EN BANC

 

 

IN THE MATTER OF THE CHARGES          A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC

OF PLAGIARISM, ETC., AGAINST

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE MARIANO C.

DEL CASTILLO.                                     Present:

                                                         

                                                                     CORONA, C.J.,

                                                                     CARPIO,

                                                                     CARPIO MORALES,

                                                            VELASCO, JR.,

  NACHURA,

                                                            LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

                                                            BRION,

  PERALTA,

  BERSAMIN,

  DEL CASTILLO,

  ABAD,

  VILLARAMA, JR.,

  PEREZ,

  MENDOZA, and

  SERENO, JJ.

                  

                                                                   Promulgated:

 

                                                                      October 12, 2010                   

x --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x

 

DECISION

 

PER CURIAM:

 

 

          This case is concerned with charges that, in preparing a decision for the Court, a designated member plagiarized the works of certain authors and twisted their meanings to support the decision.

 

The Background Facts

 

          Petitioners Isabelita C. Vinuya and about 70 other elderly women, all members of the Malaya Lolas Organization, filed with the Court in G.R. No. 162230 a special civil action of certiorari with application for preliminary mandatory injunction against the Executive Secretary, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of Justice, and the Office of the Solicitor General.

 

          Petitioners claimed that in destroying villages in the Philippines during World War II, the Japanese army systematically raped them and a number of other women, seizing them and holding them in houses or cells where soldiers repeatedly ravished and abused them. 

 

          Petitioners alleged that they have since 1998 been approaching the Executive Department, represented by the respondent public officials, requesting assistance in filing claims against the Japanese military officers who established the comfort women stations.  But that Department declined, saying that petitioners’ individual claims had already been fully satisfied under the Peace Treaty between the Philippines and Japan. 

 

Petitioners wanted the Court to render judgment, compelling the Executive Department to espouse their claims for official apology and other forms of reparations against Japan before the International Court of Justice and other international tribunals.

 

          On April 28, 2010, the Court rendered judgment dismissing petitioners’ action.  Justice Mariano C. del Castillo wrote the decision for the Court.  The Court essentially gave two reasons for its decision: it cannot grant the petition because, first, the Executive Department has the exclusive prerogative under the Constitution and the law to determine whether to espouse petitioners’ claim against Japan; and, second, the Philippines is not under any obligation in international law to espouse their claims.

 

On June 9, 2010, petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court’s decision.  More than a month later on July 18, 2010, counsel for petitioners, Atty. Herminio Harry Roque, Jr., announced in his online blog that his clients would file a supplemental petition “detailing plagiarism committed by the court” under the second reason it gave for dismissing the petition and that “these stolen passages were also twisted to support the court’s erroneous conclusions that the Filipino comfort women of World War Two have no further legal remedies.”  The media gave publicity to Atty. Roque’s announcement.

 

On July 19, 2010, petitioners filed the supplemental motion for reconsideration that Atty. Roque announced.  It accused Justice Del Castillo of “manifest intellectual theft and outright plagiarism”[1] when he wrote the decision for the Court and of “twisting the true intents of the plagiarized sources … to suit the arguments of the assailed Judgment.”[2]  They charged Justice Del Castillo of copying without acknowledgement certain passages from three foreign articles:

 

a.       A Fiduciary Theory of Jus Cogens by Evan J. Criddle and Evan Fox-Descent, Yale Journal of International Law (2009);

b.       Breaking the Silence: Rape as an International Crime by Mark Ellis, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law (2006); and

c.       Enforcing Erga Omnes Obligations by Christian J. Tams, Cambridge University Press (2005).

 

 

Petitioners claim that the integrity of the Court’s deliberations in the case has been put into question by Justice Del Castillo’s fraud. The Court should thus “address and disclose to the public the truth about the manifest intellectual theft and outright plagiarism”[3] that resulted in gross prejudice to the petitioners.

 

Because of the publicity that the supplemental motion for reconsideration generated, Justice Del Castillo circulated a letter to his colleagues, subsequently verified, stating that when he wrote the decision for the Court he had the intent to attribute all sources used in it.  He said in the pertinent part:

 

It must be emphasized that there was every intention to attribute all sources, whenever due. At no point was there ever any malicious intent to appropriate another’s work as our own. We recall that this ponencia was thrice included in the Agenda of the Court en banc.  It was deliberated upon during the Baguio session on April 13, 2010, April 20, 2010 and in Manila on April 27, 2010.  Each time, suggestions were made which necessitated major revisions in the draft. Sources were re-studied, discussions modified, passages added or deleted. The resulting decision comprises 34 pages with 78 footnotes. 

