Former Senate President
OF TREES AND FOREST
Today, June 15, is the birthday of my friend, the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. She would have been 77 years old and I imagine still as feisty and loving as I remember her. In my mind, Miriam occupies a place in the pantheon of great men and women this nation has ever produced and certainly one of the few politicians I admire and respect.
Her name, Miriam, means a lot of things: “beloved,” “rebellious” and refers to the biblical prophetess and older sister of Moses and Aaron who would eventually came to be known as a “prophetess to the people.” Well, in typical Miriam fashion, she fulfilled all those roles.
She was a beloved person and colleague. I always remember her as a caring and loyal friend. Someone who would fill the room with her laughter. Someone who would guide you along with her wise counsel. Someone who will stick by you no matter what. This was especially true when I was being crucified by political opponents who saw me as a threat when I was Senate President. Despite the lies and the attacks, I never felt alone. Miriam was there in my corner. Miriam, together with Joker Arroyo and Nene Pimentel, was there defending me.
She was beloved by family, friends and the entire nation. When she died, her family revealed that her wish “before she passed on was only for her to remain in the memory of her own family.” But she deserves to be remembered not only by her family but by the entire nation which she served faithfully and whose welfare she fought for relentlessly.
As a Regional Trial Court Judge in Quezon City, she earned the monicker "Fighting Judge" because of her courage in refusing favors from powerful people and the military. She refused bribes and demanded competence and honesty in her courtroom. She shot to prominence because of her work as Chief of the Bureau of Immigration. Like a fire-breathing dragon, she would shock the fixers and the corrupt employees in the bureau with her resolve to clean up what was regarded as one of the most corrupt agencies in the Philippine bureaucracy. She was rebellious in the sense that she did not fit the mold of your typical politician. She refused to be pigeonholed as a trapo.
But I think that it was in the Senate that we got to see her brilliance in full display. As a deliberative body, the august halls of the Senate was a natural environment for the acumen and eloquence of Miriam. When she talked, everybody listened. It was in the Senate where she became the “prophetess to the people.” In that 24-member chamber, Miriam was a stand out as someone who forcefully advocated in a visionary way her cause for good governance.
I think she would have been very happy with the victory of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. who was her running mate when she ran for president in the 2016 national elections. That was her last hurrah. She fought a good fight despite a cancer diagnosis from her doctors. She was, in effect, fighting two battles at the time. Some people would just have folded and gave up. But not Miriam.
One of the things she said that I never forgot was, “There is no template for the meaning of life. Instead, the meaning of life is what you choose to make it.” Miriam lived a full life because she was the one who chose how to live it. This is probably the most important lesson young Filipinos can learn from her life on earth. So, I urge the Filipino youth — never forget Miriam, the rebellious, beloved prophetess to the people.