I was out for a week when my friend, next-door neighbor and former Senate colleague, Miriam Defensor Santiago, died in her sleep at 71 on Thursday. I barely made it to her funeral mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Cubao yesterday. Friends and admirers all spoke of her brilliance, her wit, her courage, her ability to make people laugh at their own folly. Even my own young daughter said as much in a moving piece on Miriam in the Philippine Star on Saturday.
In the Senate, which turns 100 years this week, she aspired to raise the level of intellection among her peers. This is too much for any one man to do, but for as long as Miriam was there, mediocrity had to contend with her intellectual probity. Even when she stood alone on an issue, she behaved as though she was speaking always for the majority. She knew that truth, reason, justice and the law will always win at the end of the day.
Like the mythical Sisyphus, who carried a heavy stone to the top of the hill only to see it roll down again, she rose to every challenge, every adversity. And like Sisyphus, as the existentialist Camus saw it, she must have died happy.
If there was one quality, though, that dominated all of Miriam’s other qualities, it was her irresistible humanity. She was proud and happy to be human, to submit her restless mind to God, with whom she dialogued like Job, without having gone through the trials of Job. Her search for new ways of understanding the transcendental truths never ceased; despite her awesome workload in the Senate, she managed to find time to enrol in a local theological college.
One day, she came to the plenary hall, where we sat next to each other, carrying a couple of large books, which she put on her desk. One was by Hans Kung, the other by Karl Rahner, two theologians whom Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI refers to with obvious affection, but whose orthodoxy had lost the fervor of their younger years.
“These are my books in progressive theology,” she said. Our friendship was strong enough to withstand a playful repartee. I said, “Miriam, from the little that I know about theology, there is good theology, and there is bad theology. This is the first time I am hearing about progressive theology.” She took my banter in good humor, and proceeded to share with me some theological puzzlers you read in Peter Kreeft.
Together, Miriam and I ran in the presidential elections of 1998. Having nearly become Pesident in 1992, she decided to run again, with myself as her running mate. We did not have a political machinery, nor did we have any money, nor any palpable prospect of overcoming Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s awesome popularity. But we thought we had to run if only to inject some seriousness into the debate, which seemed to focus on the night creature habits of the most popular presidential candidate.
Miriam delivered the best lines on the trail, and was enthusiastically applauded wherever she spoke. But such was Estrada’s appeal to the masses that he took the nation by storm, for all his known frailties. Despite our reservations, more than 10 million voters decided to install the self-confessed womanizer as President. Miriam and I had the chance of leading the opposition and exposing the folly and incompetence of the new President daily. But we decided the country would suffer if Estrada did not get competent help, so we decided to help him instead.
Miriam became such a good friend to Estrada that after she adopted two young girls from Iloilo City, she had them baptized at the church outside Malacanang, with Erap and myself as the godparents. She remained true to that friendship, but never at the cost of the truth, reason, justice and the law which remained her dominant values to the very end.
This wasn’t the time to lose anyone built to her specifications. But the moving finger writes, and at this time of sorrow, we can only console ourselves with Victor Hugo’s words on Voltaire’s centennary: “since night issues from the tombs, let light come from the tombs.”
We are not alone in our grief. On Friday, the world lost one of its wisest and most enduring statesmen, Shimon Peres, Nobel Prize laureate and former President of Israel. He was many things to many people, but he was a great friend and admirer of Filipinos. I met Peres in his office in October 2012, while traveling with then Vice President Jejomar C. Binay. He spoke proudly of “knowledge” as Israel’s primary world export, and of Filipinos as the first foreign nationals with whom Israel was happy to share its advances in agricultural technology—and the only foreign nationals to whom Israel was willing to entrust its caregiving services. Only Filipinos are allowed to be caregivers in Israel, he said.
I asked Peres whether, in light of current developments, he felt no need to amend a statement he had made some years ago that “the hunting season was over.” His eyes sparkled and his face brightened, apparently surprised that an obscure individual from the other end of the globe had noted his quote. He gave a calm and wise response, which (if memory serves) said the fight for peace and justice never ceases.