 

x x x x

 

As regards the claim of the petitioners that the concepts as contained in the above foreign materials were “twisted,” the same remains their opinion which we do not necessarily share.[4]

 

 

On July 27, 2010, the Court En Banc referred the charges against Justice Del Castillo to its Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards, chaired by the Chief Justice, for investigation and recommendation.  The Chief Justice designated retired Justice Jose C. Vitug to serve as consultant of the Committee.  He graciously accepted.

 

On August 2, 2010, the Committee directed petitioners to comment on Justice Del Castillo’s verified letter.  When this was done, it set the matter for hearing. 

 

In the meantime, on July 19, 2010, Evan Criddle wrote on his blog that he and his co-author Evan Fox-Descent (referred to jointly as Criddle-Descent) learned of alleged plagiarism involving their work but Criddle’s concern, after reading the supplemental motion for reconsideration, was the Court’s conclusion that prohibitions against sexual slavery are not jus cogens or internationally binding norms that treaties cannot diminish. 

 

On July 23, 2010, Dr. Mark Ellis wrote the Court expressing concern that in mentioning his work, the Court “may have misread the argument [he] made in the article and employed them for cross purposes.”  Dr. Ellis said that he wrote the article precisely to argue for appropriate legal remedy for victims of war crimes.

 

On August 8, 2010, after the referral of the matter to the Committee for investigation, the Dean of the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Law publicized a Statement from his faculty, claiming that the Vinuya decision was “an extraordinary act of injustice” and a “singularly reprehensible act of dishonesty and misrepresentation by the Highest Court of the land.” The statement said that Justice Del Castillo had a “deliberate intention to appropriate the original authors’ work,” and that the Court’s decision amounted to “an act of intellectual fraud by copying works in order to mislead and deceive.”[5]

 

          On August 18, 2010 Mr. Christian J. Tams wrote Chief Justice Renato C. Corona that, although relevant sentences in the Court’s decision were taken from his work, he was given generic reference only in the footnote and in connection with a citation from another author (Bruno Simma) rather than with respect to the passages taken from his work.  He thought that the form of referencing was inappropriate.  Mr. Tams was also concerned that the decision may have used his work to support an approach to erga omnes concept (obligations owed by individual States to the community of nations) that is not consistent with what he advocated.

 

          On August 26, 2010, the Committee heard the parties’ submissions in the summary manner of administrative investigations.  Counsels from both sides were given ample time to address the Committee and submit their evidence.  The Committee queried them on these. 

 

Counsels for Justice Del Castillo later asked to be heard with the other parties not in attendance so they could make submissions that their client regarded as sensitive and confidential, involving the drafting process that went into the making of the Court’s decision in the Vinuya case.  Petitioners’ counsels vigorously objected and the Committee sustained the objection.  After consulting Justice Del Castillo, his counsels requested the Committee to hear the Justice’s court researcher, whose name need not be mentioned here, explain the research work that went into the making of the decision in the Vinuya case.  The Committee granted the request. 

 

The researcher demonstrated by Power Point presentation how the attribution of the lifted passages to the writings of Criddle-Descent and Ellis, found in the beginning drafts of her report to Justice Del Castillo, were unintentionally deleted.  She tearfully expressed remorse at her “grievous mistake” and grief for having “caused an enormous amount of suffering for Justice Del Castillo and his family.”[6]   

 

On the other hand, addressing the Committee in reaction to the researcher’s explanation, counsel for petitioners insisted that lack of intent is not a defense in plagiarism since all that is required is for a writer to acknowledge that certain words or language in his work were taken from another’s work.  Counsel invoked the Court’s ruling in University of the Philippines Board of Regents v. Court of Appeals and Arokiaswamy William Margaret Celine,[7] arguing that standards on plagiarism in the academe should apply with more force to the judiciary.   

 

After the hearing, the Committee gave the parties ten days to file their respective memoranda.  They filed their memoranda in due course.  Subsequently after deliberation, the Committee submitted its unanimous findings and recommendations to the Court.

 

The Issues

 

          This case presents two issues:

 

          1.       Whether or not, in writing the opinion for the Court in the Vinuya case, Justice Del Castillo plagiarized the published works of authors Tams, Criddle-Descent, and Ellis.

 

          2.       Whether or not Justice Del Castillo twisted the works of these authors to make it appear that such works supported the Court’s position in the Vinuya decision.

 

The Court’s Rulings

 

          Because of the pending motion for reconsideration in the Vinuya case, the Court like its Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards will purposely avoid touching the merits of the Court’s decision in that case or the soundness or lack of soundness of the position it has so far taken in the same.  The Court will deal, not with the essential merit or persuasiveness of the foreign author’s works, but how the decision that Justice Del Castillo wrote for the Court appropriated parts of those works and for what purpose the decision employed the same. 

