It’s the end of an era: Iron Lady of Asia Senator Miriam Santiago passes away

She succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 71

The Philippines was shocked today with the news that Senator Miriam Santiago passed away today at 8:52 in the morning. This news was broken to the public through her Twitter account (which was being run by her social media team):

For many Filipinos, Senator Miriam Santiago became a household name due to her feisty nature in the Senate. Ask anyone in the Philippines if Senate Hearings make more sense with her around and you will get a resounding Yes.

The Senator was also famous for her Pick-Up Lines and cheeky jokes that were tasteful yet burn-serving to whoever it was addressed to. More importantly, she has passed so many laws that compensated for the sorry state of the Philippines and she fixed government institutions such as the Commission of Immigration (now the Bureau of Immigration) and the Department of Agrarian Reform. Without her, these government institutions would still be way worse than they are today.

Senator Santiago also won the Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 1988 for her work with the government in the 1980s. This resulted to the foreign press dubbing her as the Iron Lady of Asia.

The title is quite fitting as the Senator is a huge fan of Margaret Thatcher, the original Iron Lady – even to the point of comparing herself to the former British Prime Minister when she was asked to explain the kind of demeanor she has in the Senate and being on a first name basis with her.


Senator Santiago with Margaret Thatcher

Like Margaret Thatcher, she too, has become more of a divisive figure in Philippine politics.

She defied Corazon Aquino to the point of resigning from her Cabinet as Agrarian Reform Secretary when the President refused to accept that Hacienda Luisita must be redistributed to the farmers who tended to it.

She defied the Estrada and Arroyo governments when both governments were questioned for corrupt practices. On the Estrada government, it was President Estrada’s usage of government funds as gambling money (which led to EDSA Revolution 2) and on the Arroyo government, the various scandals that President Arroyo faced such as the “Hello Garci” Scandal, the Maguindanao Massacre and the NBN-ZTE Scandal to name a few.

And yet…

She has formed alliances with right-wingers despite the fact that she identifies as a center-left politician. Case in point, in her 1998 Presidential Candidacy, she picked then-Senator Francisco Tatad as her running mate. Senator Tatad is a known right-winger and was an ally of the Marcoses. His connections to the right-wing are further cemented by the fact that he is a member of Opus Dei (a religious organization known to have lay members who identify as right-wingers).

In her 2016 Presidential Candidacy, she repeated the same strategy. This time forming an alliance with Bongbong Marcos, the son of Ferdinand Marcos. The thing is, Bongbong did not defy his father at any point of his life as a politician. It is a well known fact that he denies of the fact that the Martial Law damaged many lives. Bongbong Marcos is also a right-winger like Senator Tatad.


Senator Santiago with 2016 running mate, Bongbong Marcos

Furthermore, Senator Santiago is a known Martial Law apologist though she is not as overt as President Duterte over it (which is why people tend to be more lenient to her Martial Law apologism compared to Duterte).

It was also noticeable in the 2016 Elections that the Senator and President Duterte were in good terms to the point that it seemed like they were scheming to take this country apart. Ever notice how the Senator did not start calling out Duterte on his flawed policies until the Election was nearing. She did that to give us the illusion that she may be friends with Duterte but she does not approve his BS. Unfortunately, her words said otherwise.

For those who remembered how the 2016 Elections ballot looked like, Senator Santiago used the hyphenated version of her surname. In effect, she is listed as “Defensor-Santiago” in the ballot (since it’s legal for married women in the Philippines to hyphenate their surnames and use it as their legal surnames) and Duterte comes after her.

This strategy, of course, led to the confusion of the voters who are voting for either candidate, especially those voting for her and  expected to see Santiago and not Defensor-Santiago as her surname in the ballot. Such confusion led to Santiago supporters voting for Duterte by accident or worse, Santiago supporters shading the ovals for both “Defensor-Santiago” and “Duterte” by accident.

After all, she has been referred by the press and by her publicists as both “Senator Miriam Santiago” and “Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago” and her campaign team failed to settle down the confusion either and there’s a very good reason for that – in order to split the votes and make sure that Duterte wins the election.

It is understood that their aim is to stop Roxas from becoming President but even if they didn’t jump into that strategy, Roxas wouldn’t win anyway, and neither would Binay. The Filipinos have stopped trusting them even way before Duterte decided he should run for President.

Her role as a splitter candidate proved to be effective as not only did it deliver a Duterte victory but it caused the Philippines to be divided further as well. As we speak, families and friendships are torn apart because of her magnum opus of manipulating the elections in favor of her dear friend.

There is definitely nothing wrong with saying you lean to the left (or lean to the right) but there is definitely something wrong when you choose to lie to people that you are left-leaning when your policies and political decisions say otherwise and there is definitely something wrong with using your supporters to do something that they do not consent you to do in their name.

The afterthought

It is not to be denied that Senator Santiago has done a lot of good things for this country but we must also not deny the fact that she has done horrible things. In fact, doing something horrible was her last accomplishment before retiring from politics for good.

A lot like what happened to Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher started off doing good for the United Kingdom but her term ended with the United Kingdom being in a horrible state and as we speak, people are trying to undo that horrible state that their country was plunged into post-Thatcher.

The only difference is that more people mourned for Santiago’s death than Thatcher’s. When Thatcher died three years back, most people celebrated her death, to the point that “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” hit #1 on UK’s iTunes charts. In Santiago’s death, most people chose to mourn, even those who regretted voting for her and are still upset at how she manipulated the recent elections.

Perhaps it’s just the culture of the Philippines that enabled not to vindicate the Senator’s death in the most harshest ways. In a few months, people will be vindicating her in the harshest ways but for now, it is time to mourn for her.

Our mourning for her should not serve as an excuse for us to forget that she had flaws that affected our country badly and worse, replicate these flaws. Our mourning for her is reserved in order to respect only the good things that she has done. The bad things she has done should not be part of the respect we give her as we mourn for her.

On a final note, we thank Senator Miriam Santiago for opening our eyes to the reality of this country, for her encouragement to the youth to be more participative in our country’s politics and most of all, for making the Filipino people realize that we deserve better and our leaders should be held accountable for their actions.


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