POSTSCRIPT / April 20, 2006 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Giant Chinese bamboo to bend with US wind?

GOOD SIGN: That China’s leader Hu Jintao landed in Seattle on his first visit to the US since becoming president in 2003, and immediately toured the campus of Microsoft Corp. and dined at the $100-million home of its chairman, Bill Gates, must be a good omen for the software king.

For a long time now, China has been a pain in the neck of enforcers of intellectual property rights. By its sheer size and seeming untouchability, that nation of 1,306 million has been able to get away with rampant violations.

But Hu’s calling on Gates as soon as he set foot on America could be a sign that China is now ready to cooperate in honoring copyrights on software, which are almost by default mostly Microsoft products. We can assume these are Windows and Office, which run some 95 percent of the world’s personal computers.

To attend to that huge market throbbing with exciting sales potentials, Microsoft has separated China from its general Asia market and assigned a full organization dedicated to it.

For its part, China will have to show that it would now enforce a recent decree that its computer manufacturers install software at their factories, rather than leave that chore to outside retailers who could try saving money by using pirated copies.

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NOW LOBBYING: China’s increased lobbying on Capitol Hill is another sign that it is coming to terms with the demands of dealing with the US. Beijing must have learned that it needs US Congress support to push its many initiatives.

Patton Boggs LLP, Washington’s biggest lobbying firm in terms of revenue, made at least 116 contacts with lawmakers or their aides on behalf of China in the second half of 2005, according to Bloomberg. China’s lobbying rose 74 percent compared to last year’s same period.

The report said China spent just under $500,000 in its second semester lobbying, paying Patton Boggs $22,000 a month.

That $22,000-a-month figure is interesting, because the Arroyo administration had signed a $75,000 monthly lobby contract with the Venable LLP law firm. Since the administration assumed office in 2001, this small nation has spent nearly $4 million in eight secret consultancy contracts with US law and lobby firms.

The highlight of Hu’s visit will be his one-on-one with US President George W. Bush on Thursday (Friday in Manila).

While Taiwan, trade, international security and human rights are expected to dominate the talks, the two leaders will have different priorities. Taiwan is likely to be a prime concern of Hu, while the growing US trade deficit with China will top Bush’s agenda.

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VOTE PADDING: Over at the National Press Club, we are still debating 54 years after its founding what a “journalist” is. Most of us are actually content with simply being called newsmen, but pompous types feel they grow bigger carrying the title “journalist.”

The debate over the term, however, is not over semantics or ego tripping. It is about the law and club politics. The definition is crucial because it will determine the media practitioners qualified to vote in the NPC elections scheduled May 7.

Manuel F. Almario, a writer-editor and a founding member who happens to be an authority on legal and political issues in the club, said that the NPC by-laws were illegally amended on Nov. 28, 2003, to sneak in individuals who are not legitimate journalists.

On that day, Maning said, an illegal assembly of around 30 persons “amended” the by-laws when at least 710 of members in good standing were required to validly approve the amendments.

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VOTERS’ LIST PADDED: “The amendments watered down the provision for regular membership with the right to vote to include persons who cannot reasonably be considered journalists,” Maning said.

He seems to imply that if the amendments were honored, unqualified individuals would be able to vote and affect the results of the elections and the corporate direction of the club.

Before the amendments, the membership provision of the NPC by-laws said:

“Section 2. Regular Member — A journalist is eligible as a regular member of the association. By JOURNALIST is meant a publisher, regular member of the editorial staff or a correspondent of a well established newspaper or magazine of general circulation which shall have been publishing continuously for a least one year prior to the filing of his application for membership, a staff member or a correspondent of similarly well-established news agency, or a regular staff member of the news department of a well established radio or television network directly involved in gathering and/or writing of the news. Newsreaders on a talent basis, since they are not involved in day-to-day news-gathering activities of said networks, do not belong to the aforesaid category. A journalist who has retired after the newspaper profession after 25 years shall be a regular member.”

As “amended” on Nov. 28, 2003, the provision now reads:

“Section 2. Regular Membership — A person who works as a publisher, editor-in-chief, editor, reporter, correspondent or news photographer or directly works in the news gathering and processing of news of an established newspaper, magazine,local or international news service, on-line or internet news, radio or television stations or networks, or managing an organization related to, or allied with, the news publications or news-gathering industry, is qualified for regular membership in the NPC, provided that his employer-organization must have been in active business existence for at least one year.

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TERM EXTENSION: Two new categories of regular members, according to Maning, were thus inserted: (1) those who operate “on-line or Internet news” and (2) those “managing an organization related to, or allied with, the news publications or news-gathering agency.”

Maning noted that operators of on-line or Internet websites cannot be considered journalists as they are not in the mass media. Anybody with skills can create and operate a blog (a variation of the website), he added.

Another amendment gives the 15 members of the board of directors a term of two years instead of one year that was in effect for the past 50 years prior to the amendment.

“Consequently, no election was held in 2005,” Maning said. “The board of directors has been able to do what the Arroyo administration has so far failed to do which is to extend the term of elective officials through an illegal Cha-cha.”

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FALSIFICATION: The NPC “general assembly” on Nov. 28, 2003, that amended the by laws was illegal, and its actions and resolutions null and void, Maning said, because Section 2, Article IX, of the NPC By-Laws states that:

“These by-laws may be amended, repealed or altered in whole or in part by a majority vote of the members of the association in good standing at any of its regular meetings or at any of its special meetings called for the purpose.”

Some of those present at the assembly have been honest enough to admit that only about 30 persons were present at the convention hall when the amendments were discussed on Nov. 28, 2003. It was not ascertained if all of them were entitled to vote.

The official list of NPC regular members submitted to the Manila Regional Trial Court (in connection with a TRO case filed by some candidates for the board of directors) show that the regular members (lifetime and regular) entitled to vote as of June 2, 2003, numbered 1,418.

Therefore, Maning said, there should have been at least 710 persons (majority) present at the Nov. 28 assembly, all of whom should have voted for the amendments. But there were only around 30.

I wonder if Maning or some affected party will file charges of falsification of public documents against the NPC secretary and the board members who submitted under oath to the Securities and Exchange Commission a certification that the amendments had been properly approved.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 20, 2006)

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