 

At its most basic, plagiarism means the theft of another person’s language, thoughts, or ideas.  To plagiarize, as it is commonly understood according to Webster, is “to take (ideas, writings, etc.) from (another) and pass them off as one’s own.”[8]  The passing off of the work of another as one’s own is thus an indispensable element of plagiarism.

 

The Passages from Tams

 

Petitioners point out that the Vinuya decision lifted passages from Tams’ book, Enforcing Erga Omnes Obligations in International Law (2006) and used them in Footnote 69 with what the author thought was a mere generic reference.  But, although Tams himself may have believed that the footnoting in this case was not “an appropriate form of referencing,”[9] he and petitioners cannot deny that the decision did attribute the source or sources of such passages.  Justice Del Castillo did not pass off Tams’ work as his own.  The Justice primarily attributed the ideas embodied in the passages to Bruno Simma, whom Tams himself credited for them.  Still, Footnote 69 mentioned, apart from Simma, Tams’ article as another source of those ideas. 

 

The Court believes that whether or not the footnote is sufficiently detailed, so as to satisfy the footnoting standards of counsel for petitioners is not an ethical matter but one concerning clarity of writing.  The statement “See Tams, Enforcing Obligations Erga Omnes in International Law (2005)” in the Vinuya decision is an attribution no matter if Tams thought that it gave him somewhat less credit than he deserved.  Such attribution altogether negates the idea that Justice Del Castillo passed off the challenged passages as his own.   

 

That it would have been better had Justice Del Castillo used the introductory phrase “cited in” rather than the phrase “See” would make a case of mere inadvertent slip in attribution rather than a case of “manifest intellectual theft and outright plagiarism.” If the Justice’s citations were imprecise, it would just be a case of bad footnoting rather than one of theft or deceit.  If it were otherwise, many would be target of abuse for every editorial error, for every mistake in citing pagination, and for every technical detail of form.

 

The Passages from Ellis

and Criddle-Descent

 

Petitioners also attack the Court’s decision for lifting and using as footnotes, without attribution to the author, passages from the published work of Ellis.  The Court made the following statement on page 27 of its decision, marked with Footnote 65 at the end: 

 

We fully agree that rape, sexual slavery, torture, and sexual violence are morally reprehensible as well as legally prohibited under contemporary international law. 65  xxx

 

 

Footnote 65 appears down the bottom of the page.  Since the lengthy passages in that footnote came almost verbatim from Ellis’ article,[10] such passages ought to have been introduced by an acknowledgement that they are from that article.  The footnote could very well have read:

 

65 In an article, Breaking the Silence: Rape as an International Crime, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law (2006), Mark Ellis said: The concept of rape as an international crime is relatively new. This is not to say that rape has never been historically prohibited, particularly in war. But modern-day sensitivity to the crime of rape did not emerge until after World War II. In the Nuremberg Charter, the word rape was not mentioned. The article on crimes against humanity explicitly set forth prohibited acts, but rape was not mentioned by name. (For example, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Prussia and the United States provides that in time of war all women and children “shall not be molested in their persons.” The Treaty of Amity and Commerce, Between his Majesty the King of Prussia and the United States of America, art. 23, Sept. 10, 1785, U.S.-Pruss., 8 Treaties & Other Int'l Agreements Of The U.S. 78, 85. The 1863 Lieber Instructions classified rape as a crime of “troop discipline.” (Mitchell, The Prohibition of Rape in International Humanitarian Law as a Norm of Jus cogens: Clarifying the Doctrine, 15 Duke J. Comp. Int’l. L. 219, 224). It specified rape as a capital crime punishable by the death penalty (Id. at 236). The 1907 Hague Convention protected women by requiring the protection of their “honour.” (“Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected.” Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws & Customs of War on Land, art. 46, Oct. 18, 1907.  General Assembly resolution 95 (I) of December 11, 1946 entitled, “Affirmation of the Principles of International Law recognized by the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal”; General Assembly document A/64/Add.1 of 1946; See Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, 82 U.N.T.S. 279. Article 6(c) of the Charter established crimes against humanity as the following:

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

        The Nuremberg Judgment did not make any reference to rape and rape was not prosecuted. (Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, The International Criminal Tribunals Crime and Punishment in the International Arena,7 ILSA J. Int’l. Comp. L. 667, 676.)   However, International Military Tribunal for the Far East  prosecuted rape crimes, even though its Statute did not explicitly criminalize rape. The Far East Tribunal held General Iwane Matsui, Commander Shunroku Hata and Foreign Minister Hirota criminally responsible for a series of crimes, including rape, committed by persons under their authority. (The Tokyo Judgment: Judgment Of The International Military Tribunal For The Far East 445-54 (1977). 

