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Senator Miriam Santiago passes away; nation mourns

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(Photo from Philippine Daily Inquirer)

 

MANILA  ̶  After nearly three years of battling lung cancer, former Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was reported to have passed away in her sleep Thursday, September 29, at the age of 71.

 

The nation led by President Rodrigo Duterte immediately mourning the passing of the feisty senator.

 

Dubbed the "Iron Lady of Asia" for her no-nonsense drive against graft and corruption when she served all the three branches of the government— as judge, Agrarian Reform Secretary and immigration commissioner and as a senator. 


Miriam was also known for being feisty, especially at Senate proceedings, as well as her wit and a penchant for pick-up and "hugot" lines that endeared her to the youth.

 

President Duterte could not hide his sadness while remembering the legacy of Sen. Miriam Santiago, to whom he had shown solicitous attention in the presidential debates for the May 9 elections even though they were rivals.


The Philippines, he said, had lost a great leader - a very intelligent one and a fierce fighter of corruption - with her death last Thursday, after battling stage 4 lung cancer.


Addressing the nation as he flew home Thursday night from a two-day visit to  Vietnam, Duterte recalled Santiago's colorful language that had made many key events memorable, created headlines, and endeared her to many.


He expressed sympathy to her family.  Duterte said he will go to her wake as soon as he can fly to Manila from Davao City, where he flew home for the weekend.


At the senator's wake, more tributes poured in, and Miriam's husband Atty. Narciso "Jun" Santiago, barely holding back tears, could not help but express regret that the praise and kind words were not lavished on his wife while she was still alive.

 

Praises and love should have been heaped upon the senator when she was still alive, her husband said Friday.


Mr. Santiago made the emotional remarks past noon, when he was greeted by the media on his way inside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Grottos.

"'Yung pagmamahal at papuri sa kaniya, sana naigawa nu'ng buhay pa siya," he said. "Dahil ang buhay niya—kamukha ni Presidente (Rodrigo) Duterte—binuhos nila sa pagsisilbi sa bayan at sa tao."

"Pero nu'ng buhay pa siya, hindi nabigyan, e," he added before walking inside the wake.

Mr. Santiago later apologized to the media for being emotional, saying he saw tributes for his wife in the papers. Then he reiterated: "Sana nu'ng buhay pa ginawa 'yan."


Despite her cancer, Santiago ran on an anti-corruption platform in the May 9 elections - her third try at the presidency - but lost. 

She was distinguished for having served in all three branches of government: as an independent regional trial court judge during martial law, who cleared and ordered the release of activist filmmakers Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes; as an immigration commissioner in the Cory Aquino presidency; and as senator starting 1995.

 

Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, former First Lady and now Rep. Imelda R. Marcos, former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and former Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, representing his mother former president and now Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is abroad, were among the first to visit her wake at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City.

 

Former President Fidel V. Ramos also lauded the senator, adding he believes that the Philippines need another “Miriam Santiago” in government.

 

According to Ramos, he admires the late Senator’s strength and commitment.  Ramos and Santiago both run for President in the 1992 national elections.

 

The former President also made it clear that neither of them harbored any ill-feelings towards each other, in fact he was the first one to send in his condolences to the family of the late stateswoman.

 

Senator Grace Poe first confirmed this in a Senate hearing on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill wherein she paused for a minute to pray for the feisty senator from Iloilo.

 

“May we pray for Sen. Santiago. She passed away a few minutes ago,” Poe said.

 

Poe also took time to recall when she was expecting Santiago to interpellate her when she was still a neophyte senator about to deliver a privilege speech on the FOI bill.

 

“When I was given the opportunity what she said was before interpellating she said, ‘Sen. Poe I feel very maternal towards you’ and instead of interpolating me she lectured me on the importance of having a FOI,” Poe said.

 

Poe further noted that Santiago had stressed that the Presidential Communications privilege should not be abused by the seating President that to which she thought was a valid point.

 

She meanwhile expressed hope that the measure be passed into a law in memory of the late senator.

 

ABS-CBN, other networks and newspapers immediately reported on Santiago's passing away which came just weeks after she was brought to the hospital after suffering complications.

 

The senator, known for being feisty and fearless, first announced on July 2, 2014 that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She was then teary-eyed speaking to reporters but still went on to tell jokes, even saying that she was "excited" she had the disease.

 

In October 2015, or over a year after her announcement, Santiago declared she would seek the presidency for the third time after having supposedly "conquered" cancer.

 

Santiago served in all three branches of the government. She served in the Department of Justice before she was appointed presiding judge of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (judicial branch). Later, she servedimmigration commissioner, agrarian reform secretary; and a senator for three terms (legislative branch) or from 1995 to 2001 and 2004 to 2016.

 

She had filed the most number of bills in the Senate. Some of her pending bills are the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill, which seeks an end to political dynasty in the country, and the Anti-Signage of Public Works Bill, which aims to bar politicians from claiming credit for projects built with public funds by putting their names on signages.

 

Santiago was the first Filipino to be elected as judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2011. She, however, let go of her post in 2014 due to her chronic fatigue syndrome.

 

A cum laude graduate of Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Philippines, she was also a UP law professor for some 10 years.

 

Her most prestigious feat is winning the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the Magsaysay Award for Government Service, in 1998.

 

Santiago also wrote books on law and the social sciences.

 

Her recent books, best-selling "Stupid is Forever" and sequel "Stupid is Forevermore," are compilation of jokes, one-liners, pick-up lines and speeches that she had delivered.

 

Santiago narrowly lost to Fidel V. Ramos in the 1992 presidential race and filed an election protest. In 1998, she placed 8th in a 10-person contest which saw then Vice President Joseph Estrada win the presidency by a wide margin.

 

Throughout the presidential campaign for the May 9, 2016 elections, Santiago repeatedly dismissed questions about her health and her capability to lead the country.

 

She was, however, not active in the campaign trail with her running mate, Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. She only attended a few provincial rallies.

 

She also failed to attend the second presidential debate on March 20 because she had to undergo a clinical trial for a new anti-cancer pill.

 

During the third and final debate, she also stuttered at times as she answered questions and presented her platforms.

 

Santiago lost and placed last in the presidential race dominated by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. She got only over 3% of the votes cast for president.

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