The Mark Joseph Solis Controversy
These days, Philippine social media is abuzz over Mark Joseph Solis, but not in a good way.
Mark Joseph Solis has been exposed as a fraud or a “photo thief” after he won the Calidad Humana photo contest sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Chile (here in the Philippines). “His” winning photo is supposedly of a boy in Zamboanga province (a province in the southern part of the Philippines) playing with seaweeds. In fact, his photo was taken by Gregory John Smith, a Brazil-based social entrepreneur and founder of Children at Risk Foundation, of a boy from Brazil.
The photo at the center of the controversy. Gregory John Smith’s photo plagiarized and entered into a contest by Mark Joseph Solis.
The fraud was exposed after people contacted Smith on the use of his photo for the contest (after it already won). The contest, with a theme of “Smiles for the World” carries a top prize of $1000, an all-expense paid trip to Brazil and Chile and a high end smartphone from a local telecom company. Adding fuel to the fire is that this is not the first time that he’s done it. Reports indicate that he’s done it five times, entering photo contests with pictures taken from flickr and other websites.
The controversy sure seemed like it was blown out of proportion. Primarily, I think this is because Mr. Solis is a student of the University of the Philippines (UP), a public university and the premier institution of learning in the country. He graduated BS Political Science from UP and is now taking graduate studies in the university’s National Center for Public Administration and Governance. I guess people were expecting much higher standards from students who graduated from UP and whose education were paid for by their taxes.
Plagiarism is a serious thing in UP (same as in higher institutions of learning). It is punishable by expulsion, though the application of that is not clear in this case as this is not a school-related project or activity. (I remember when I was in college in UP, there was a history teacher that I hated. Two or three years after I’ve taken her class, she was exposed for having plagiarized her thesis or dissertation for her doctorate degree. I don’t think she was fired or expelled, probably suspended, and last I heard, she said that she’d prepare her own thesis).
Not surprisingly, UP students and alumni were much irritated to have the name of our beloved university tarnished (once again) because of the foolishness and lack of intellectual honesty of one person. Photographers and photography groups were also on fire criticizing Mr. Solis for such photo theft.
For me, the more disturbing issue is that Mr. Solis is a student with leadership and debating skills and he has been recognized as an outstanding student by the Knights of Rizal (a chartered organization devoted to the ideals of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal). Furthermore, he has taken Political Science and is doing graduate studies on Public Administration – indications that point to him having an interest in a political career.
Another hot topic in the Philippine social media today is the pork barrel controversy involving several top political leaders (senators and congressmen). And it is frightening that Mr. Solis, at his age 22, may already be on his way to becoming one of these corrupt leaders. Today, someone else’s picture to win some prize money here and there. Tomorrow, the public’s money for personal gain.
In some ways, everything will be well for those affected (except perhaps for Mr. Solis who is still subject of criticism). Mr. Smith’s foundation earned media exposure, and so did the photography contest sponsored by the Chilean Embassy. UP’s name, though tarnished, still remained with shine as the second and third place winners were also from UP. Mr. Medardo Marquez, previous second prize winner has been awarded the first place in lieu of disqualified Solis.
Since this is my blog, I’d like to take this opportunity to post some pictures on the contest theme. They may not win some prize but they are my own and I’m proud of them.