As a by-product of the word war between FAP Director General Leo Martinez and OMB Chair Edu Manzano, video piracy takes center stage once again.
In the same breadth as the immortal jueteng, video piracy can neither be curtailed by mere bravado and showmanship nor its life snuffed out by a single government agency. The system is already deep-rooted and the method being employed by piracy lords employs both simplicity and complexity as regards the retail trade.
Realistically speaking, there’s a mutual benefit for the seller and the buyer with the virtual losses borne by the producers who are known to be rich… ergo, guilt is not an issue. And to borrow the words of Director Joey Javier Reyes, “Video piracy is the great equalizer. Rich and poor alike can watch a movie of their choice in the comfort of their homes.” That may be the reason why there are patrons of pirated video discs and therefore the supply is just an entrepreneurial reaction to the demand.
To get a first-hand information of what’s really happening, this writer attempted to uncover some facts behind the illegal trade. Following are snapshots of the recent encounter of this writer with “M”, a DVD retailer in a posh commercial establishment near the Valle Verde subdivision in Pasig. The countless video stores in that particular area has one identifying mark – all the vendors have that Muslim look and all sport Muslim-sounding names (with no offense meant to the Muslims).
M: Sixty five. (per piece of DVD without case but with a fancy cover)
A: Pambihira, eh fifty lang ‘to sa palengke, a.
M: Magtanong ka sa iba dyan. Lahat sixty-five. Sige, sixty na lang sa iyo.
A: O, (smiles) utang na loob ko pa ang discount.
M: Mahal kasi bayad dito (waves around as if to emphasize the classiness of the place).
A: I see, I see. Malaki puhunan, ano? Ilang months ang down dito?
M: May boss kami.
A: So, yung boss ang umaayos nito?
A: Sa lahat? (pointing to all the stores)
M: (nods and smiles) Oo.
A: Sila kumukuha ng puwesto?
M: Sila na ang bahala sa lahat. Basta kami, tinda lang.
So my gut feel was right after all. The vendors are just hired hands tending the stores which are actually owned by the nameless and faceless boss. Hired hands include innocently-looking guys who seem to possess an x-ray vision with a matching high level of ESP. A spy camera would appear less efficient than these so-called watchers who, by just plain observing, could analyze the personality and real intentions of potential customers. No need to say that shoplifters don’t have a Chinaman’s chance against these professional watchers.
A: Isang grupo lang kayo?
M: Hindi. Kanya-kanya kami (points to the adjacent stores).
A: I mean… isa lang ang pinanggagalingan nito (DVD)?
M: (nods and smiles) Oo, isa lang kaya parehas ang mga price.
A: Bakit di ka kumuha sa iba? Baka mas mura.
M: Hindi puwede.
M: (No answer- pretends to be busy with the calculator)
Again, my hunch was right. The vendors belong to a group, a loose organization
maybe but they are connected by a common denominator – the supplier who, by the way, happens to be the financier as well. It also became clear, a little later, that there is only one boss for the hundreds of stores that openly display the pirated DVDs for all to see. As per the news reports, Chinese? Not really. Politicians? No comment. Are there protectors? Of course there are!
In just one store, the number of DVDs may reach more than a thousand pieces, mostly new releases but there were some racks dedicated to the classics. The figure excludes the audio DVDs and videoke format. It was obvious that all the movie DVDs have only English titles.
A: Wala bang Tagalog? (with lips pointing to the racks)
M: Wala. (smiles and shakes his head)
A: Bakit, ayaw ba ni Edu?
M: (nods then looks around) Bawal daw, yang English lang puwede.
A: So, wala talaga?
M: Meron, nakatago pa.
A: O, meron pala eh.
M: Pero baka next month pa puwede.
A: Dati naman me Tagalog, di ba? Kelan pa binawal? December?
A: Kelan, nung filmfest?
This writer got the impression that the embargo is artificial and just a sort of “pa-effect” to disguise the “intimate understanding” between the government’s OMB and the piracy lords. Further, it looks that the said embargo is a measure taken in order to protect the interests of those concerned.
A: Buti kahit English me nakukuha kayo?
M: Sila na ang bahala (referring to his boss).
A: Mas madaling makakuha ng Tagalog kasi dito lang, local.
M: Oo, pero bawal pa.
A: Hindi, ibig kong sabihin yung master mas madali dahil dito lang ginawa.
M: Sila na ang bahala (the boss again) tinda-tinda lang kami dito.
A: Sige, pag puwede na Tagalog, ipag-reserve mo ko ng filmfest.
M: Wala nun. Mga bago meron pero yung December wala talaga.
A: Rated X na Tagalog, meron?
A: Yung me director’s cut ang gusto ko.
M: (smiles) Marami.
A: O, marami pala eh. Patingin.
M: Next month pa nga.
Pirated video patrons sometimes experience fate’s backlash of buying a DVD with corrupted contents. After informing “M” of my apprehension on the DVDs I was intending to buy, he flashed that familiar smile while handing me his business card as a gesture of guarantee. He said I could always exchange the lemon DVD for a good one because I am a valued customer despite patronizing his store for the first time.
Like jueteng, piracy provides livelihood. Like the jueteng lords, piracy lords earn a huge amount of money. But unlike jueteng, piracy has lower risks unless the authorities start to arrest the buyers. And unlike jueteng, it’s not as immoral as gambling.
To erase the budding suspicion of the hawk-eyed watchers, I ended my scripted spiels and promptly paid for the couple of DVDs in my hand. Engrossed with my personal crusade, I failed to notice the titles – Syriana and Memoirs of a Geisha – both foreign movies which are still being shown in the theaters (as of this writing).
Indeed, piracy is like a plague that only a united front could stop. And with the seemingly fool-proof and very efficient system of manufacturing and distribution, who’s got the nerve to swim against the tide just to earn a few pogi points from the media and the public? But on second thought, perhaps the present zarzuela could end with a real cenaculo if words and actions become real. And hoping against hope, there would be a concerted effort to end the plague once and for all.
Is selling pirated DVDs really illegal? Why do vendors have the temerity to openly display the pirated DVDs? And who is the so-called boss? A long train of questions traversed the railway of my mind, questions with no concrete answers at hand.
While walking down the stairway of the mini-mall, my mind raced to a final question. What would I do with the two DVDs I just bought? Reality bites – I realized we don’t have a DVD player.
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