer64 Poetry Collective Alumnus, De La Salle University-Manila
(SGD.) Marie Rose G. Henson (SGD.) Ken Ishikawa (SGD.) Leonides C. Katigbak  II
Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Private citizen Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop
(SGD.) Jabin Landayan (SGD.) Gomi Lao (SGD.) Dean Lozarie
Teacher Creative Director Journalism student, University of the Philippines Diliman
(SGD.) Aleck E. Maramag (SGD.) Alessandra Rose F. Miguel (SGD.) Francis T. J. Ochoa
Alumna, De La Salle University; Fellow, 48th Silliman University National Writers Workshop Alumna member, Thomasian Writers Guild; Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop Assistant Sports Editor, Philippine Daily Inquirer
(SGD.) Jonathan Corpus Ong (SGD.) Wilfredo B. Prilles, Jr. (SGD.) Nikki Erwin C. Ramirez
Alumnus, Ateneo de Manila University; Sociologist, University of Cambridge City Planning and Development Coordinator (CPDC), Naga City Co-founder, NullPointer.ph
(SGD.) Marck Ronald Rimorin (SGD.) Del Camille Robles (SGD.) Orlando Roncesvalles
Writer; Blogger Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Blogger, FOO Law and Economics
(SGD.) Gerry Rubio (SGD.) Joanna Ruiz (SGD.) Faith Salazar
Publication Consultant, The CSC Statesman, Catanduanes State Colleges Editor, Ateneo de Manila University ISBX Philippines
(SGD.) Jaime Oscar M. Salazar (SGD.) Maria Teresa M. Salazar (SGD.) Chris de Pio Sanchez
Graduate student, University of the Philippines Diliman Alumna, De La Salle University-Manila Consultant
(SGD.) Vincenz Serrano (SGD.) Nik Skalomenos (SGD.) Angela Stuart-Santiago
Ateneo de Manila University Private Citizen Writer; Blogger
(SGD.) Jamila C. Sule (SGD.) Ergoe Tinio (SGD.) Martin Tinio
Teacher, On-Um.org; De La Salle University-Dasmariñas Marketing Associate, Adarna House Analyst
(SGD.) Jaemark Tordecilla (SGD.) Xenia-Chloe H.  Villanueva
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism UP Quill; Fellow, 6th Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) National Writers Workshop

April 28, 2011
Philippines

[NOTE: The signatures for this open letter were solicited from 9:00 PM (GMT +8) on April 26 until 5:00 PM (GMT +8) on April 28.]

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[via Interlineal]

Ruins and monuments: A collective statement on the plagiarism of Krip Yuson

Alfred "Krip" A. Yuson

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

—T. S. Eliot, “Philip Massinger

While we may be growing old, straining under the constant pressure of deadlines, and feeling overworked—and who, in truth, does not?—we may not be as jaded as we think we are: when blogger Jaemark Tordecilla of Fire Quinito exposed the fact that multi-awarded writer Alfred “Krip” Yuson had plagiarized entire paragraphs from an article by GMA News Online sports reporter Rey Joble for a piece that was published in the current issue of Rogue Magazine, we must admit to feeling no small degree of disappointment and outrage.

We find that we can only agree with Tordecilla when he concludes his post with, “Fuck that. We deserve so much better.” That such a sentiment has to be articulated in the first place is almost as dismaying as the wrongdoing itself, of course, because Yuson is no callow wordsmith, and therefore should be no stranger to the concept of intellectual honesty. Insofar as the realm of Philippine letters can be conceived of as a game, Yuson is one of its most prominent professional players, which even the most cursory survey of his curriculum vitae would show: he is the author and/or editor of several books in different genres, has won both local and international recognition for his work, evaluates the output of other, younger writers in competitions and workshops, and is a faculty member of the Department of English at Ateneo de Manila University.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

A primer on plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism, derived from the Latin plagiarus (literally, “kidnapper”)—which in turn is derived from plagium (literally, “kidnapping”)—may be defined as follows: an act or instance of stealing and passing off the ideas or words of another as one’s won; using a created production without crediting the source; committing literary theft; or presenting as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source (“Plagiarism”; “Plagiarize”; “Plagiary”).

