Mark Joseph Solis, a University of the Philippines student, joined a photo contest – Smiles for the World – and won it. He was rewarded with US $1,000.00 and a round trip ticket to Brazil and Chile for his winning entry that got the top prize.
The said contest was sponsored by the Chile embassy and Ambassador Roberto Mayorga in celebration of their country’s 203rd Year of Independence. Solis’ winning entry was picked as the best from 500 other entries, which was later reduced to 30 in pre-qualification.
The photo, shown in an article published on a national broadsheet (which was later taken down) is of a smiling boy supposedly gathering seaweed in Zamboanga City.
Solis almost got away with the prize and the recognition until a Mr. Gregory John Smith claimed on a Facebook post that the winning photo was his. Smith, founder of Children At Risk Foundation was clearly surprised upon seeing his picture, wrote :
‘“WOW! There is really no limit to people’s abuse of others in this world. This is one of my photographs that just won first prize in a contest that I never entered”
He also corrected that the boy in the photo in question was a Brazilian and not a Filipino, much less a Zamboangueno. According to the link of a Flickr account of CARF showing the same photo taken in 2006, the boy was actually Elias from Morro de Macaco, a town in Brazil.
Solis, after drawing flak from disappointed netizens on social media over his action, had issued a public apology via a letter published in another social news network.
The letter addressed to Mr. Gregory Smith read;
‘I am writing to you to express my deep remorse and sincerest apologies for claiming your photo as mine. As the rightful owner of the photo, you deserve my initial thoughts and statement about this.’
As to why he had to commit this shameful act, he wrote:
‘Unfortunately I was driven by my youth, lack of experience and the inability to see the repercussions of my actions. The sheer amount of the prize, the stiff competition and the unique ability to be abroad blinded me from undertaking what is supposed to be an honest and rightful conduct.’
He expressed regrets and willingness to return everything he got from the contest including the prize. He said also that he is now in contact with the organizers to convey apologies and seek opinion.
It was also revealed that he entered the same photo in another contest – Water and Life:2013 ICIMOD Digital Photo Contest, but not as boy from Zamboanga, but this time supposedly from Ramanathapuram, India.
The 22-year old Political Science graduate of UP is presently enrolled at UP NCPAG for his Master’s Degree in Public Administration. He is an exchange scholar at Japan and is a member of UP Debate Society.