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Photo plagiarist said financial woes made him steal pic


The 22-year-old amateur photographer who has come under fire for submitting somebody else's work as his own to a photo contest said he was forced to commit plagiarism because of financial troubles.

In a report that aired on GMA's "24 Oras" Tuesday, Mark Joseph Solis, a graduate student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, said he wanted to win the photo contest organized by the Chilean Embassy because he wanted to help support his family and pay household bills.

"Hirap din [kasi kami] sa buhay. Minsan gusto mo rin ng gamit kahit papaano, minsan kapos sa pang-tuition. In fact, hindi pa ako nakakabayad ng tuition ko sa UP. [Gusto ko ring] makapagbigay ako sa pamilya ko," he said.

Solis was declared the winner of the Chilean Embassy's Calidad Humana National Essay Photography Competition for the photograph, which he titled "The Mettle of the Filipino Spirit." In his entry he claimed that the photo, which showed a child smiling at the camera, was that of "a young boy who helps his father in farming seaweeds along a coastal community in Zamboanga province."

Days after Solis' victory was publicized, Gregory John Smith, a social entrepreneur with the global network Ashoka and founder of the Children At Risk Foundation in Brazil, revealed through posts on social media that the photo Solis submitted was his own.

"The photo was actually taken by me in Brazil in 2006, whilst on Christmas holidays at the coast together with four brothers from the same poverty-stricken family in Brazil, who were supported by our program at the time," Smith told GMA News Online.

Solis later apologized to Smith in a letter, saying that his youth, inexperience and "inability to see the repercussions" of his actions, as well as the prize money and the chance to go abroad, led to what he called his "regrettable lapse [in] my judgment".

The 22-year-old, who is studying for a Master's degree in Public Administration at the UP-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG), apologized again to Smith in the "24 Oras" report, as well to the other parties affected by the incident.

"Sorry po sa nagawa ko, kay Mr. Smith, sa Chilean embassy, sa UP dahil nadadamay sila dito [at] sa iba pa na nasaktan ko. Humihingi ho ako ng dispensa," he said.

In the same report, Solis admitted that he submitted another photo that was not his own for a contest sponsored by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in 2011.

In a statement posted Tuesday on the agency's website, Atty. Jomer Aquino of the OPAPP Legal and Security Unit said that OPAPP is already conducting its own investigation to determine whether Solis also plagiarized the photo he submitted to win the contest.

"Let it be known that Mr. Solis also won in the 'Say Peace Photo Contest' sponsored by OPAPP in 2011. OPAPP is now conducting its own investigation in order to find out whether Mr. Solis has committed same infraction in the said contest. If proven guilty, OPAPP will not hesitate to exercise legal options to rectify the wrong done by Solis," Aquino said.

Solis said he is willing to return the prize money he won from the OPAPP contest.

The Embassy of Chile, meanwhile, has already stripped Solis of his award. It has also revoked the prizes given to him. Solis was originally awarded with a $1,000 cash prize and a free trip to Chile and Brazil.

In a statement posted online, the embassy said it will soon announce a new set of winners "after due evaluation." — Xianne Arcangel/BM, GMA News
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