Santiago: ‘Lover of the law’

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HER resume is as kilometric as her legal ruminations on the Senate floor.

Born on June 15, 1945 in Iloilo City to a Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge and college dean, and the eldest of seven children, Miriam Defensor-Santiago showed her intellect at a young age, graduating valedictorian in grade school, high school and college.She earned the degrees Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude; and Bachelor of Laws, cum laude, from the University of the Philippines, where she became editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian. She went abroad and earned the graduate degrees Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridical Science, from the University of Michigan.

“As a lover of Law, she was one of a kind, the likes of whom would be most difficult to find in this vale of tears,” said former senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Theologian, RTC judge


Santiago also finished the academic requirements for the degree Master of Arts in Religious Studies at the Maryhill School of Theology.

She also went to other universities abroad including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, and the Academy of Public International Law at the Peace Palace (the seat of the International Court of Justice), at The Hague, Netherlands.

Before entering politics Santiago served the judiciary as presiding judge of the Quezon City RTC, and one of her famous cases was the illegal assembly charge against 50 UP and Ateneo de Manila students and personalities including Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes.

They were held for holding a rowdy street demonstration against Martial Law in Quezon City but Santiago, exercising her judicial discretion, cancelled hearings of other cases and conducted a continuous trial of the case until she issued a decision in favor of the students.

Her decision was later upheld by the Supreme Court, and she was hailed as an exemplary trial judge for expediting the case.

She received awards such as The Outstanding Young Men or TOYM; The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service or TOWNS; and Most Outstanding Alumna in Law from U.P.

Executive branch

Santiago started working in the Executive branch in 1988, when President Corazon Aquino appointed her commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation. She was later promoted to the Aquino Cabinet, heading the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

During her stint as DAR chief, she ordered the redistribution to farmers of Hacienda Luisita, which belonged to the president’s family. Shortly thereafter, President Aquino accepted Santiago’s resignation.

Her first attempt to enter politics was not successful after she was defeated by former President Fidel Ramos during the 1992 presidential election, by 800,000 votes.

Santiago, who ran under her People’s Reform Party, claimed she was a victim of election fraud.

She was elected senator in 1995 and during her three terms in the Senate, she was able to pass landmark laws such as the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Climate Change Act of 2009, Reproductive Health Act of 2012, the Sin Tax Law, Magna Carta of Women, Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (Unifast) Act, and the Cybercrime Act of 2012.

She wrote 30 books, many of which were about law and the social sciences. Two were best-selling compilations of jokes, quotes and anecdotes titled “Stupid is Forever” and “Stupid is Forevermore”.

Santiago was elected judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in December 2011 and was supposed to serve a nine-year term. She was the first Filipino and first Asian from a developing country to be elected to the ICC.

Because of her health condition, Santiago was forced to relinquish the post in 2014.

Bar hurdle

Despite her outstanding educational record, Santiago admitted in one of her interviews that she almost flunked the Bar examination in 1969. She got 78 percent.

According to Santiago, her low bar exams scores were because she was in love when she took the test.
Also, she was protesting against her father for not allowing her to take a scholarship in Russia after finishing her law degree.

“I never passed myself off as topping the Bar. What I am saying is I passed the Bar,” she in an interview.

Incorruptible
In December 2012, she revealed that the Senate President had used Senate funds to give away cash gifts. Every senator received P2 million as a Christmas gift, taken from public funds, except for Santiago and two others.

The revelation led to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scandal that implicated members of Congress and other government officials. The high court also outlawed the PDAF, popularly known as pork barrel funds.

Records of the Commission on Audit COA revealed that Santiago was among those whose pork barrel funds were never marred by kickbacks.

Santiago has earned several monikers: Incorruptible Lady, Platinum Lady, Tiger Lady, Dragon Lady, Iron Lady of Asia, Queen of Popularity Polls, and the Undisputed Campus Hero.

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