MANILA, Philippines - The problem of counterfeiting and piracy remains prevalent in the Philippines despite intense government campaign and operations against it, officials said Friday.
During the ceremonial destruction of counterfeit and pirated goods worth 30 million pesos ($714 million) at the national police headquarters, Intellectual Property Office chief Ricardo Blancaflor said the problem persists because of public patronage owing to the fake items' cheaper prices and the peoples' preference for popular brands.
"Counterfeiting and piracy remain widespread because of the use of the Internet. Despite the government's effort to curtail this, suspects continue to evade arrest and prosecution. So, there is really a need for close coordination with other agencies," senior deputy state prosecutor Severino Gana said at the same event.
Blancaflor said seized fake items last year amounted to almost 5.3 billion pesos, while in 2011, the value of seized items was a record nearly 8.4 billion pesos.
Operations during the first five months this year resulted in the confiscation of counterfeit goods worth almost 1.6 billion pesos.
Since the government established the National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights in 2005, the estimated value of confiscated counterfeit and pirated goods all over the Philippines is already 35.2 billion pesos, records from Blancaflor's office showed.
The United States Trade Representative has retained the Philippines on its Watch List this year for abusers of intellectual property rights protection, enforcement and market access.
The USTR urged the Philippines to "take important steps to address piracy over the Internet, in particular with respect to notorious online markets," and to strengthen criminal enforcement and improve predictability with respect to search and seizure orders.
"The United States encourages the Philippines to provide an effective system for protecting against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products," the agency said in its report.
Blancaflor said around 40 percent of apprehended fake items over the past few years are imitations of branded merchandise such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci products.
The second largest are electronics such as cellphones, followed by CDs and DVDs of music and movies.
Down in the ranking are fake medicines and spare parts.
Blancaflor said 70 percent of seized fake items are actually smuggled into the Philippines from other countries, while the rest are manufactured locally.
Quoting the customs bureau, Blancaflor said almost 80 percent of the smuggled fake items come from China.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas said that along with raids against manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit goods, the government should also embark on an intensive educational drive to discourage piracy among the public.
Blancaflor said that aside from the economic impact, including that to the government due to lost revenues from tax, the proliferation of fake items can also be detrimental to consumers due to poor standards.
"Many actually have suffered stroke because of the use of fake sex enhancers," he said.
Piracy in music and movies also affect the legitimate industry that, in some occasions, drove away local artists to other countries.
But, giving credit to enforcement by the police, national bureau of investigation, and customs bureau among others, Blancaflor said "the counterfeit problem in the country is going down now."
"There's a big impact now. Many shops (that sell fake items) have closed down, and this kind of market has since been reduced in number. These are signs that the proliferation of fake items around us have shrunk," he said.
Still, Blancaflor is seeking stricter penalties for apprehended manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit items, noting the crime is bailable under Philippine law and conviction only carries a penalty of two to three years in prison.
"This fight must be a whole-of-government approach, aside from asking our consumers not to patronize counterfeit goods," he said.