        The first mention of rape as a specific crime came in December 1945 when Control Council Law No. 10 included the term rape in the definition of crimes against humanity. Law No. 10, adopted by the four occupying powers in Germany, was devised to establish a uniform basis for prosecuting war criminals in German courts. (Control Council for Germany, Law No. 10: Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes, Crimes Against Peace and Against Humanity, Dec. 20, 1945, 3 Official Gazette Control Council for Germany 50, 53 (1946))

        The 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War was the first modern-day international instrument to establish protections against rape for women. Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Aug. 12, 1949, art. 27, 6 U.S.T. 3316, 75 U.N.T.S. 287 (entry into force Oct. 20, 1950) [hereinafter Fourth Geneva Convention].Furthermore, the ICC, the ICTY, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) have significantly advanced the crime of rape by enabling it to be prosecuted as genocide, a war crime, and a crime against humanity. 

 

But, as it happened, the acknowledgment above or a similar introduction was missing from Footnote 65. 

 

Next, petitioners also point out that the following eight sentences and their accompanying footnotes appear in text on pages 30-32 of the Vinuya decision:  

 

xxx In international law, the term “jus cogens” (literally, “compelling law”) refers to norms that command peremptory authority, superseding conflicting treaties and custom.  Jus cogens norms are considered peremptory in the sense that they are mandatory, do not admit derogation, and can be modified only by general international norms of equivalent authority.71

 

                Early strains of the jus cogens doctrine have existed since the 1700s,72 but peremptory norms began to attract greater scholarly attention with the publication of Alfred von Verdross's influential 1937 article, Forbidden Treaties in International Law.73  The recognition of jus cogens gained even more force in the 1950s and 1960s with the ILC’s preparation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT).74  Though there was a consensus that certain international norms had attained the status of jus cogens,75 the ILC was unable to reach a consensus on the proper criteria for identifying peremptory norms.

 

            After an extended debate over these and other theories of jus cogens, the ILC concluded ruefully in 1963 that “there is not as yet any generally accepted criterion by which to identify a general rule of international law as having the character of jus cogens.”76  In a commentary accompanying the draft convention, the ILC indicated that “the prudent course seems to be to x x x leave the full content of this rule to be worked out in State practice and in the jurisprudence of international tribunals.”77  Thus, while the existence of jus cogens in international law is undisputed, no consensus exists on its substance,77 beyond a tiny core of principles and rules.78

 

 

Admittedly, the Vinuya decision lifted the above, including their footnotes, from Criddle-Descent’s article, A Fiduciary Theory of Jus Cogens.[11]  Criddle-Descent’s footnotes were carried into the Vinuya decision’s own footnotes but no attributions were made to the two authors in those footnotes. 

 

The Explanation

 

Unless amply explained, the above lifting from the works of Ellis and Criddle-Descent could be construed as plagiarism.  But one of Justice Del Castillo’s researchers, a court-employed attorney, explained how she accidentally deleted the attributions, originally planted in the beginning drafts of her report to him, which report eventually became the working draft of the decision.   She said that, for most parts, she did her research electronically.  For international materials, she sourced these mainly from Westlaw, an online research service for legal and law-related materials to which the Court subscribes. 

 

In the old days, the common practice was that after a Justice would have assigned a case for study and report, the researcher would source his materials mostly from available law books and published articles on print.  When he found a relevant item in a book, whether for one side of the issue or for the other, he would place a strip of paper marker on the appropriate page, pencil mark the item, and place the book on his desk where other relevant books would have piled up.  He would later paraphrase or copy the marked out passages from some of these books as he typed his manuscript on a manual typewriter.  This occasion would give him a clear opportunity to attribute the materials used to their authors or sources. 

 

With the advent of computers, however, as Justice Del Castillo’s researcher also explained, most legal references, including the collection of decisions of the Court, are found in electronic diskettes or in internet websites that offer virtual libraries of books and articles.  Here, as the researcher found items that were relevant to her assignment, she downloaded or copied them into her “main manuscript,” a smorgasbord plate of materials that she thought she might need.  The researcher’s technique in this case is not too far different from that employed by a carpenter.  The carpenter first gets the pieces of lumber he would need, choosing the kinds and sizes suitable to the object he has in mind, say a table.  When ready, he would measure out the portions he needs, cut them out of the pieces of lumber he had collected, and construct his table.  He would get rid of the scraps.  

 

Here, Justice Del Castillo’s researcher did just that.  She electronically “cut” relevant materials from books and journals in the Westlaw website and “pasted” these to a “main manuscript” in her computer that contained the issues for discussion in her proposed report to the Justice.  She used the Microsoft Word program.[12]  Later, after she decided on the general shape that her report would take, she began pruning from that manuscript those materials that did not fit, changing the positions in the general scheme of those that remained, and adding and deleting paragraphs, sentences, and words as her continuing discussions with Justice Del Castillo, her chief editor, demanded.  Parenthetically, this is the standard scheme that computer-literate court researchers use everyday in their work.

