THE Filipino nation lost a “moral giant” in the fight against corruption, and an intellectual force and brilliant legal mind in Philippine politics, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said as he mourned the passing of former Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, 71.
Santiago was chosen as laureate of the Magsaysay Award for Government Service, known as the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She was cited “for bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency.” She was also named one of “The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World” by The Australian magazine.
“She was the best president our nation never had,” said Pimentel. Santiago, ran, but lost, as president in the May 9 national elections with then Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as her running mate, who also lost his bid for the second highest position in the land.
Pimentel said that Santiago’s “example will inspire not only many more patriotic Filipino women to go into public service, but countless more of our young who have looked up to her as our moral compass.”
Former Senate President Manny Villar said that Santiago left behind a legacy and a body of work that would be hard to beat. “She personified legislative vigor and sharpness. She epitomized the Senate's self-designated role as the last line of defense versus threats to democracy and mediocrity.”
She earned the degree Doctor of Juridical Science in the United States. Santiago has brought honor to the Philippines when she became the first Filipino and the first Asian from a developing country to be elected as judge of the United Nations International Criminal Court.
Unfortunately, grave illness forced her to waive the privilege of being an ICC judge. For two years, she suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. In June 2014 she was diagnosed with lung cancer, stage 4.
“Miriam held herself high in the parthenon of ideas & ideals. In the halls of the Senate dominated by bears, she was the lioness. If the intellectual meter in the chamber is low, Miriam can be always depended on to deliver the cerebral serum,” said Villar.
“She can be, sometimes, acerbic and brutal, but I can vouch for her honesty. I know her as a loving and caring person. She was always bigger than life. Vintage Miriam. We will miss her. There will be no other like her,” he added.
Among the many laws that she authored are the controversial Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which instill reproductive health education throughout the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, and was backed by the majority of the population and lambasted by the religious institutions in the country;
Sin Tax Law, which improved the taxation of the country which led to the economic revolutions that bolstered Philippine shares;
Climate Change Act of 2009, which mandated the entire nation to become a bastion for climate change responsiveness, mitigation, adaptation, and management; Renewable Energy Act of 2008, which mandated the government to shift the energy source of the country from coal and oil into solar, wind, and other renewable sources - this became the foundation for the establishment of numerous wind and solar plants in the country which made the Philippines the Wind Energy Capital of Southeast Asia;
Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, which safeguarded human rights in the entire nation;
Magna Carta of Women, which protected the rights of women in the country; Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (Unifast) Act, which enhanced the educational system in the country, paving way for the intellectual revolution in urban and rural areas;
Cybercrime Act of 2012, which protected the nation and its people from cybercrimes which infested the country's cyberspace; Department of Information and Communication Technology Act, which established the Department of Information and Communication Technology for a better information dissemination and better internet speed in the country; and Archipelagic Baselines Act of 2009, which became one of the major basis for the country's claims on maritime sovereignty, including the West Philippine Sea.
“I remember her in Constitutional Law where I first encountered that wit and fiery rhetoric in the classroom. I worked with her in the Senate, where she lighted up its august halls with her crackling and slashing wit that won her a legion of followers and admirers,” said Pimentel.
“While she did not always win her political battles, she always stood on the side of what was moral, what was legal, what was constitutional, and ultimately what was good for the Filipino people,” he said.