THIS paraphrase of a line from Sir Alfred Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” can sum up the nation’s grief over the irreparable loss of a patriot and one of the fightingest personalities ever to grace Philippine politics — Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, whom we fondly call Senator Miriam.
No, her glory will not fade solely because of her fearlessness in facing death. It will remain etched in our memory for her wit, how she comported herself while in public office, and her vision of the Philippines.
By this time, many lines of exaltation may have been written about her by persons more eloquent than me. I can only eulogize her by citing excerpts from what I had written about her while covering the Senate and her election campaigns. We can better assess her through her own words and, boy, did she speak volumes!
If ever a Philippine version of the best seller “The Fine Art of Political Wit” is written, Senator Miriam will certainly be mentioned prominently. She was a master of the repartee, of the invective. While the masses are now being regaled by outright curses and threats from President Rodrigo Duterte, she was one who seldom resorted to vulgarities although there was venom in her words. Her repartees were like knives that cut but were often couched with finesse, in classy language.
One of the targets of her colorful language was a congressman from Laguna who lost his reelection bid after she called him “fungus face.”
Her sharp wit is also evident in her diatribe against then Tarlac Rep. BS Aquino: “He’s a sorry excuse for a scion of a great man whom I would want to educate — if he is educable. Your colleagues in the House snicker behind your back because of your overbearing attitude that is not supported by any significant achievement in lower house legislation.”
Senator Miriam had always vigorously opposed treaties and agreements that she considered heavily tilted against the Philippines.
She called for the unilateral termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and authored the Senate-approved resolution seeking Senate confirmation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which she considered a treaty.
“My main objection to the VFA is that it continues to foster the attitude of dependency on our part, and an attitude of arrogance on the part of the United States,” she had said.
Senate as august body
On investigations in aid of legislation: “Congress takes forever to investigate anomalies. We lose a lot of time because senators and representatives are fishing for evidence. Some of them also try awkwardly to burnish their image in front of the TV cameras.”
Recently, a Senate session was marred by the use of intemperate language and near fistfight between Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes. Had Senator Miriam been there, she would have said the same words she uttered in an almost similar incident on January 25, 2010.
She said: “I wouldn’t call the Senate an august body if it could not debate an issue in a civilized manner. If this is the kind of hostile, belligerent attitude that we bring to our debate, then we should all resign immediately because we don’t deserve to be called senators.”
Facing sickness and death
Senator Miriam was unable to attend the initial hearings on the impeachment trial of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona because she was suffering from hypertension and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (She also suffered from hypothyroidism.) She later disregarded her doctors’ advice and attended the hearings “because it was my duty as senator.”
Indeed, only ailment could prevent her from performing her sworn duty. This is in stark contrast with Sen. Manny Pacquiao who’s returning to the ring to earn money despite his campaign promise to retire from boxing and work full-time as senator if elected.
In June 2014, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. She took an experimental “miracle drug” that she said had worked wonders for her. She later claimed she’d been cured of her cancer and ran for president.
“I refuse to succumb to illness because I don’t want to give my political enemies the pleasure of dancing in my grave, chortling like contented snakes,” she declared.
Despite her strong will to live, her cancer remained unstoppable. Nearing her end, she accepted that her death was inevitable.
“On to the valley of death rode the incomparable Senator Miriam.”