There’s no doubt the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago was a national treasure—so witty, so feisty, so funny, so lovable, so comforting, so inspiring.
God made our beloved Miriam so unique that perhaps no other Filipino woman could ever come close to her colorful life and character. Not in our lifetime, at least, or also perhaps in the next couple of generations to come.
Miriam, who succumbed to cancer last Thursday, truly epitomized the Latin phrase Sui Generis which in English means “in a class of its own.” Philippine politics will never be the same without her, and I’m sure millions of Filipinos are now feeling orphaned with her death.
Her intellectual prowess was awesome and her character traits were so endearing to all sectors of society—the young and old, the rich and poor, the good and the not-so-good, the erudite and the unlettered.
Many dismayed with the fraud-ridden 1992 presidential elections like to call her the “best president we never had.” For Miriam’s true believers, though, they’ll always look up to her as the “unproclaimed 12th President of the Philippines.”
The reported massive cheating in 1992 shocked young voters who formed her core of avid supporters. I remember leaving then for the US after the elections and on my way to the airport, I saw newspaper headlines screaming Miriam was winning the vote count. When I arrived in the US, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported then candidate Fidel Ramos was leading.
So scathing were Miriam’s tirades against Ramos in the months and years that followed that the claim of “Brenda” or “brain-damaged” was concocted against her in retaliation. Yet, for her believers, calling Miriam crazy was not only unacceptable, but utter craziness because her thoughts were clearly lucid and logical whenever she appeared in public, and there were no outward manifestations of being deranged.
For the throngs of Miriam’s followers who admired their idol for having been elementary and high school Valedictorian and Magna Cum Laude during her student days, even a revelation that she scored low in the Bar exams (due to her being sickly at the time) didn’t mean a thing.
What meant a lot was Miriam having the distinction of becoming the first-ever Filipino to win a seat as judge at the International Criminal Court, an honor she was so proud of. Unfortunately, she had to give up the prestigious post when cancer hit.
Professionally, Miriam excelled in all three branches of government—judicial executive and legislative. It was in the judiciary when I first noticed her excellence. As a young reporter in the late 80’s, I covered her when she was judge at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. It was there that I knew she was destined for greatness even before she exploded into the public consciousness.
So I wasn’t surprised at all with her terrific performance in the executive branch as immigration commissioner and agrarian reform secretary during the time of President Cory Aquino. She was really feisty and fearless, saying she “eats death threats for breakfast.”
As senator, her intellectual prowess and fierceness shined even more as she could outtalk other brilliant minds. When she raised her voice, all those around never dared to talk back. Some even seemed to literally cower in fear.
When issues hitting the national discourse seemed confusing, many Filipinos awaited her opinion. And people were assured her pronouncement would be “a show—not only issued from a position of great height but, perhaps as important, also as entertaining as hell.”
For her sheer brilliance and ferocity, as well as her sterling honesty and the laughter elicited with her jokes and pickup lines, Miriam is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed by a grateful nation. May God grant her peace and eternal happiness.