Manila – US tourist Claudia was all agog as she went through boxes and boxes of pirated DVDs of top Hollywood movies and music for sale at a stall in a Manila shopping mall.

Armed with a long list of movies and music DVDs requested by friends back in Los Angeles, Claudia scanned the selection and quickly picked her choices that included Oscar-winning movies Slumdog Millionaire and The Reader.

‘It’s like watching an original copy,’ she said as she watched segments of the movies she chose on a small DVD player used for testing. ‘Now I know why my friends asked me to buy DVDs here in Manila!’

Joel, the sales clerk assisting Claudia, said the number of foreigners buying fake DVDs in Manila has been on the rise as the Philippines gain a dubious image as a top source of high-quality pirated DVDs in South-East Asia.

‘Maybe about one third of our daily sales come from foreigners, tourists,’ he said. ‘They often tell me that the original DVDs are so much more expensive in their countries, so they buy as much as they could here.’

A pirated DVD movie in the Philippines cost 50 pesos (1.06 dollars) compared to 15 dollars to 20 dollars for an original DVD copy.

Aside from pirated video and music DVDs, the Philippines is also a treasure-trove of fakes of popular international brands such as Gucci, Christian Dior and Lacoste.

For Michael, a first-time visitor from Britain, saving a few dollars can go a long way in these trying times.

‘These are hard times, so a good-quality but cheap product is always a good buy,’ he said, smiling as he stashed his loot, a fake Gucci sunglasses and a so-called ‘Class A’ Rolex wristwatch, in his bag, presents for girlfriend and sister.

Hawkers of fake products continue to proliferate in the Philippines – inside shopping malls, on sidewalks, outside hotels, even inside office buildings – despite relentless raids and seizures conducted by government authorities.

The Washington-based International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) even lamented that the Philippines has ‘once again emerged in 2008 as a net exporter of pirated CDs, DVDs and CD-ROMs.’

‘Local production makes up an estimated 40 to 50 per cent of hard goods found in the domestic market and pirates once again have found it profitable to export,’ the IIPA said in its 2009 Report on Copyright Protection and Enforcement.

But Adrian Cristobal, director general of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, said the country has been gaining ground in its fight against piracy, noting that the estimated value of fake goods confiscated in 2008 rose 17.39 per cent compared to 2007, with the total amount of fake products seized in 2008 at 3.51 billion pesos.

The IIPA and other anti-counterfeiting groups are, however, not impressed by the performance of the Philippine authorities.

Last week, the IIPA said it has requested the United States to elevate the Philippines to the ‘Priority Watch List’ due to the worsening piracy condition in the country.

‘In general, the piracy situation in the Philippines worsened in 2008,’ the IIPA report said. ‘In addition to physical piracy (CDs, DVDs, CD-ROMs), the legitimate market for foreign and local Philippine copyright was decimated by Internet piracy, mobile device piracy, camcording piracy, retail piracy, optical disc production and pay TV theft.’

In the business software and music industries, companies lost at least 222 million dollars in 2008 in the Philippines due to piracy, the IIPA said.

‘The rampant use of unlicensed software in the workplace by businesses continued to cause the greatest revenue losses to the software industry in 2008, thereby stunting the growth of the information sector,’ it said.

The IIPA also noted that US movies illegally recorded in the Philippines have found their way in 13 countries, across three continents, including the United States.

The organization lamented that corruption in the Philippine judiciary hampers the prosecution of piracy suspects.

‘Judicial corruption has become an increasingly serious concern,’ the IIPA said. ‘Only a handful of criminal convictions in copyright cases have ever been handed down in the Philippines, with even fewer achieving deterrent sentences or sentences that were carried out in practice.’

The alliance called on the Philippine government to ‘launch anti-corruption initiative to eradicate compromises in intellectual property enforcement and to take action to punish offenders.’

It also called for more raids and criminal prosecutions against those engaged in all forms of piracy like mall-owners and retail merchants selling pirated CDs and DVDs and businesses using pirated software programmes.