Irving Hexham, a professor at the University of Calgary, provides a definition specifically for an academic context:

Plagiarism is the deliberate attempt to deceive the reader through the appropriation and representation as one’s own the work and words of others. Academic plagiarism occurs when a writer repeatedly uses more than four words from a printed source without the use of quotation marks and a precise reference to the original source in a work presented as the author’s own research and scholarship. Continuous paraphrasing without serious interaction with another person’s views, by way [of] argument or the addition of new material [and] insights, is a form of plagiarism in academic work. (emphasis added)

Based on the foregoing, deliberateness, as a condition of plagiarism, is determined not by the intention of the author per se, but by how the author appropriated and represented his/her own work and the work of others. While one may not desire to commit plagiarism, the mere fact that one did not act to prevent it still renders one culpable. Willful blindness does not exempt one from accountability.

Plagiarism is the kidnapping—and mutilation—of ideas. It is akin to kidnapping the child of another, hacking off its limbs, and sewing these limbs onto one’s own already horribly deformed infant, creating an even worse monster than what one had to begin with.

Plagiarism is considered a heinous violation of ethics in the academe, as well as in fields like journalism. It is not the same thing as copyright infringement, though the two are often conflated. Obtaining permission from the originator of an idea is not an impediment to plagiarism, which in any case is not a legal issue.

How is plagiarism committed?

When one lifts information or material from a source without the appropriate quotation marks, off-setting, and/or documentation, one has already committed plagiarism. Even should one completely paraphrase or rewrite information or material from a source, one still needs to cite said source. Paraphrasing, however extensive, is still a form of lifting.

Only information or material derived from common knowledge or one’s personal experience may be lifted with relative impunity.

It is difficult to provide an exact definition of “common knowledge”, but it may be said to be composed of ideas or concepts that (a) require little or no specialized knowledge to be understood; (b) are easily confirmed by an exercise of sound judgment or through unaided human experience; and (c) are widely held to be true.

According to Purdue OWL:

Generally speaking, you can regard something as common knowledge if you find the same information undocumented in at least five credible sources. Additionally, it might be common knowledge if you think the information you’re presenting is something your readers will already know, or something that a person could easily find in general reference sources. But when in doubt, cite; if the citation turns out to be unnecessary, your teacher or editor will tell you.

Take note, however, that when one lifts substantial information or material from artifacts of personal experience, such as diaries, letters, transcripts of discussions, and online postings, among others, such sources should be cited.

What are the types of plagiarism?

There are many ways of classifying acts of plagiarism, but for the purpose of this primer, these types will be discussed: incidental plagiarism, substantial plagiarism, and self-plagiarism.

  • Incidental plagiarism pertains to the minor lifting of information or material from a source without the appropriate quotation marks, off-setting, and/or documentation.
  • Substantial plagiarism pertains to the considerable lifting of information or material from a source without the appropriate quotation marks, off-setting, and/or documentation (Ehrlich). The most egregious cases involve at least one of the following: (a) copying a text in its entirety and passing it off as one’s own work; (b) purchasing a text and passing it off as one’s own work; or (c) the hiring of someone to prepare a text and passing it off as one’s own work (Ehrlich). [This last act is actually part of Ehrlich’s definition for “fraud”, but for purposes of this primer, it has been included as part of “substantial plagiarism”.]

The above distinctions are predicated on these operational definitions, which have been formulated based on material from Ehrlich, Hexham, and Purdue OWL:

  • Lifting – the act of copying, inserting, paraphrasing, summarizing, downloading, translating, or otherwise utilizing information or material from a source
  • Minor lifting – the lifting of more than four words, but less than three sentences—or the substantive equivalent thereof—from a source
  • Considerable lifting – the lifting of three or more sentences—or the substantive equivalent thereof—from a source
  • Off-setting – the indention of quoted material, a formatting convention that is applied to long quotations
  • Documentation – the proper acknowledgement of sources of information or material, in adherence with the prescribed documentation style

Self-plagiarism, also known as recycling fraud, pertains to the disguising of a work that one has previously written as an entirely new work, as when a student submits essentially the same paper to different courses (Hexham). While it is acceptable to redeploy one’s ideas and opinions from an older work to a newer one, the writer must ensure that the works are clearly distinct from each other in terms of examples, arguments, and/or conclusions presented (Hexham).

How does one avoid committing plagiarism?

