By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Saturday, July 4, 2015
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The sight of the backhoe and armored vehicles on the Philippine National Police grounds in Camp Crame two weeks ago was chilling, evoking images of violent deaths, especially in the Ampatuan massacre. But on that Monday morning, the task of these vehicles was justified, for arrayed before them were mounds and mounds of confiscated pirated consumer goods, from cloned designer products to skin-whitening cosmetics and drugs to videos to books and other printed materials—products of obvious and sloppy photocopying.

Every June, a gathering such as this happens, organized by the National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights: the ceremonial destruction of counterfeit and pirated goods. This year, June 24 was declared World Anti-Counterfeiting Day.

The brief ceremony led by PNP Director Benjamin B. Magalong, director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, and Allan B. Gepty, OIC-director general of the Intellectual Property Rights Office of the Philippines, drew statements of support from various government departments and agencies involved in the difficult crusade against piracy. They deserve mention because their individual efforts amount to the proud status of the Philippines today as a country no longer on the world’s piracy watch list. It’s a feat to celebrate for the first time in 2014, after having been consistently on that watch list of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) since 1994. (The Philippines was first listed in 1989.)

This is a feather in the cap of Ricardo Blancaflor, former director general of the Intellectual Property Rights Office of the Philippines, who is credited for bringing the Philippines to its new respectable status, through legislative and regulatory reforms. As early as 2011, we were among the countries recommended for placement on the USTR’s “Priority Watch List” (the others were Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Costa Rica, Spain, Ukraine, and Vietnam). While previous lists focused on physical piracy, that year’s list set its attention on the thriving online piracy.

The agencies in partnership against piracy are the Office of the Special Envoy on Transnational Crime, National Book Development Board (NBDB), National Telecommunications Commission, National Bureau of Investigation, Optical Media Board, Bureau of Customs, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, and Department of Trade and Industry.

The testimonies of support and collaborative efforts were reassuring, but clearly showed that the work has to continue, and that every milestone marked in the campaign is matched by a still-thriving trade in counterfeit goods. It gave us in the NBDB a chance to reiterate what the publishing sector is attempting to undertake.

The NBDB considers it fortunate that the digital age did not quell the human desire to read and experience the pleasure of reading, as more people today are able to read because of the last decade’s technological advances, on different platforms. At the same time, it is only too aware that this same technology that has created wonders at one’s fingertips has also made book piracy more convenient. It has become more difficult to illegally photocopy entire books for a few photocopy shops practice their restriction on the limited number of pages allowed for copying. The convenient option of downloading entire books off the Internet has become the easier and cost-free alternative.

Playwright Jonathan Larson of the popular musical “Rent” once said that the opposite of war isn’t peace, but creation. While most people may think that illegally copying copyrighted content is a way of recreating it, making it more easily available to the larger public, it is actually a subtle form of destruction. Why? Because illegally photocopying or downloading impedes the rights of artists to earn decently from the work that took time and talent to create. Each illegal download or pirated copy of an original work hurts a creator’s financial ability to continue making good art and good products. A creator’s blood and sweat are wasted if we cannibalize original work with unpaid consumption.

Piracy is an act of war against the very essence of each human being—the grand potential for creation. It is an act of terrorism that must be stopped if we want to cultivate Filipino innovation in all aspects.

There was an eleventh-hour addition to the pile to be destroyed: 19 sacks of books seized by the Optical Media Board team of Ronnie Ricketts. The NBDB does not have a surveillance team to oversee such operations. The books were truly better off burned because these were so clumsily photocopied. There was nothing to enjoy in reading them as these were review books for government and standardized tests and science manuals.

Beyond the morning’s dramatic ceremony of the backhoe and the armored vehicles mowing down and crushing the seized goods, and burning other piles of counterfeits, beyond this symbolic gesture, the NBDB renewed its campaign to protect the book industry from piracy. The artistry and the genius of our local artists, designers, composers, content developers, and all other creators are sacred. Their intellectual property needs to be protected.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.