I went to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Quezon City last Friday night to pay my last respects to former Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. The queue took less than 20 minutes, but travelling to the Church took me over an hour because of the heavy traffic.
I only had a few seconds to pass by her casket, but it was very worth it for me. From the time the place of her wake was announced, I already wanted to go. I had to. I’m 26, and the late Senator has been a towering figure in Philippine politics throughout my life. I was able to vote for her twice, first as Senator in 2010 and for President this 2016.
I was in the middle of a class when I was informed in the morning of September 29 that Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has died after a two-year battle with lung cancer. Once the news was confirmed, I decided to inform my students about it. It’s the type of news you wouldn’t like to share to anyone, but I have to.
The news came as a shock, even if I’ve been told of her worsening condition since the election ended. Later that day, another sad thing dawned on me – it’s the fact that I’ll never get the chance to meet her ever, much less interact with her. I’ve had many opportunities to do so in the past year since she campaigned for President, but for some reason, it didn’t happen.
Shortly after she dided, I saw someone on Twitter say that the late former she misled the people about her health when she ran for president. These people do not have the decency (a lot of people love that word but they do not know what it really means!) to not speak ill of the dead.
Senator Miriam, in fact, must be commended for what she did. She could have just went quietly into retirement and not subject herself to the rigors of a presidential campaign.
In fact, it can be said that campaigning across the country for several months caused her already bad health to deteriorate further. She didn’t need to run, but she obliged to because of love for her country and for those who believed in her.
She offered herself to lead the Filipinos – believing that her superior government experience and educational background can overcome her rivals’ popularity and big money. In the end, only 1,455,532 agreed with her.
At this point, let me all share with you a quote from former US President Theodore Roosevelt, who served from 1901 to 1909:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
Miriam: "Leaving the country to work abroad should just be a choice, not a necessity." https://t.co/0WGKwPk4QJ
— Mark Madrona #DefendPressFreedom (@FilipinoScribe) April 24, 2016
Growing up with Miriam
The first news event that I closely followed was the impeachment trial against then-President Joseph Estrada which ran from December 2000 to January 2001.
During that time, I despised Miriam because of her support for Estrada. She’s one of the eleven senators that opposed the opening of the second sealed envelope during the trial, the event which triggered People Power II that ultimately ended Estrada’s presidency.
When Estrada was arrested by late April, Miriam and other allies including Senator Juan Ponce Enrile among others led the so-called EDSA III, where they essentially urged Erap loyalists to storm Malacanang to remove then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Miriam lost her Senate reelection bid a few days later. Curiously, Miriam joined Arroyo’s ticket when she ran for the Senate again in 2004 – this time successfully.
When I was finally eligible to vote during the 2010 elections, I voted for her for another term in the Senate. At that time, she backed the presidential candidacy of Senator Manny Villar. And this year, I had the privilege of voting for her to be the country’s next president.
Senator Miriam, thank you so much for your four decades of service to the Filipino people. May you rest in peace! Here’s hoping that our generation will have the same passion for public service.