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Vintage Miriam

After the death of my dear friend, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, tributes and testimonials, understandably and deservedly poured in from everyone whose lives she touched. Most of the remembrances focused on the witty one-liners she was known for, her humorous pick up lines, or the defiant and stinging remarks that she unleashed in her crusade for good government.

But as I reflect on the life of a loyal, caring and loving friend, I came across her speech when she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 1988. This response to the award captured, I believe, the humanity of Miriam, beyond the one-line zingers:

“Once, in my third week in office, I went home at midnight. I tiptoed to the bedroom of my two sons, one of whom is six years old. I had not talked to them for three straight days because I was focused on the almost insurmountable problems in the office. I attempted to wake up my boys so that I could at least perform the maternal function of wishing them good night and sweet dreams. But they were snug in their beds, and I failed to wake them. It was then, in the midnight darkness, deeply anxious about the physical safety of my children because of the death threats against me, that I broke down and wept. I felt exhausted beyond human endurance. I felt abandoned in a savage jungle of iniquity and malice. I confronted the naked face of evil, and although I did not yield, I am not unscarred. (from http://www.rmaf.org.ph).”

Here was a brave woman, fighting corruption in a land where stealing and wasting money are the norm, championing justice in a system that values money and connections rather than the truth, performing her duties at home as a loving and caring mother to her sons.

This poignant image of Miriam illustrated what made her individuality tower above anyone else. Her moral courage, her intellect, her beauty, and her heart makes her a cut above the rest.

She would go on in that speech professing her “basic faith that I am not alone.” She put her faith in God, in “the Infinite Administrator, (who), even now, arranges the universe, in order that immutable good shall triumph over the vincible forces of evil.”

As a Regional Trial Court Judge in Quezon City, she earned the monicker “Fighting Judge” because of her courage in refusing favors from powerful people and the military. She refused bribes and demanded competence and honesty in her courtroom.

She of course shot to prominence because of her work as chief of the Bureau of Immigration. Like a fire-breathing dragon, she would shock the fixers and the corrupt employees in the bureau with her resolve to clean up what was regarded as one of the most corrupt agencies in the Philippine bureaucracy.

But I think that it was in the Senate that we got to see her brilliance in full display. As a deliberative body, the august hall of the Senate was a natural environment for the acumen and eloquence of Miriam. When she talked, everybody listened.

I remember Miriam as a caring and loyal friend. One who would fill the room with her laughter. One who would guide you along with her wise counsel. One who would stick by you no matter what. This is the Miriam I will miss.

I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to know Miriam, the beautiful person and not just the public Miriam, the Miriam who has the sharpest tongue for her enemies and admired for her wit and humor. The Miriam at home is a kind, gentle, and caring friend.

When she launched her first campaign for the presidency in 1992, I was also launching my first foray into politics.

That was to be one of the first battles we fought together, side by side.

It is no surprise that she idolized two equally brilliant and influential women – Marie Curie and Margaret Thatcher.

Curie was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize (she did it twice in two categories: chemistry and physics).

Thatcher, on the other hand, was the first prime minister of Great Britain and went on to rule for 10 years.

Miriam might have taken a page out of Thatcher’s playbook in terms of the audacity with which she approached governance. Upon assuming the office of prime minister, Thatcher implemented some necessary but unpopular economic policies. This led some 300 economists to write the government asking for the reversal of such policies. Thatcher refused. And in a famous speech, she said, “You turn if you want to, but this lady is not for turning.”

The “Iron Lady of Asia” certainly showed she was not for turning especially when it came to exacting efficiency and honesty in government. Just like her idols, Miriam was resolute in her belief and steadfast in her principles.

But Miriam was exceptional because while her strong stance made her many enemies, her wit and her passion to protect the interest of the Filipino endeared her to the people, especially to the Filipino youth, who should definitely emulate her values and principles.

You will be missed, my friend.

(For comments/feedback email to: mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.) (Senator Manny Villar)