Anti-piracy campaign turns dicey

Thousands of discs seized, destroyed in raids

MANILA — The Philippines’ war against piracy has taken a cinematic twist.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s chairman appointee to the Video Regulatory Board — thesp Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. — has brought his action hero persona vividly to life. Wasting little time after being sworn in, the young matinee idol and former governor of Cavite, a province south of Manila, made a series of raids into areas widely known to be hubs of the fake CD and VCD business.

The visits caught the pirates by surprise — just like in the movies. Raids resulted in the confiscation and destruction of thousands of pirate discs. Media coverage, the president’s presence and the participation of other militant entertainment folk gave the events a bigger-than-life quality. But Revilla wasn’t doing it just for show.

After the city raids, the Video Regulatory Board chair and other officials turned their cross-hairs on the suburbs. A big plant in Bulacan, north of Manila, turned up not just pirate CDs but production equipment. Plant workers turned out to be illegal aliens, seven Indonesians and five Chinese. The strike put an end to P800 million pesos ($16 million) in illegal business.

Revilla took his war to the southern islands as well. Similar raids in Davao province laid $19,000 worth of fake VCDs to waste. So far his aggressive, no-nonsense approach has yielded over $6 million worth of fake CDs.

Revilla said he wants to cut the supply of pirate CDs by 50% before year’s end, giving jobs back to 187,000 movie workers who have been displaced by film piracy.

Revilla blamed the pirates for the drastic cut in Filipino film production of late. The current annual output of 30 to 40 films is alarming when compared with the former high of 300 to 400 films a year.

Even printing presses that produce labels for pirate compact and video compact discs have not been spared by the VRB chief. Operatives swooped down on a press in the town of Antipolo in late August and arrested 12 machine operators and staff, catching them red-handed in the printing of assorted CD, VCD and DVD labels.

Revilla says tipsters have begun to assist the board, in what may be an indication of growing public support.

But it hasn’t all been victory parties for the action hero. Revilla’s cousin and a former chief security officer was gunned down by an ex-police officer in early August while Revilla was in Davao, for reasons undisclosed. Weeks later, a close friend and aide suffered a similar fate. Revilla has acknowledged that he has received death threats because of his anti-piracy campaign. However, he could not say for sure if either slaying was related to the campaign.

True to character, Revilla isn’t backing down, although he has agreed to beef up security for his family.

“I just hope the probes (of) the deaths of these people who were virtually brothers to me do not lead to the conclusion that they were politically motivated or connected to the (anti-piracy) campaign,” he says. “I am trying to comfort myself by believing that those senseless deaths were triggered by personal motives. And I do hope they were not killed because they were associated with me.”

Wherever the investigations may lead, Revilla says he would seek justice. Also, the killings will not soften his stand on audio and film piracy.

The action has just begun.

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