BRASILIA, Brazil – The smell of burning grass is quite common in Brasilia this time of the year. It’s winter in Brazil, which means it’s the dry season and it hasn’t rained for months. The resulting parched grasses and weeds of empty lots become easy tinder for a carelessly thrown cigarette butt, though truth be told, most of these fires are deliberately started to clean out overgrown plots of land.
Last week I was sitting in the living room of my parent’s house and I heard a strange noise.
“Do you hear that noise,” I asked my parents.
“No,” said my mother.
“It’s a crackling sound,” I said.
And true enough, there through our front door, that was wide open to let in the afternoon breeze, I could see orange flames licking away at dry grasses in the empty lot behind our house.
“It’s a fire! Look how close it is to our fence!” I exclaimed.
I immediately went out to look at the flames that had blackened the entire lot next door. Firemen had been called by a neighbor and they came onto our property with what looked like long broomsticks with floppy, rubber paddles on the end that they used to slap the flames out with.
It took them around 30 minutes to put out most of the flames, though a small portion of the lot kept burning until the early hours of the morning.
On TV a few days later, I saw a dead armadillo, a victim of another dry-season fire in Brasilia.
The Thick Faces of Corrupt Politicians
THE ex-governor of the federal district turned senator, Joaquim Roriz, who was being investigated by the Senate for corruption, abruptly resigned last week so that he would not banned from running for political office until 2024 if found guilty.
Now, Roriz, who allegedly accepted a bribe of 2.2 million reais (more than $1 million) from the owner of Gol Airlines, will be able to run for the governorship of the federal district yet again in 2010.
According to an investigative report by the leading Brazilian newsweekly magazine Veja and to wiretaps by the federal police, Roriz used a major portion of the 2.2 million reais to pay off electoral judges who were going to rule against him for illegally using government machinery in his election campaign to become senator. The magazine reveled that Roriz had improperly ordered the government water utility Caesb to change its telephone number from 115 to 151, the same number that he uses on election ballots. According to initial reports, the judges of the electoral court were ready to vote 3 to 2 against Roriz, but suddenly voted 4 to 2 in favor of him after the bribes were paid to several judges according to Veja.
The strange thing in all of this is that in the Brazilian political system, each member of Congress is allowed to nominate two “suplentes” or substitutes, who take over all the duties and responsibilities of the politician if he or she resigns to take a government position or even if they resign for almost any other reason. Veja says that of Brazil’s 81 senators, 13 percent of them are “suplentes”, which is extraordinary because none of the “suplentes” are elected.
In Roriz’s case, his designated substitute, Gim Argello, has now also been linked to corruption, and has avoided being sworn-in during the winter recess of Congress, so as to delay any further investigations into his alleged misdoings. His lawyers have told him to avoid all contact with the media, and it is believed that as soon as he is sworn in, Argello will take a medical leave of absence in the hope of further styming any probe into his shady actions.
The Danger of Half-Baked Laws
THE so-called Human Security Act that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her allies in Congress have rushed into law is both alarming and dangerous.
Already many senators and legal experts are complaining that the new law is written so badly and is so vague, that a good set of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) are badly needed to avoid severe abuses of human rights.
President Arroyo claims that its strict provisions of severe punishment of policemen or military officers who torture or kidnap civilians will be a breakthrough in turning the tide of the veritable tsunami of political killings and disappearances that have engulfed the past six years of the Arroyo administration.
But as one commentator pointed out, fining a policeman P500,000 a day for kidnapping a person is ridiculous and will only encourage them to kill their prisoners so that they won’t be able to point them out later and have them punished. Who in the Philippines, apart from the government and few mega-rich business tycoons, has the financial capability of paying P500,000 a day fines? Hardly anyone I’m sure of that.
The HSA is so scary because it allows the detention of any suspect for up to three days without recourse to a court of law. It will also allow wiretapping, house arrest, travel bans and seizure of properties. This to me seems more like laws that you find in dictatorships and not freedom-loving democracies like the Philippines.
President Arroyo assures us that the setting up of special human rights courts under the new law will further protect the rights of Filipinos. But I find that hard to believe. To me it looks like a law that is so vague will be used against all those who oppose the Arroyo administration, whether NPA rebels or Estrada-aligned senators. To rush such a wide-reaching and potentially lethal law before coming up with strict IRR, and without putting an expiry date on such a draconian law, is a huge mistake.
We will have to wait until this Sunday, when the new law comes into effect, and after to see how it is going to be used by the Arroyo administration. From all the indications we’ve had so far, I’m not sure that much good will come from the Human Security Act.