MVP admits mistake in speech, offers to retire from Ateneo

Posted at 04/04/2010 6:21 AM | Updated as of 04/06/2010 12:03 PM

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) has offered to “retire” from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) after acknowledging that portions of his commencement address to the school's sesquicentennial graduates last March 26 and 27 were copied from speeches of celebrities.

In a letter to ADMU President Fr. Bienvenido “Ben” Nebres, S.J. posted Saturday on the ADMU website, Pangilinan apologized to the university and to the 2010 graduating class for giving a speech that “had been borrowed from certain other graduation speeches.”

The speech in question was the one he delivered to graduates from the School of Social Sciences and School of Humanities last March 27. He delivered a different speech to graduates from the School of Science and Engineering (SOSE) and John Gokongwei School of Management (JGSOM) last March 26. (Read the speeches here: Manuel V. Pangilinan Commencement Address)

“I had taken a look at the side-by-side comparison @ Facebook, and must admit to this mistake. For this, I wish to express my sincerest apology to you, the University and to the 2010 graduating class,” he said. “I have had some help in the drafting of my remarks, but I take full and sole responsibility for them.”

Several Facebook and blog posts said portions of Pangilinan's speech were allegedly copied from celebrities such as J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Conan O'Brien. (Read portions of the speech here: MVP: Money's cool, but so is meaning)

Pangilinan said the incident “has been a source of deep personal embarrassment for me,” and he asked Nebres to allow him to “retire from his official duties at the Ateneo.”

Doctor of humanities, honoris causa

Pangilinan’s term as chairman of the board of trustees of ADMU is from 2008 to 2011.

He was conferred the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa by the school during the commencement ceremonies last March 26 and 27 “for his inspirational leadership, his enlightened philanthropy, and his generous giving of self to others.”

The chairman of giant telecommunications firms Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and diversified conglomerate Metro Pacific Investment Corp (MPIC) said the comments regarding his speech have “started to spill beyond graduation, and are now alluding to my misconduct with respect to Meralco, with former President Erap, and so forth.”

Pangilinan is one of the country's top businessmen. He is at the helm of the country's biggest companies that affect Filipinos' daily lives. Both PLDT and MPIC have stakes in telecommunications, power, infrastructure (toll roads and port), water distribution, mining, health care services, and a broadcasting firm.

The portfolio of the two conglomerates include power retailer Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), TV5, Manila North Tollways, Medical Doctors Inc., Maynilad Water Services Corp., and Philex Mining Corp.

Out of control

“Under the circumstances, it is best for the Ateneo and myself to shorten the life of this controversy and prevent it from spinning out of control,” he said.

Pangilinan added:

“Fr Ben, this has been a source of deep personal embarrassment for me.  

“I am truly regretful for it. I already have too many battles to fight, and some of them I wish not to have to fight. In this instance, I do not want to, and would seek only the honorable and principled way out. The matter at hand may rest after this public apology, but it gives me a lot of personal discomfort to continue to be closely involved with Ateneo affairs after this incident. I am afraid the damage has been done - wala talaga akong mukhang ihaharap pagkatapos.

“With much regret, Fr Ben, I would wish to retire from my official duties at the Ateneo."

Pangilinan's speech had been posted on the ADMU website after the graduation ceremonies on March 26 and 27, but it was removed on Monday, 2 days after he delivered the speech.

In a note posted by the website’s editor, it said that “concerns have been raised about the commencement speeches delivered by Mr. Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of the Ateneo Board of Trustees, last March 26 and 27, which were previously posted on this site.”

Nebres: Let's talk first

In response to Pangilinan’s letter, Fr. Nebres said he felt “how deeply embarrassed and pained” Pangilinan was by the incident.

However, Nebres said he disagreed that resigning from his official duties at ADMU was the “principled thing” to do.

He asked Pangilinan to meet with the ADMU board  to discuss his request to retire from his official duties at the university.

Nebres said he knows this “happened without your full awareness, though you take full and sole responsibility.”

Nebres added:

“Thus this does not diminish our admiration and respect for your person and for your care and accomplishments for our country and for the Ateneo. In fact, your acceptance of responsibility and apology command our utmost respect.

“In reading again through your speeches, we also see that indeed the main part of your speeches were your story and your thoughts. We thank you for taking so much time to craft them and to share them with us and our graduates. We are deeply touched by this sharing of yourself.

“Again I realize how profoundly embarrassed you are by this event and that you believe that resigning from official duties at the Ateneo is the principled thing for you to do. However, reflecting on the events and circumstances, I cannot quite agree, and I believe with many others that what is appropriate is the apology you have given. Neither can I agree with you that ‘wala talaga akong mukhang ihaharap pagkatapos.’ I would thus like to take up your retiring from official duties at the Ateneo with our officials and Board of Trustees and discuss it further with you.”

'Tunnel of failure'

The blog “Sour Patch Kids” cited examples of Pangilinan’s reported plagiarism of Rowling’s speech, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” The author of the world-renowned “Harry Potter” series delivered the speech at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association in 2008.

Rowling: I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

MVP: I had no idea how far the tunnel of failure extended. And any light at the end of it seemed more hope than reality.

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Rowling: The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive

MVP: The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you can be secure in your ability to survive.

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Rowling: So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

MVP: So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you will recall those of Seneca, one of the old Romans I met in search of ancient wisdom: ―as is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

The following examples were also cited in the Facebook note of an Atenean, along with the letters of Pangilinan and Nebres. The comments on the Facebook note show that some Ateneans accepted Pangilinan’s apology while others said the apology was not enough. A number of them even want Pangilinan stripped of the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa.

'Money's pretty cool'

The “Sour Patch Kids” blogger, an Atenean and Humanities major who felt “insulted” by the incident, also included excerpts from commencement speeches delivered by television hosts Winfrey and O’Brien.

