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Philippine Greens Protest the Visit of Bill Gates

by Roberto VerzolaThe Philippine Greens
March 20th, 1998


The Philippine Greens protest the unwelcome presence in our country of William Gates III and his company Microsoft Corporation.

Why a protest against Bill Gates?

A year ago, it was unthinkable for local police to raid our schools. Today, Microsoft regularly threatens to raid Philippine schools that don't subscribe to Microsoft's one-computer/one-software-purchase demand. At least one school has actually been the victim of a Microsoft-initiated raid. School administrators feel threatened by the raids, and are now forced to buy expensive software for their computers, one copy per computer. This huge expense will probably be passed on to students, which will increase the cost of education and make it less affordable particularly to poor students.

Several years ago, thanks to compulsory licensing, we were enjoying low-cost reprinted textbooks, making education and self-learning somewhat more accessible to Filipino students and professionals. Today, a new intellectual property law has removed genuine compulsory licensing and made it very hard to reprint foreign textbooks. Microsoft, other U.S. firms, and the U.S. government exerted tremendous pressure on the Philippine government to pass this law. Visit bookstore now; what we see are expensive reprints whose prices are set by foreign firms instead of local publishers.

We protest against a software monopoly that controls more than 90% of the market for personal computer operating systems in the Philippines and worldwide. We also protest against information monopolies in general emerging out of the global information economy. Bill Gates, number one U.S. cyberlord and the world's richest person with a net worth of around $36 billion, is the top representative of these information monopolies. He has used his monopoly position in computer operating systems as leverage to extend his monopoly to computer applications software, programming languages and utilities, Internet server software, financial software and other areas. He is also moving into electronic reproductions of art and literature, databases and other information services, publishing, genetic information, and many other areas. His visit to the Philippines can only mean that he now wants to extend his monopoly position in our country. We are already feeling his negative presence in the form of pressure on our government to give him special treatment; to pass oppressive laws for his sake; to create special court, departmental and police units for enforcing his monopoly; and to spend precious government funds raiding local schools, shops and other Filipino businesses.

Piracy: good or bad?

The U.S. accuses us of piracy, whenever we try to access technologies and knowledge on our own terms. They call us pirates when we reprint or photocopy foreign textbooks, share expensive software with each other, copy a video casette, or manufacture a patented pharmaceutical product.

The U.S. has no moral authority to stop us. In the 19th century, they were the number one pirate of British books and publications. As we do today, they also dipped freely into the world's storehouse of knowledge when they were a developing nation themselves. Even today, the U.S. and Europe lead in pirating our intellectuals, in pirating indigenous knowledge, and in pirating the genetic resources of the Third World. Piracy seems to be alright when done by the U.S. to enrich itself further, but not when we do it because we cannot afford their monopoly prices.

The U.S. cites the GATT agreement to justify their protectionist calls in favor of IPR. Yet, the U.S. continues to violate GATT provisions with brazen impunity by resorting to unilateral measures (such as "Super 301" and "Special 301" provisions of the U.S. Trade Act) and unilateral actions (such as watchlisting, blacklisting, or threatening to withdraw GSP status) against weaker and poorer nations like the Philippines. The U.S. relied on these threats and other bullying tactics, rather than any moral arguments, to pressure the Philippine government to adopt a new intellectual property law that is good for U.S. companies but bad for Filipinos.

Neither has our government any moral authority, in so far as software copying is concerned, because it is actually one of the biggest copy centers of commercial software. And rightly so, because we are a poor country. Why should we hand over millions of dollars to U.S. companies for short-lived overpriced software which can be had at much lower cost under genuine compulsory licensing? Why should we be expected to enrich further one who is already the world's richest, when software companies themselves admit that 50% of software used in the U.S. are unauthorized copies?

Bill Gates granted "amnesty" to Pres. Ramos and the Philippine government for their use of pirated software. Now, supposedly, all Microsoft products in government use are legal and as good as paid for, and the government may now hypocritically conduct police raids on others who continue to do as the government did, copying commercial software.

We consider this amnesty no different from a bribe by Microsoft, to entice our government to protect Microsoft's monopoly in the Philippines.

Why should our government protect the interests of the richest man in the world, while it refuses protection for Filipino workers, or even Filipino businesses? How many raids have we heard against foreign firms who pirate employees from Filipino firms? Against businesses that pay below the minimum wage law? Or against polluters and illegal loggers and polluters? Why the special protection for Bill Gates?

Why is the president of the Philippines, a former general, acting as sheriff for Bill Gates, number one U.S. cyberlord and the richest man in the world?

Our demands

We ask Mr. Bill Gates to: 1) order his company Microsoft and its Philippine subsidiary to stop initiating or threatening police raids against our schools, shops and local businesses; 2) stop demanding special treatment for his company or the software industry; and 3) submit to genuine compulsory licensing of software, in which the our government would grant to local businesses licences to copy foreign software and sell these to the local market at affordable prices and based on reasonable margins, with the licensees being required to pay the original copyrights holders a reasonable royalty based on selling price and set by our laws.

The Philippine Greens also remind President Ramos that his government has more important things to do than spending precious time and money protecting monopolies like Microsoft. We ask President Ramos to: 1.) refuse any amnesty grant from Microsoft, because such grant is in reality a bribe to entice the government in giving the software firm special treatment; 2) implement genuine compulsory licensing on major technologies and products, like books, software and pharmaceutical products; 3) repeal the new Intellectual Property Law, which expands the monopolistic privileges in the Philippines of foreign companies like Microsoft, and reinstitute genuine compulsory licensing; 4) abolish the special court, departmental and police units whose exclusive assignments are to enforce or try IPR cases; and 5) order all government agencies to avoid monopolistically-owned software like Windows and to consider alternatives like the shareware Digital DOS for workstations, the free Linux software for servers, and other shareware programs.

For details, please contact: Roberto Verzola, Secretary-General, Tel. 921-5165.