Miriam Santiago: Political survivor

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FAREWELL Political personalities troop to The Grottos of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City to pay their respects to the late former senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who succumbed to lung cancer on Thursday at the age of 71. Santiago will be laid to rest today at Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. Clockwise from left: former vice president Teofisto Guingona, former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and former Ilocos Sur Governer Luis Singson.

FORMER senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who passed away on Thursday at 71, has proven throughout her public career that she was a survivor whose popularity practically never wavered, despite political and personal setbacks.

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After her unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1992, Santiago and her People’s Reform Party (PRP) coalesced with the Nationalist People’s Coalition. She ran for senator in 1995, landing on sixth place after garnering 9.5 million votes.

Three years in her first term as senator, Santiago again ran for president in 1998 with then senator Francisco Tatad as her vice president, but they lost to Vice President Joseph Estrada and then senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Santiago continued her term at the Senate and eventually became an ally of the Estrada administration. Her husband, Narciso Santiago Jr., became local governments undersecretary.

The late senator was among those who voted against the opening of the controversial “second envelop” during the impeachment trial of Estrada over alleged the jueteng illegal numbers game payoffs.

Santiago later explained that during the trial, she wanted to apply the rules of court strictly, and she voted against the opening of the envelope because there was no allegation of wrongdoing in connection with it.
Even after Estrada was ousted in 2001, Santiago remained an ally of the former screen actor.

Santiago even joined the biggest pro-Estrada rally dubbed “Edsa 3,” believed to have been mounted to reclaim the presidency from Arroyo.

That same year, Santiago lost her reelection bid, wherein she ran under the opposition coalition Puwersa ng Masa.

Most of the senatorial candidates who won in that election were from Arroyo’s People Power Coalition.
In 2003, her son Alexander committed suicide, leaving the senator devastated.

But she moved on from the personal crisis, and three years after her failed reelection bid, Santiago joined the 2004 senatorial race under the ticket of Arroyo, who successfully ran for a full six-year presidential term.

In that election, Arroyo formed the administration coalition called Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan or K-4.

Santiago’s decision to join the administration coalition was due to a supposed disagreement within the opposition coalition named Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) headed by the late actor Fernando Poe Jr.

The former senator was said to have expected to be drafted as Poe’s running mate, but opposition leaders instead picked Sen. Loren Legarda.

Santiago was invited to join the KNP senatorial ticket but she declined and switched to Arroyo’s team, and landed on seventh place in the election.

From being a supporter of Estrada and fiercest critic of Arroyo, Santiago became a staunch supporter of the Arroyo administration, and her husband became presidential adviser for revenue enhancement.

In seeking her third term as senator, Santiago ran and won in 2010 under her PRP, and as guest candidate of the Nacionalista Party of then senator Manuel Villar Jr.

Santiago’s Senate attendance suffered during her final term as her health started to deteriorate. She had chronic fatigue syndrome and was later diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

But Santiago was able to participate in some of the Senate’s important proceedings like the impeachment trial of former chief justice Renato Corona, and the debates on important measures like the “sin tax” bill, the reproductive health bill and the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

She was also a vocal critic of the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd particularly on the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program that was declared illegal by the Supreme Court, the Mamasapano Massacre and the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States.

Despite her illness, Santiago was among the most prolific lawmakers in Congress in terms of the number of bills and resolutions filed.

While considered by the political class as a veteran senator, Santiago is the most loved politician of the younger generation.

Former senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who was at the opposite camp to Santiago during the Estrada impeachment trial, attributed the senator’s near-invincibility in politics to sheer brilliance and sincerely held beliefs.

“I guess it was due to her reputation as an independent articulator of things she believed in, regardless of their acceptability or unpopularity to the people at large,” he told The Manila Times.

Former senator Francisco Tatad, her 1992 running mate, said Santiago should be remembered as “a human being who lived for God and for others, not just a politician.”

A funeral Mass will be offered for Santiago today, 1 p.m. at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City. Interment will follow at Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina.

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