One can avoid plagiarism by undertaking the task of documentation with due diligence. A good rule of thumb would be: When in doubt, cite the source.

A caveat: One must ensure that information or material lifted from sources does not constitute the bulk of one’s work, such that one’s work is essentially a collage of ideas without a clear, individuated perspective. Why bother writing anything otherwise?

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Works Cited

Ehrlich, Heyward. “Plagiarism and Anti-Plagiarism”. Heyward Ehrlich, English Dept., Rutgers-Newark. 20 Mar. 2008. Rutgers U. 26 Jun. 2008.

Hexham, Irving. “Academic Plagiarism Defined”. Irving Hexham’s Home Page. 2005. U of Calgary. 26 Jun. 2008.

Plagiarism”. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 25 June 2009

Plagiarize”. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 25 June 2009

Plagiary”. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 25 June 2009

Purdue OWL. “Avoiding Plagiarism”. The Online Writing Lab at Purdue. 10 May 2008. Purdue University Writing Lab. 07 Sep. 2008.

Should Pedrosa be fired?

Eric Tomas of Daily Musings apparently wrote to The Philippine Star when he caught Carmen N. Pedrosa plagiarizing Dave Berman back in 2006, but to no avail. He also believes that Pedrosa should leave the Star, comparing her case to that Hilarion “Larry” M. Henares, Jr., whom Philippine Daily Inquirer sacked back in 1990 when he was caught plagiarizing from the International Herald Tribune. (Funnily enough, Manila Standard, now Manila Standard Today, praised Inquirer for “upholding the standards of professional journalism“, then hired Henares shortly afterwards. Would it be a stretch to say that this move presaged the reinstatement of Malu Fernandez?)

I posted my entry on Pedrosa primarily out of pique, not realizing the extent to which the problem of plagiarism pervades Philippine journalism. (Consider, just as an example, this article by Hector Bryant L. Macale of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility). That it is apparently rampant should be disturbing, at the very least, because, as pointed out on Eye on Ethics: Asia Media Forum, “The practice of journalism involves the use of power: the power to influence the way people look at themselves, their societies, and the world; the power to help shape the attitudes and values of others; and the power to help liberate men and women from the shackles of ignorance so they may exercise their sovereign human right to decide their destinies.”

I suppose it would be trite to quote Ben Parker, but great responsibility does come with great power. And the journalist who plagiarizes, as David Plotz of Slate puts it, “is the cop who frames innocents, the doctor who kills his patients. The plagiarist violates the essential rule of his trade. He steals the lifeblood of a colleague”.

On a lighter note, I found some indescribably lovely photos of Carmen Pedrosa, courtesy of Joe Galvez.

Carmen N. Pedrosa, serial plagiarist?

As I suspected, given that plagiarism all too easily develops into a bad habit, Carmen N. Pedrosa’s plagiarism of a Wikipedia article in her 20 June column is by no means an isolated incident.

A Google search led me to the blog Daily Musings, whose author, Eric Tomas, reads Pedrosa’s column regularly in order to “see what counter-arguments can be readied against her [pro–charter change] assertions”. (There are, in fact, several posts that specifically mention Pedrosa.) In a post entitled “Postnote to Pedrosa Article“, Tomas points out that Pedrosa’s 5 November 2006 column lifts a sentence directly from “Advocacy Journalism, The Least You Can Do, and The No Confidence Movement“, an article by Dave Berman, without any acknowledgement.

It may be observed that the same article–the same sentence–is properly quoted by the Wikipedia page on advocacy journalism. (The 16 October 2006 version, a copy of which I have uploaded to Scribd and included below, would have been the latest Pedrosa could have–and probably did–read prior to the publication of her column.)

Tomas, toward the end of his post, asks, “How can she rail about the lack of integrity that she perceives in the Supreme Court for trashing the Sigaw ng Bayan petition, when she herself doesn’t practice integrity in her writing, in this case, giving credit where credit is due?

How, indeed? Does she think that she is somehow magically exempt from acknowledging her sources–akin, perhaps, to how she seems to think that the parliamentary system is a magic bullet against the problems of the country?

Citations needed, or: Plagiarism and Carmen N. Pedrosa

This post was initially conceived as an attempt to respond to Carmen N. Pedrosa, who of late has been again advocating charter change toward a parliamentary form of government in “From A Distance”, her column in the The Philippine Star.