The last of Israel’s founding generation, Perez was laid to rest amid tributes of statesmen that included US President Barack Obama, former US President Bill Clinton and Palestinian President Abbas. Clinton and Obama delivered eulogies where they commended Peres to the memory of the ages. Such men have earned their peace. But amid the troubles of our age, they probably, like the recently canonized Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata, cannot yet afford to rest. I first made this rather indiscreet statement, which I hope does not constitute a heresy, inside the Cathedral of Zamboanga City when I was asked a few weeks ago to say a few words, on the spur of the moment, at the wake of the late Archbishop Emeritus Carmelo Morelos, D.D.
No rest for the good and the just
Although the Church talks of death as a “falling asleep,” I suggested that we look at death as a “waking up” to God instead. Given the cares of this world, there can be no rest for the good just yet. So much has to be set right. This seems to be our situation today.
Much of this we owe to President Duterte. Apparently basking in the attention he is getting from foreign governments and the press, DU30 has managed to provide the global market with a steady supply of provocative and offensive epithets. As soon as one epithet uses up its news value, a new one comes up. Thus after calling Barack Obama “son of a whore,” saying “F***k you” to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, flashing the middle finger to the European Union, and threatening to “unfriend” the US and the UN for criticizing his human rights record, DU30 comes up wit this:
“Hitler massacred three million Jews (sic). Now there’s three million drug addicts (in the Philippines.) I’ll be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines will have (me).”
To this, his ambassador-designate to the United Nations, Teddy Locsin Jr., has added his own post: “You may find this hard to believe but the Nazis were not all wrong, give or take killing millions of people. Keep an open mind.”
DU30 would like people to believe that the necessary implication of his war on drugs is a reshaping of the alliances in the Asia Pacific. There is no elaborate discussion of this, but DU30 has spoken, the case is closed.
The foreign policy muddle
Unless war has broken out or is about to break out between China and the US, and there is no way of not getting involved, we should do everything to stay out of any such conflict. We do not need it, nor can we afford it. If there were to be a shooting war—which could become thermonuclear—the Constitution does not allow DU30 to involve our country in it, except under the terms of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, depending on the circumstances.
In a thermonuclear war, we’re all going to be dead, in a far more dramatic way than Keynes famously put it. DU30 has to rethink it a thousand times. Despite what we hear from the war hawks and freaks, neither the US nor China can afford such a war; and neither of them could revive the Cold War just to oblige the Davao strongman either.
Yet DU30 appears quite determined and would like to go to China in the next few days, having just visited Vietnam. One obvious purpose is to irritate the Americans. There’s nothing wrong in going to China, which welcomes all types of visitors; but DU30 cannot look too eager to make this visit. Consistent with established diplomatic practice, he should allow the two parties to agree on the details of such visit. It is poor diplomatic manners for one party to announce a visit without the other party’s concurrence, just as it is bad manners to announce an ambassadorial assignment to a foreign post before the Commission on Appointments has confirmed the proposed appointment and before the receiving government has given its agrément, the diplomatic French word for the English ‘agreement.’
Indecent haste to China
DU30 has been in office for only three stormy months. He has not had the chance to put his program of government in place, nor even to sign all the important appointment papers. For him to be making a major official or state visit to China, in apparent haste, just to flash his middle finger to the US, could ultimately be counterproductive. He should learn from his recent Vietnamese trip.
Vietnam is the only country that has defeated two world powers within one quarter of a century—France in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, and the US in 1973, on the city streets and university campuses of America and the conference table in Paris. DU30 might have thought Vietnam could be a natural ally in his proposed shift toward China, and I am sure he was warmly welcomed by his hosts. But his Foreign Secretary and National Security Adviser might have failed to advise him that Hanoi has stronger ties with Washington DC than with Beijing or Moscow today.
DU30 apparently feels betrayed that the US, the UK, and the European Union have become the strongest critics of his drug killings, whereas China and Russia have said nothing about them. He probably expected the country’s traditional allies to gloss over his human rights violations in keeping with certain practices of old. “He may be a sonofabitch, but he’s our sonofabtich,” they used to say, but they have abandoned it, without prior notice.
Now they want to censure him for every uncontrollable cuss word or invective that flies out of his ungovernable mouth. What do they expect him to do? And what will they do to him next?