 

Justice Del Castillo’s researcher showed the Committee the early drafts of her report in the Vinuya case and these included the passages lifted from the separate articles of Criddle-Descent and of Ellis with proper attributions to these authors.  But, as it happened, in the course of editing and cleaning up her draft, the researcher accidentally deleted the attributions. 

 

First Finding

 

The Court adopts the Committee’s finding that the researcher’s explanation regarding the accidental removal of proper attributions to the three authors is credible.  Given the operational properties of the Microsoft program in use by the Court, the accidental decapitation of attributions to sources of research materials is not remote. 

 

For most senior lawyers and judges who are not computer literate, a familiar example similar to the circumstances of the present case would probably help illustrate the likelihood of such an accident happening.  If researcher X, for example, happens to be interested in “the inalienable character of juridical personality” in connection with an assignment and if the book of the learned Civilist, Arturo M. Tolentino, happens to have been published in a website, researcher X would probably show interest in the following passage from that book:

 

xxx Both juridical capacity and capacity to act are not rights, but qualities of persons; hence, they cannot be alienated or renounced.15

xxx

_____________________________

15 3 Von Tuhr 296; 1 Valverde 291.

 

 

          Because the sentence has a footnote mark (#15) that attributes the idea to other sources, it is evident that Tolentino did not originate it.  The idea is not a product of his intellect.  He merely lifted it from Von Tuhr and Valverde, two reputable foreign authors. 

 

          When researcher X copies and pastes the above passage and its footnote into a manuscript-in-the-making in his computer, the footnote number would, given the computer program in use, automatically change and adjust to the footnoting sequence of researcher X’s manuscript.  Thus, if the preceding footnote in the manuscript when the passage from Tolentino was pasted on it is 23, Tolentino’s footnote would automatically change from the original Footnote 15 to Footnote 24. 

 

But then, to be of use in his materials-gathering scheme, researcher X would have to tag the Tolentino passage with a short description of its subject for easy reference.  A suitable subject description would be: “The inalienable character of juridical personality.23  The footnote mark, 23 From Tolentino, which researcher X attaches to the subject tag, serves as reminder to him to attribute the passage in its final form to Tolentino.  After the passage has been tagged, it would now appear like this:

 

The inalienable character of juridical personality.23

 

xxx Both juridical capacity and capacity to act are not rights, but qualities of persons; hence, they cannot be alienated or renounced.24

xxx

_____________________________

23 From Tolentino.

24 3 Von Tuhr 296; 1 Valverde 291.

 

 

The tag is of course temporary and would later have to go.  It serves but a marker to help researcher X maneuver the passage into the right spot in his final manuscript. 

         

The mistake of Justice Del Castillo’s researcher is that, after the Justice had decided what texts, passages, and citations were to be retained including those from Criddle-Descent and Ellis, and when she was already cleaning up her work and deleting all subject tags, she unintentionally deleted the footnotes that went with such tags—with disastrous effect. 

 

To understand this, in Tolentino’s example, the equivalent would be researcher X’s removal during cleanup of the tag, “The inalienable character of juridical personality.23,” by a simple “delete” operation, and the unintended removal as well of the accompanying footnote (#23).  The erasure of the footnote eliminates the link between the lifted passage and its source, Tolentino’s book.  Only the following would remain in the manuscript:

 

xxx Both juridical capacity and capacity to act are not rights, but qualities of persons; hence, they cannot be alienated or renounced.43

_____________________________

43 3 Von Tuhr 296; 1 Valverde 291.

 

 

As it happened, the Microsoft word program does not have a function that raises an alarm when original materials are cut up or pruned.  The portions that remain simply blend in with the rest of the manuscript, adjusting the footnote number and removing any clue that what should stick together had just been severed.

 

This was what happened in the attributions to Ellis and Criddle-Descent.  The researcher deleted the subject tags and, accidentally, their accompanying footnotes that served as reminder of the sources of the lifted passages.  With 119 sources cited in the decision, the loss of the 2 of them was not easily detectable.

 

Petitioners point out, however, that Justice Del Castillo’s verified letter of July 22, 2010 is inconsistent with his researcher’s claim that the omissions were mere errors in attribution. They cite the fact that the Justice did not disclose his researcher’s error in that letter despite the latter’s confession regarding her mistake even before the Justice sent his letter to the Chief Justice.  By denying plagiarism in his letter, Justice Del Castillo allegedly perjured himself and sought to whitewash the case.[13]

 

But nothing in the July 22 letter supports the charge of false testimony. Justice Del Castillo merely explained “that there was every intention to attribute all sources whenever due” and that there was never “any malicious intent to appropriate another’s work as our own,” which as it turns out is a true statement.  He recalled how the Court deliberated upon the case more than once, prompting major revisions in the draft of the decision.  In the process, “(s)ources were re-studied, discussions modified, passages added or deleted.”  Nothing in the letter suggests a cover-up.  Indeed, it did not preclude a researcher’s inadvertent error. 