Yesterday’s installment caught my attention because she began by characterizing the choice between charter change now or presidential elections in 2010 as a catch-22. That she subsequently spoke of charter change as the better option—as the way out of this supposed double bind—seems to speak of a turn of mind that is rather strange, to say the least, considering that a catch-22 is supposed to be irresoluble.

Even stranger to me was this statement: “Changing persons without changing the system means more of the same in our flawed presidential system.” After all, are not the persons in any given system, political or otherwise, themselves the causes and/or perpetuators of flaws? Can a system and the persons that animate it and circulate within it indeed be separated, not merely for theoretical purposes, but for pragmatic ones? And simply appalling to me was this: “The question boils down to this. Who should be followed? It is not about rightness or wrongness.”

Bearing these thoughts in mind, I decided to review Pedrosa’s earlier columns [registration required] in order to better understand her position. I also decided to consult a few online sources regarding the presidential and parliamentary systems of government, among them Wikipedia.

Notwithstanding the criticism against the community-generated encyclopedia—which, naturally, is documented in a Wikipedia page of its own (a page that, also naturally, has been flagged for questionable neutrality)—I have found it to be a valuable resource. I would not set much store by its reliability or its appropriateness for research, but it serves very well as a primer to the veritable swamp of information that is the Internet. It is even gaining slow acceptance in journalistic circles. It was also here that I found the actual subject matter of this post: plagiarism.

Plagiarism, derived from the Latin plagiarus (literally, “kidnapper”)—which in turn is derived from plagium (literally, “kidnapping”)—may be defined as follows: an act or instance of stealing and passing off the ideas or words of another as one’s won; using a created production without crediting the source; committing literary theft; or presenting as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

Plagiarism, as far as I am concerned, is the kidnapping—and mutilation—of ideas. It is akin to kidnapping the child of another, hacking off its limbs, and sewing these limbs onto one’s own already horribly deformed infant, creating an even worse monster than what one had to begin with.

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The Wikipedia page on the presidential system was last edited on 15 June 2009, 11:14 AM, by user Reub2000. (Below is a copy of the aforementioned version of the Wikipedia page uploaded to Scribd.)

One will find it interesting to juxtapose the section discussing criticism of the presidential system to Pedrosa’s 20 June article, which is entitled “Gridlock rears its ugly head“.

(1) THE DISADVANTAGES OF THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM

Wikipedia

Critics generally claim three basic disadvantages for presidential systems:

  • Tendency towards authoritarianism — some political scientists say that presidentialism is not constitutionally stable. According to some political scientists, such as Fred Riggs, presidentialism has fallen into authoritarianism in nearly every country it has been attempted.
  • Separation of powers — a presidential system establishes the presidency and the legislature as two parallel structures. Critics argue that this creates undesirable gridlock, and that it reduces accountability by allowing the president and the legislature to shift blame to each other.
  • Impediments to leadership change — it is claimed that the difficulty in removing an unsuitable president from office before his or her term has expired represents a significant problem.

Pedrosa

Political scientists agree that gridlock is a major disadvantage of the presidential system. There are others — the tendency towards authoritarianism. Because the presidential system is not constitutionally stable it easily deteriorates into authoritarianism. According to Fred Riggs, a political scientist, presidentialism has fallen into authoritarianism in every country it has been attempted, except the United States.

(2) THE PRESIDENT V. THE PRIME MINISTER

Wikipedia

Winning the presidency is a winner-take-all, zero-sum prize. A prime minister who does not enjoy a majority in the legislature will have to either form a coalition or, if he is able to lead a minority government, govern in a manner acceptable to at least some of the opposition parties. Even if the prime minister leads a majority government, he must still govern within (perhaps unwritten) constraints as determined by the members of his party—a premier in this situation is often at greater risk of losing his party leadership than his party is at risk of losing the next election. On the other hand, once elected a president can not only marginalize the influence of other parties, but can exclude rival factions in his own party as well, or even leave the party whose ticket he was elected under. The president can thus rule without any allies for the duration of one or possibly multiple terms, a worrisome situation for many interest groups.

Pedrosa

The presidency by the nature of the system is “a winner-take-all, zero-sum prize — unlike a prime minister, who may have to form a coalition. The president and her/his party can rule without any allies for up to six years. That becomes a threat for other interest groups.