Winfrey delivered her speech during the Stanford University commencement in 2008.

Winfrey: Let me tell you, money’s pretty nice. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that it’s not about money, ‘cause money is very nice. I like money. It’s good for buying things. But having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person. What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings the real richness to your life. What you really want is to be surrounded by people you trust and treasure and by people who cherish you. That’s when you’re really rich.

MVP: Let me tell you, money‘s pretty cool. I‘m not going to stand here and tell you that‘s it‘s not about money, because money is sweet. I like money. It‘s good for buying companies and things – and for putting up a few buildings here and there for Ateneo. But having a lot of money does not totally make you a successful person. What you want is both money and meaning. You want your life and your career to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings real richness to your life, to be surrounded by people you can truly work with – because you trust and treasure them, and they cherish you in return. That‘s when you‘re really rich, that‘s when you really succeed.

O’Brien, on the other hand, delivered his speech at Class Day in Harvard University in 2000.

O’Brien: 15 years ago I sat where you sit now. And I thought exactly what you are now thinking. What’s going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Am I really graduating a virgin?

MVP (JGSOM/SOSE speech): 44 years ago I sat where you now sit, I also thought what you now think – what is going to happen to me? Where can I find a job? Am I really graduating a virgin?

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O’Brien: I’ve had a lot of success and I’ve had a lot of failure. I’ve looked good and I’ve looked bad. I’ve been praised and I’ve been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary.

MVP: I‘ve had a lot of success. But I‘ve had a lot of failures. I‘ve looked good. I‘ve looked bad. I‘ve been praised and criticized. And it hurt like hell. But my mistakes have been necessary.

In ADMU, plagiarism by a student is treated as a "major offense." According to the school's Code of Discipline for Students, "committing intellectual dishonesty, which is defined as passing off someone else's work as one's own," falls under "Offenses Involving Dishonesty."

Penalties for major offenses include disciplinary probation, mandatory work, formation sessions, public reprimand, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion.

Cheating in high school

In his commencement speech, Pangilinan also admitted to cheating during his 4th year high school in San Beda College.

He said:

“I will now let you in on a well-kept secret. I was in 4th year high school in San Beda College, and was in contention to be valedictorian that year. It was an open secret that majority of my classmates were cheating – changing answers from true to false, ironically, in our religion exams. I felt I had to do the same to protect my grades. Several of us were caught – pero ako ang pinag-initan. I knew I was wrong, and deserved to be punished. Indeed, San Beda stripped me of all my honors. Finally, with the suspicion about rampant cheating, I was asked by the principal to name names. I refused. I disappointed my parents deeply. It took many years for the pain and bitterness to heal. Several years ago, I thought it was time to free myself from the rancor and memory of that experience. What better proof of reconciliation with San Beda than the 3 NCAA championships for the Red Lions?”

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Letter of Pangilinan to Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, president of ADMU

Dear Father Ben

Easter greetings!

I have been told last night that portions of my graduation remarks - in particular my address to the Schools of Humanities and Social  Sciences - had been borrowed from certain other graduation speeches.  

I had taken a look at the side-by-side comparison @ Facebook, and must admit to this mistake.

For this, I wish to express my sincerest apology to you, the University and to the 2010 graduating class.

I have had some help in the drafting of my remarks, but I take full and sole responsibility for them.

In mitigation perhaps, the body and substance of my speech represented my own story and my thoughts.  And I have labored long hours to get those speeches done.  It is my hope that their impact has not been lost on the graduates. That said, this post  fact event I am certain has devalued the words I have uttered at graduation - whether original or copied.

I am told further that comments posted on Facebook have started to spill beyond graduation, and are now alluding to my misconduct with respect to Meralco, with former President Erap, and so forth.  Under the circumstances, it is best for the Ateneo and myself to shorten the life of this controversy and prevent it from spinning out of control.

Fr Ben, this has been a source of deep personal embarrassment for me.  

I am truly regretful for it.  I already have too many battles to fight, and some of them I wish not to have to fight.  In this instance, I do not want to, and would seek only the honorable  and principled way out.  The matter at hand may rest after this public apology, but it gives me a lot of  personal discomfort to continue to be closely involved with Ateneo affairs after this incident.  I am afraid the damage has been done - wala talaga akong mukhang ihaharap pagkatapos.

With much regret, Fr Ben, I would wish to retire from my official duties at the Ateneo.

With all good wishes to you and to our graduates.

    M. V. P.

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Letter of Nebres to Pangilinan

Dear Manny,

I received your apology just a few minutes ago and feel how deeply embarrassed and pained you are by this event. We realize that this was a mistake and we respect and appreciate your taking responsibility and your immediate apology.

At the same time, we know that this happened without your full awareness, though you take full and sole responsibility.  Thus this does not diminish our admiration and respect for your person and for your care and accomplishments for our country and for the Ateneo. In fact, your acceptance of responsibility and apology command our utmost respect.

In reading again through your speeches, we also see that indeed the main part of your speeches were your story and your thoughts. We thank you for taking so much time to craft them and to share them with us and our graduates. We are deeply touched by this sharing of yourself.

Again I realize how profoundly embarrassed you are by this event and that you believe that resigning from official duties at the Ateneo is the principled thing for you to do. However, reflecting on the events and circumstances, I cannot quite agree, and I believe with many others that what is appropriate is the apology you have given.  Neither can I agree with you that "wala talaga akong mukhang ihaharap pagkatapos."  I would thus like to take up your retiring from official duties at the Ateneo with our officials and Board of Trustees and discuss it further with you.

It is Easter Vigil and may the Risen Christ be Light to you.

Fr. Ben, S.J.