I was impressed with this young man as I listened to him deliver his remarks before a prominent crowd at the lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines last week. I was sure many in the audience were, as well.
The occasion was the National Day celebration of Chile, where the winners of the nationwide photo competition delving on the theme, “Smiles,” had just been announced. Entries were photographs from all over, showing the Filipino smiling, taken by people who cut across gender, age and social background.
Looking so dapper and self-assured for his age, the grand-prize winner delivered an insightful speech in accepting the grand prize for the “Calidad Humana” photo competition organized by the Chile Embassy. So eloquently, he even stressed the values of the Filipino.
It gladdened your heart just to listen to a young guy at a time the country is in a rage against the pork barrel scam. The audience of diplomats, artists and the culturati, businessmen and politicians was visibly impressed.
Then, a few days later, this young man was unmasked as a fraud, a plagiarist.
Grabbing somebody else’s work and making fame and fortune off it—what’s with today’s kids? Is this a generational thing—kids brushing aside values of honesty, hard work, integrity, creative labor just to make money or to enjoy the perks?
There’s no one answer to that, and it’s tackled better when one zeroes in on the home and today’s elite schools. But that is for another time.
Plagiarism is nothing new to us in media. The suspicion is always at the back of our minds—we wonder if the copy or images we get from writers and photographers are actually their own, or just cut and pasted from some handouts or from the Internet.
More important, we wonder if today’s kids even realize and accept that it’s wrong to steal intellectual property—even if they are not found out. Their cavalier attitude toward honesty and integrity is worrisome. And it doesn’t help that they seem to regard fear of authority—or respect of authority—as optional.
What makes it worse is, today’s kids seem not to care much about history or heritage, not enough to brush up on it. And to many of them, one or two days ago is already “history”—time is that perishable. Knowledge of the past, to them, is optional, too.
It’s a big irony that the one who sees the upside to all this is Chile Ambassador Roberto Mayorga, the tenacious diplomat himself who has been spearheading the Calidad Humana campaign for more than two years now.
“The positive side is that now, people are informed about calidad humana,” he told us Friday. “And it’s drawing more and more support.”
When the social media bristled about the photo plagiarism that plunged into controversy an otherwise worthy campaign, we felt bad for Mayorga, the affable diplomat we’ve known for more than two years now, mainly because we play tennis with him and his chic and spritely wife, Paulina, usually on weekends.
But then I should have known that this ambassador is not one to be easily disheartened. He’s always looking at the good side of man.
He’s no different this time. He told me that the young plagiarist has gone to him to apologize. “He is committed to change his behavior,” he said of the plagiarist, talking like a father. (The ambassador has a big brood, by the way.)
Contrary to social media talk, the plagiarist never got the prize money, because he was found out before it could be given. The $1,000 prize money will now go to the runner-up.
Has this experience tainted his view of the Filipino?
“No, we are not in paradise,” he said. “Majority (of the Filipinos) help cultivate the value (of calidad humana), and the minority, we have to be realistic, has to work to have it.”
Since the time I met the ambassador and his wife, he’s always talked about how he’s found calidad humana in the Philippines.
“The people may not be rich, but they’re warm, always smiling, even in their poverty,” he’d tell us then. “And I’ve been to many countries, but it’s different here.”
He’s always tried to connect the Filipino’s warmth and openness to his calidad humana.
“It’s not happiness, not material happiness,” he said. “It’s something to do with human-ness, compassion, feeling for others.”
Mayorga is a prominent lawyer in Chile who was with his country’s foreign investment agency. He dealt with investors wanting to do business in Chile.
He worked in Washington for many years and in Germany, for investments in his country.
The Philippines is his first ambassadorial posting. Here he’s active in the diplomatic circles, gathering for weekend matches the diplomats who play tennis, or hosting despedida dinners for colleagues who are winding up their term.
Even with a bad hip, the ambassador plays powerful tennis, and so does his Paulina. I love it when we talk about the Chilean champion and heartthrob, Marcelo Rios, whose wedding the Mayorgas went to years ago.
Mayorga loves to say that he’s been to over 60 countries, and he finds the Philippines to be different for the people’s cheery attitude, no matter their plight.
He spends Saturday mornings in the neighborhoods in Caloocan, getting schoolchildren to play soccer.
His goal is to get the other ambassadors to adopt children teams in Caloocan to play soccer. Each soccer team will represent a country. Before long, he believes, he can have a mini World Cup in Caloocan.
This man has such great faith in his fellow man, not even a young plagiarist could shake it.
“Un abrazo”—goes his usual goodbye, from a man who loves to hug his fellow man.