(3) THE SEPARATION OF POWERS

Wikipedia

Presidential systems are said by critics not to offer voters the kind of accountability seen in parliamentary systems. It is easy for either the president or Congress to escape blame by blaming the other.

Pedrosa

As mentioned earlier the separation of powers in a presidential system is a disadvantage rather than an advantage. The presidency and the Congress as two parallel structures inevitably create gridlock and make it often impossible to govern. Worse it reduces accountability because the president and Congress end up blaming each other for perceived wrongs.

(4) THE ARGUMENT OF JUAN LINZ, POLITICAL SCIENTIST

Wikipedia

Juan Linz argues, “The danger that zero-sum presidential elections pose is compounded by the rigidity of the president’s fixed term in office. Winners and losers are sharply defined for the entire period of the presidential mandate… losers must wait four or five years without any access to executive power and patronage. The zero-sum game in presidential regimes raises the stakes of presidential elections and inevitably exacerbates their attendant tension and polarization.

Pedrosa

“Winners and losers are sharply defined for the entire period of the presidential mandate. . . losers must wait four or five years without any access to executive power and patronage. The zero-sum game in presidential regimes raises the stakes of presidential elections and inevitably exacerbates their attendant tension and polarization,” argues Juan Linz.

(5) THE CASE OF ECUADOR

Wikipedia

Ecuador is sometimes presented as a case study of democratic failures over the past quarter-century. Presidents have ignored the legislature or bypassed it altogether. One president had the National Assembly teargassed, while another was kidnapped by paratroopers until he agreed to certain congressional demands. From 1979 through 1988, Ecuador staggered through a succession of executive-legislative confrontations that created a near permanent crisis atmosphere in the policy.

Pedrosa

Ecuador is cited as a good example of democratic failures with a presidential system. Often, presidents ignore the legislature. Things got so bad that one president was driven to teargas the National Assembly.

The country went through a succession of executive-legislative confrontations from 1979 to 1988.

(6) LEADERSHIP CHANGE

Wikipedia

In parliamentary systems, unpopular leaders can be quickly removed by a vote of no confidence, a procedure which is reckoned to be a “pressure release valve” for political tension.

Pedrosa

This would not have been necessary in a parliamentary system when an unpopular leader could be removed by a vote of no confidence. This is a device comparable to a “pressure release valve” in a country besieged by political tension.

(7) SLOWNESS OF RESPONSE TO THE NEEDS OF CITIZENS

Wikipedia

Finally, many have criticized presidential systems for their alleged slowness in responding to their citizens’ needs. Often, the checks and balances make action extremely difficult. Walter Bagehot said of the American system “the executive is crippled by not getting the law it needs, and the legislature is spoiled by having to act without responsibility: the executive becomes unfit for its name, since it cannot execute what it decides on; the legislature is demoralized by liberty, by taking decisions of others [and not itself] will suffer the effects”.

Pedrosa

Finally, the presidential system by its nature is slow to respond to citizens’ needs. Often, the “checks and balances” make action extremely difficult.

Since the Philippines followed the American presidential system, let us hear what one constitutionalist said of the American system: “the executive is crippled by not getting the law it needs, and the legislature is spoiled by having to act without responsibility: the executive becomes unfit for its name, since it cannot execute what it decides on; the legislature is demoralized by liberty, by taking decisions of others will suffer the effects.”

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The sixth provision of the Journalist’s Code of Ethics as adopted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is, “I shall not commit any act of plagiarism.” The necessity of this provision should be obvious enough. How can a journalist be considered credible when he or she steals ideas from others? Or, as in this case, when she lifts and paraphrases, without proper citations, entire sections of a text that is governed by a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License?

More significantly for Pedrosa, how can she endorse a form of government that she believes is more accountable and more transparent to its citizens, when she herself is evidently unwilling or unable to be accountable and transparent to her reading public? Perhaps she ought to ask herself the question that she posed last 17 May: When is change real change?

For the record, I am not wholly or fanatically against amending the Constitution or shifting to a parliamentary system. And yet I think it is fair to expect that a person who supports a cause for ostensibly moral reasons, the tack that Pedrosa seems to have taken in beating the drum for charter change, ought to be himself or herself beyond most, if not all, reproach.