That deadly stare, the infectious laugh and a vocabulary that went deep and sharp, waking us up from mediocrity’s tight embrace. Her name was Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a liberal-thinker and God-fearing legislator who will always be remembered with fondness, respect and longing.
That there will never be another Miriam is evident. The current crop of legislators does not have the same ease with words, nor the depth that comes from devoting one’s self to the study of world history, international law and the Philippine Constitution. She consumed books from theology to law, and allocated time for thoughtful reflection, thus her presence in the Senate, regardless of the topic of the public hearing, provided lessons in public policy.
We will all miss Miriam because she was authentic but never crass; pointed but never shallow; and patriotic but never demeaning. Her points of view were always clear and all her own. President Duterte would have greatly benefited from informal conversations with the senator at the height of her physical strength. They both share a sense of humor, and have roots in the Visayan region. The President’s charm and gallantry set him apart during the presidential debates when he was kindly toward a visibly weak Senator Miriam.
The challenge before us is how to become our own version of the inquisitive and intelligent senator. The ongoing ruckus over outcomes of presidential news conferences and speaking engagements should prod us to consider our own positions on such issues. “Stupid is Forever,” the title of the late senator’s best-selling book, ought to remind us that we do have the right to our own opinion, and yet, how many of us really strive to define our points of view?
My father had said that the Senate would be boring without a Miriam Defensor-Santiago. She was smart and at the same time, funny. Her pick-up lines made her human and endearing. The Senate media would snap to full-alert status once word came around that the feisty senator would be attending a particular committee hearing. I remember when we were part of the presidential campaign of Senator Manny Villar – oh, how the crowd roared when the Ilongga senator made her way to the stage!
Going up the stage at Bahay Alumni of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City as the first senatorial candidate to be publicly endorsed by presidential candidate Miriam Defensor-Santiago shall always count as one of the best moments of my life. That this brilliant lawmaker was vouching for this writer as worthy of a seat in the Senate made joining the 2016 political campaign worth it.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago deserves all the accolades bestowed upon her since her demise. I share the spontaneous observation of her devoted husband, Jun Santiago, that the praises may have been a tad late. I admire as well the faithfulness and dedication of the senator’s former chief of staff, lawyer Rissa Ofilada, who never failed to remind us through her Facebook posts about the remarkable qualities of her former boss. The sentiments behind such praises and outpouring of love and affection as captured by the long lines of people during her wake and the youth volunteers that kept those lines prove that brilliance is forever. Our people do treasure intellectual patriots like Miriam Defensor Santiago. The “hugot” continues and is now a love affair for all time.