 

And it is understandable that Justice Del Castillo did not initially disclose his researcher’s error.  He wrote the decision for the Court and was expected to take full responsibility for any lapse arising from its preparation.  What is more, the process of drafting a particular decision for the Court is confidential, which explained his initial request to be heard on the matter without the attendance of the other parties.

 

Notably, neither Justice Del Castillo nor his researcher had a motive or reason for omitting attribution for the lifted passages to Criddle-Descent or to Ellis.  The latter authors are highly respected professors of international law.  The law journals that published their works have exceptional reputations.  It did not make sense to intentionally omit attribution to these authors when the decision cites an abundance of other sources.  Citing these authors as the sources of the lifted passages would enhance rather than diminish their informative value.  Both Justice Del Castillo and his researcher gain nothing from the omission.  Thus, the failure to mention the works of Criddle-Decent and Ellis was unquestionably due to inadvertence or pure oversight.

 

Petitioners of course insist that intent is not material in committing plagiarism since all that a writer has to do, to avoid the charge, is to enclose lifted portions with quotation marks and acknowledge the sources from which these were taken.[14]  Petitioners point out that the Court should apply to this case the ruling in University of the Philippines Board of Regents v. Court of Appeals and Arokiaswamy William Margaret Celine.[15]  They argue that standards on plagiarism in the academe should apply with more force to the judiciary.   

 

But petitioners’ theory ignores the fact that plagiarism is essentially a form of fraud where intent to deceive is inherent.  Their theory provides no room for errors in research, an unrealistic position considering that there is hardly any substantial written work in any field of discipline that is free of any mistake.  The theory places an automatic universal curse even on errors that, as in this case, have reasonable and logical explanations.

 

Indeed, the 8th edition of Black’s Law Dictionary defines plagiarism as the “deliberate and knowing presentation of another person's original ideas or creative expressions as one's own.”[16]  Thus, plagiarism presupposes intent and a deliberate, conscious effort to steal another’s work and pass it off as one’s own. 

 

Besides, the Court said nothing in U.P. Board of Regents that would indicate that an intent to pass off another’s work as one’s own is not required in plagiarism.  The Court merely affirmed the academic freedom of a university to withdraw a master’s degree that a student obtained based on evidence that she misappropriated the work of others, passing them off as her own.  This is not the case here since, as already stated, Justice Del Castillo actually imputed the borrowed passages to others. 

 

 

 

Second Finding  

 

The Court also adopts the Committee’s finding that the omission of attributions to Criddle-Descent and Ellis did not bring about an impression that Justice Del Castillo himself created the passages that he lifted from their published articles.  That he merely got those passages from others remains self-evident, despite the accidental deletion.  The fact is that he still imputed the passages to the sources from which Criddle-Descent and Ellis borrowed them in the first place.  

 

This is best illustrated in the familiar example above.  After the deletion of the subject tag and, accidentally, its footnote which connects to the source, the lifted passage would appear like this:

 

xxx Both juridical capacity and capacity to act are not rights, but qualities of persons; hence, they cannot be alienated or renounced.43

_____________________________

43 3 Von Tuhr 296; 1 Valverde 291.

 

 

Although the unintended deletion severed the passage’s link to Tolentino, the passage remains to be attributed to Von Tuhr and Valverde, the original sources that Tolentino himself cites.  The text and its footnote reference cancel out any impression that the passage is a creation of researcher X.  It is the same with the passages from Criddle-Descent and Ellis.  Because such passages remained attributed by the footnotes to the authors’ original sources, the omission of attributions to Criddle-Descent and Ellis gave no impression that the passages were the creations of Justice Del Castillo.  This wholly negates the idea that he was passing them off as his own thoughts.

 

True the subject passages in this case were reproduced in the Vinuya decision without placing them in quotation marks.  But such passages are much unlike the creative line from Robert Frost,[17] “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  The passages here consisted of common definitions and terms, abridged history of certain principles of law, and similar frequently repeated phrases that, in the world of legal literature, already belong to the public realm. 

 

To paraphrase Bast and Samuels,[18] while the academic publishing model is based on the originality of the writer’s thesis, the judicial system is based on the doctrine of stare decisis, which encourages courts to cite historical legal data, precedents, and related studies in their decisions.  The judge is not expected to produce original scholarship in every respect.  The strength of a decision lies in the soundness and general acceptance of the precedents and long held legal opinions it draws from. 

