Miriam is Forever
Last June 15, my friend, the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, would have turned 74. We would have heard something witty from her about how she remained a beauty and her enemies looking fungus-faced. She was once quoted as saying that her ambition is more modest—“I desire only to be known as the Demi Moore of Philippine politics.” I think Demi has nothing on her.
More importantly, those who truly know and love her, would have celebrated the life of an extraordinary human being—brilliant, feisty, caring, and loyal. She was an outstanding public servant (the Ramon Magsaysay Award proved that) and a first-class human being (the friends who know her truly will attest to this).
I remember Miriam 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 and advising me on the legalities of the issues. This was one of the reasons I knew I was in the right—I had the best legal minds, the persons with impeccable integrity, believing in my cause.
I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to know Miriam, the beautiful person and not just the public Miriam. The Miriam who had the sharpest tongue for her enemies and the kindest embrace for her family and friends. The Miriam outside the political battlefield was a kind, gentle and caring friend.
At the time when she launched her first campaign for the presidency in 1992, I was also starting my first foray into politics. I was a reluctant candidate because I was so immersed in building my business. Miriam was a firebrand seeking to upend traditional presidential politics in the country.
That was to be one of the first battles we fought together, side by side. She once said, “Entering politics is a fate worse than death.” But the lovely Ilongga—who ate death threats for breakfast—was prepared for the battle. And she excelled in both government service and the politics of it all.
In my 21 years in public service, I have met a lot of politicians but there are only four who I admired the most (I will write about them in a future article). Miriam is one of them. Actually, she is one of a kind. It’s not just the eloquence and the chasmic vocabulary. It’s the uncompromising stance for what is right, what is just, and what is true.
Whenever we would have conversations about political issues, she would educate me with her wealth of knowledge but she would also listen to what I have to say. This would be surprising to many who just saw Miriam in public not giving a nano-second to anyone she is talking to.
I urge young people, especially the millennials, GenZ and those even younger to read and learn from her life. Read her witty quotes, her hugot lines but also her speeches—her Ramon Magsaysay Award acceptance speech was particularly elegant. During her campaigns she would prioritize campus events over anything else. She wanted to be with the bright, young future of the nation.
She has been with the Lord for almost three years now. Our politics and our lives have been missing the kind of courage and thoughtfulness only she can provide. But our memories of her linger. They remain forever etched in our souls.