chairman of the Optical Media Board

Here’s one downgrading the Philippines would welcome with open arms. Long suffering from the stigma attached to being a haven for intellectual property pirates, the Philippines is eagerly looking forward to an earlier audit by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) that it hopes would lead to its removal from the list of countries with the highest piracy rates.

The Philippines was among 15 countries recommended by the IIPA that the US government place under its “priority watch list.” The IIPA, however, has recently requested the US Trade department to conduct an earlier — or “out of cycle” — review this year of the Philippines, as well as for China and Malaysia. If they find out that the (Philippine) government is making enough effort (to combat piracy), we will be downgraded from the ‘priority watch list’ to the ‘watch list.Edu Manzano>Text

“If they find out that the (Philippine) government is making enough effort (to combat piracy), we will be downgraded from the ‘priority watch list’ to the ‘watch list’,” explained Edu Manzano, chairman of the Optical Media Board (OMB).

The IIPA typically conducts its per-country review at the end of the year. However, Manzano said the Alliance may conduct its review this June. The OMB chief is hopeful that the country will soon shed its “piracy haven” label following the significant gains it has made in the fight against bootlegged software, compact discs (CDs) and digital video discs (DVDs) last year.

According to the IIPA report for 2004, the piracy rate in the Philippines decreased by 6 per cent. Manzano attributed the improvement to increased stakeholder support for the government’s anti-piracy efforts last year.

According to Manzano, the IIPA specifically commended the Philippine government for a raid conducted by the OMB in Quiapo, Manila where authorities seized 634,000 illegally copied CDs and DVDs.

The OMB recently hosted a regional forum where government representatives from other countries including China, Malaysia and Indonesia gave updates on their respective anti-piracy campaigns.

“We are now regarded as the template by neighboring countries because they have seen our achievements in the past year despite our limited resources,” Manzano said.

The country is spearheading efforts to curb piracy in the Southeast Asian region, especially since it often finds itself on the receiving end.

According to Manzano, around 80 per cent of the pirated materials in the country are smuggled from neighbouring states like Malaysia and Indonesia. “This is already a transnational crime involving syndicates. It’s definitely not just a mom-and-pop operation,” he said.

The OMB is seeking the help of the governments of neighboring countries so cross-border monitoring could be conducted since most of the pirated materials that are smuggled into the country enter through unsecured ports in the Southern Philippines, notably Mindanao.

Manzano credited last year’s improvement in the country’s overall piracy rate to increased support from stakeholder groups. “But we cannot depend forever on stakeholder support,” he said.

The OMB has an annual budget of 23 million pesos (US$423,800) from the Office of the President but most of it goes to pay the salaries of its personnel. Very little is left to fund regular anti-piracy raids. Manzano’s office spends an average of 400, 000 pesos for every raid it conducts.

“Most of it we spend to support enforcement personnel from the police and military. We also spend it on renting vehicles, for example, because we cannot operate undercover using military vehicles” he explained.

To enable it to step up its anti-piracy efforts, the OMB is asking for additional funding from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s office. “We are asking President Arroyo for an intelligence fund that we can use to offer rewards to those who help us track down illegal operations,” Manzano said.