 

Third Finding

 

Petitioners allege that the decision twisted the passages from Tams, Criddle-Descent, and Ellis.  The Court adopts the Committee’s finding that this is not so.  Indeed, this allegation of twisting or misrepresentation remains a mystery to the Court.  To twist means “to distort or pervert the meaning of.”[19]  For example, if one lifts the lyrics of the National Anthem, uses it in his work, and declares that Jose Palma who wrote it “did not love his country,” then there is “twisting” or misrepresentation of what the anthem’s lyrics said.  Here, nothing in the Vinuya decision said or implied that, based on the lifted passages, authors Tams, Criddle-Descent, and Ellis supported the Court’s conclusion that the Philippines is not under any obligation in international law to espouse Vinuya et al.’s claims.

 

The fact is that, first, since the attributions to Criddle-Descent and Ellis were accidentally deleted, it is impossible for any person reading the decision to connect the same to the works of those authors as to conclude that in writing the decision Justice Del Castillo “twisted” their intended messages.  And, second, the lifted passages provided mere background facts that established the state of international law at various stages of its development.  These are neutral data that could support conflicting theories regarding whether or not the judiciary has the power today to order the Executive Department to sue another country or whether the duty to prosecute violators of international crimes has attained the status of jus cogens.

 

Considering how it was impossible for Justice Del Castillo to have twisted the meaning of the passages he lifted from the works of Tams, Criddle-Descent, and Ellis, the charge of “twisting” or misrepresentation against him is to say the least, unkind.  To be more accurate, however, the charge is reckless and obtuse. 

 

No Misconduct

 

On occasions judges and justices have mistakenly cited the wrong sources, failed to use quotation marks, inadvertently omitted necessary information from footnotes or endnotes.  But these do not, in every case, amount to misconduct. Only errors that are tainted with fraud, corruption, or malice are subject of disciplinary action.[20] This is not the case here.  Justice Del Castillo’s acts or omissions were not shown to have been impelled by any of such disreputable motives.[21]  If the rule were otherwise, no judge or justice, however competent, honest, or dedicated he may be, can ever hope to retire from the judiciary with an unblemished record.[22]

 

No Inexcusable Negligence

 

Finally, petitioners assert that, even if they were to concede that the omission was the result of plain error, Justice Del Castillo is nonetheless guilty of gross inexcusable negligence.  They point out that he has full control and supervision over his researcher and should not have surrendered the writing of the decision to the latter.[23]

 

But this assumes that Justice Del Castillo abdicated the writing of the Vinuya decision to his researcher, which is contrary to the evidence adduced during the hearing.  As his researcher testified, the Justice set the direction that the research and study were to take by discussing the issues with her, setting forth his position on those issues, and reviewing and commenting on the study that she was putting together until he was completely satisfied with it.[24]  In every sense, Justice Del Castillo was in control of the writing of the report to the Court, which report eventually became the basis for the decision, and determined its final outcome.

 

Assigning cases for study and research to a court attorney, the equivalent of a “law clerk” in the United States Supreme Court, is standard practice in the high courts of all nations.  This is dictated by necessity.  With about 80 to 100 cases assigned to a Justice in our Court each month, it would be truly senseless for him to do all the studies and research, going to the library, searching the internet, checking footnotes, and watching the punctuations.  If he does all these by himself, he would have to allocate at least one to two weeks of work for each case that has been submitted for decision.  The wheels of justice in the Supreme Court will grind to a halt under such a proposition. 

 

What is important is that, in this case, Justice Del Castillo retained control over the writing of the decision in the Vinuya case without, however, having to look over his researcher’s shoulder as she cleaned up her draft report to ensure that she hit the right computer keys.  The Justice’s researcher was after all competent in the field of assignment given her.  She finished law from a leading law school, graduated third in her class, served as Editor-in Chief of her school’s Law Journal, and placed fourth in the bar examinations when she took it.  She earned a master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights from a prestigious university in the United States under the Global-Hauser program, which counsel for petitioners concedes to be one of the top post graduate programs on International Law in the world.  Justice Del Castillo did not exercise bad judgment in assigning the research work in the Vinuya case to her.

 

Can errors in preparing decisions be prevented?  Not until computers cease to be operated by human beings who are vulnerable to human errors.  They are hypocrites who believe that the courts should be as error-free as they themselves are.

 

Incidentally, in the course of the submission of petitioners’ exhibits, the Committee noted that petitioners’ Exhibit J, the accusing statement of the Faculty of the U.P. College of Law on the allegations of plagiarism and misinterpretation, was a mere dummy.  The whole of the statement was reproduced but the signatures portion below merely listed the names of 38 faculty members, in solid rows, with the letters “Sgd” or “signed” printed beside the names without exception.  These included the name of retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, a U.P. professor.

