Sunday, October 2, 2016

Miriam Defensor Santiago, 71

Philippine politics lost one of its giant figures when Miriam Defensor Santiago – lawyer, law professor, Agrarian Reform Secretary, judge of the International Criminal Court (though not able to assume the office), three-term Senator of the Philippines and thrice a candidate for the Presidency – died the morning of Thursday, September 29. She was 71 years of age.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Santiago passed away at about 8:52 AM, at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City. Her death was announced to the public by her husband Narciso Santiago Jr., who said simply, "She died in her sleep this morning."The former Senator’s official Twitter page also carried news of her passing across the social media communities.

Santiago had been steadily battling stage-4 lung cancer after being first diagnose two years ago, in 2014. Despite her precarious condition, she managed to be declared fit to campaign for the third time as President of the Philippines alongside Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the 2016 presidential elections, which was ultimately won by Rodrigo Duterte while she finished last.

The news was also broken by Senator Grace Poe while presiding over a hearing of the Senate Committee on public information and mass media over the Public Information Bill. In the middle of deliberations Poe called a halt to the proceedings and said, “I would like to ask we take a moment of silence to pray for the soul of an esteemed, a respected courageous colleague, a woman who had helped us in the past pass the freedom of information bill. May we pray for Senator Santiago; she passed away a few minutes ago.”

The politician who would earn the moniker “Iron Lady of Asia” – and Santiago does list Margaret Thatcher among her inspirations – was born in 1945 and grew up to be a brilliant law student, having earned opportunities to study abroad in the United States. She began her government service as an assistant to the Justice Secretary, briefly interrupted by a term as legal officer in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and took office as a Regional Trial Court judge in Quezon City.

After the end of the Marcos regime Santiago was appointed immigration commissioner, then Agrarian Reform secretary. Her first attempt to run for President in 1992 ended with her placing second behind Fidel V. Ramos, although there was a brief protest over allegations of cheating. In 1995 she was elected Senator, and although she considered retirement after the end of her term especially after losing the presidential elections again in 1998, the suicide of her youngest son in 2003 spurred her to seek re-election to the Senate in 2004, whereupon she served two consecutive terms, ending in 2016 with her third presidential campaign while saddled with her cancer. "I'm not afraid of cancer. There is nothing I'm afraid of," she had said.

On May 31 Santiago was admitted to the Makati Medical Center for pneumonia, and has been in and out of hospitals since, owing to complications brought on by her condition.

She leaves behind her husband Narciso Jr. and eldest son, Narciso Santiago III.

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