 

Because the Committee declined to admit a mere dummy of Exhibit J, it directed Atty. Roque to present the signed copy within three days of the August 26 hearing.[25]  He complied.  As it turned out, the original statement was signed by only a minority of the faculty members on the list.  The set of signatories that appeared like solid teeth in the dummy turned out to be broken teeth in the original.   Since only 37 out of the 81 on the list signed the document, it does not appear to be a statement of the Faculty but of just some of its members.  And retired Justice V. V. Mendoza did not sign the statement, contrary to what the dummy represented.  The Committee wondered why the Dean submitted a dummy of the signed document when U.P. has an abundance of copying machines.

 

Since the above circumstances appear to be related to separate en banc matter concerning the supposed Faculty statement, there is a need for the Committee to turn over the signed copy of the same to the en banc for its consideration in relation to that matter.

 

WHEREFORE, in view of all of the above, the Court:

 

1.       DISMISSES for lack of merit petitioner Vinuya, et al.’s charges of plagiarism, twisting of cited materials, and gross neglect against Justice Mariano C. del Castillo;

 

2.       DIRECTS the Public Information Office to send copies of this decision to Professors Evan J. Criddle and Evan Fox-Descent, Dr. Mark Ellis, and Professor Christian J. Tams at their known addresses;

 

3.       DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to provide all court attorneys involved in legal research and reporting with copies of this decision and to enjoin them to avoid editing errors committed in the Vinuya case while using the existing computer program especially when the volume of citations and footnoting is substantial; and

 

4.       Finally, DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to acquire the necessary software for use by the Court that can prevent future lapses in citations and attributions.

 

Further, the Court DIRECTS the Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards to turn over to the en banc the dummy as well as the signed copy of petitioners’ Exhibit J, entitled “Restoring Integrity,” a statement by the Faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law for the en banc’s consideration in relation to the separate pending matter concerning that supposed Faculty statement.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

      ANTONIO T. CARPIO              CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES    

  Associate Justice                                              Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.     ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

               Associate Justice                                   Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO       ARTURO D. BRION

                     Associate Justice                                         Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       

       DIOSDADO M. PERALTA                    LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

                 Associate Justice                                    Associate Justice       

 

 

 

    

 MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO                    ROBERTO A. ABAD

              Associate Justice                                    Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

  MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.            JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

              Associate Justice                                    Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

  JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA       MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

            Associate Justice                                             Associate Justice

 

 

 

 



[1]  Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration, petitioner’s Exhibit A, p. 5.

[2]  Id. at 3.

[3]  Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration, supra note 1, at 5.

[4]  Justice Del Castillo’s Verified Letter, p. 3, Exhibit G of the petitioners.

[5] Statement of the University of the Philippines College of Law Faculty dated July 27, 2010, Exhibit J of the petitioners.

[6]  Transcript of Stenographic Notes taken on August 26, 2010, p. 31.

[7]  G.R. No. 134625, August 31, 1999, 313 SCRA 404.

[8]  Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Third Edition, Macmillan USA, p. 1031.

[9]  Exhibit I for the petitioners.

[10] Breaking the Silence of Rape as an International Crime, 38 Case W. Res. J. Int’l. L. 225 (2006).

[11] 34 Yale J. Int’l. L. 331 (2009).

[12]  Memorandum for Justice Del Castillo, paragraphs 25-35.

[13]  Petitioner’s Memorandum, pp. 26-27.

[14]  Supra note 6, at 41.

[15]  Supra note 7.

[16]  Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004).

[17]  Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923).

[18] Bast and Samuels, Plagiarism and Legal Scholarship in the Age of Information Sharing: The Need for Intellectual Honesty, 57 CATH. U. L. REV 777, 800 (2008).

[19]  Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, p. 1445.

[20]  Atty. Alberto P. Quinto v. Judge Gregorio S. Vios, Municipal Trial Court, Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte, A.M. No. MTJ-04-1551, May 21, 2004, 429 SCRA 1; Tolentino v. Camano, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ 10-1522, January 20, 2000, 322 SCRA 559.

[21]  Daracan v. Natividad, A.M. No. RTC-99-1447, September 27, 2000, 341 SCRA 161.

[22] Guerrero v. Villamor, A.M. No. RTJ-90-483, September 25, 1998, 296 SCRA 88; Tan v. Adre, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1898, January 31, 2005, 450 SCRA 145.

[23]  Supra note 13, at 25.

[24]  Supra note 6, at 27-30.

[25]  Order dated August 26, 2010, Committee Records, pp. 382-383.