From law to life, Miriam sums it up with one-liners

Ayee Macaraig

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In typical Miriam fashion, Sen Santiago uses witty one-liners to describe her colorful life.

AT HOME. A relaxed Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago lets audiences in on her home and life. Screen grab from GMA News TV's Powerhouse.

MANILA, Philippines – From “I commend your ignorance” to “Wha!,” Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago has been a showstopper in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

This time, the lady senator from Iloilo spouts witty lines not on matters of law but on her personal journey.

Featured on GMA News TV’s Powerhouse with Mel Tiangco, Santiago offered viewers a rare look at her home and colorful life focusing on achievements and what she calls “completely human failures.” The interview aired on Tuesday, April 24. Watch the plug here: 

Santiago looked back at her childhood, studies, career and gave a glimpse at life in The Hague as a judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Here is life in her own words:

1. “I wanted to be a scientist because I wanted to play with chemicals.”

As a child, Santiago was all work and no play. With a strict mother demanding that she excel in school and pressured by a family of “brilliant people,” she studied hard.

 “I was very, very fond of reading at a very young age. So when I was maybe a 5-year-old or in kindergarten, I spoke like an ancient Anglo-American literary writer, talking like this.”

Santiago said her childhood dream was to be a scientist “to invent things” but it was too expensive to buy chemicals for her to play with. Asked if she played house, she laughed, “I thought it was ridiculous …. I really found it funny.”

OWN LIBRARIAN. Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago says she is able to keep track of all her about one million books. Photo from Sen Santiago's Facebook page.

2. “I don’t have a librarian. I have it all in my head.” 

Santiago showed Tiangco her collection of almost one million books, nearly all of which she already read. She said she would know if someone took one book “and then I’ll throw a tantrum.” 

Her favorite, she said, are historical novels from Russian authors like Leo Tolstoy.

All the way up to the UP College of Law, she was studious.

“I’d normally sit in front where I worship my professor. I’d stare with lovestruck eyes, take down everything he says and I don’t even breathe. That’s how I got to be a scholar because all my professors knew that I adored them.” 

3. “I tended to date people with cars.”

It wasn’t just professors she adored. In college, Santiago said she tended to date guys with cars for The Philippine Collegian, of which she was editor-in-chief. Her future husband then sported a brand new sportscar. 

“Our printing press was in Sta. Cruz and I was living in UP Diliman so I’d go on a date once and I’d say, ‘Can you take me to the printing press this Wednesday? Can my staff come, too?’ That always improves his chances.” 

4. “I said to my husband, ‘I go my way and you go my way.’”

This, Santiago said, was her joke to her husband during their honeymoon. She is married to former Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Narciso “Jun” Santiago. They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last year.

As an independent woman, she said they fought in the early years of their marriage because he initially wanted her to stop practicing her career but eventually “saw the light.” Santiago said she also learned to give way to her husband. 

Interviewed on the show, her husband joked, “Ang secret namin, ‘di pa niya natatapos sabihin, payag na ako.’” (Our secret is that she hasn’t even finished saying it, I already agree.)

THE HOMEMAKER. The feisty lawmaker is actually fond of designing her Italian-French inspired home even with furniture from flea markets. Screen grab from GMA News TV's Powerhouse.

5. “People would be surprised to find out I don’t scream everyday.”

Santiago said at work, she does not think of herself as a woman. Her feminine side is seen at home. She takes pride in decorating her own house with French-Italian furniture including her own flea market finds. 

Her view of a home is a nest of silence “where everybody is accepted for what he is.”

6. “I’d love to be allowed to go around in a bathing suit.”

Santiago also spoke about her infamous photo on the Philippine Daily Inquirer wearing only a bathing suit.

“I love that bathing suit picture,” she said. “It is the ideal tropical wear, really, then you can wear high heels.” 

Santiago shared that she is more of a shoe person. “Handbags, I don’t at all like them because they occupy my hands. My hands always have to be ready in case I need to slap somebody.”

INFAMOUS PHOTO. Powerhouse host Mel Tiangco describes this photo of Sen Santiago by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as "iconic." Photo from

7. “It’s ineffable. You cannot put it into words.” 

For all her verbosity, there is one moment in her life that Santiago cannot describe: the death of her son, Alexander Robert, in 2003. 

“Of course, it made me question my faith, ‘What kind of God are you that you would do these things to innocent people,’” she said. “’You’ve got to be a very poor, incompetent God.’”

Santiago said she will never get over her son’s death as not a day goes by that she does not think of him.

8. “He does not exist. He represents the problem of evil on planet earth.” 

The senator also discussed another tragedy, this time in her political career. She has made no secret her loathing for former President Fidel Ramos, her rival for the presidency in 1992.

“I believe I was cheated. To my dying day, I will [say] that I was cheated in 1992. I don’t ever want anyone to suffer as I did in 1992. You know you work very, very hard, the students worked very hard for me. They’re basically my constituency.”

NO REGRETS. Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago says she has no regrets in life, accepting her "completely human failures" and "fair share of sadness." File photo by Emil Sarmiento

9. “Filipinos have no sense of shared destiny.”

Santiago said she has no more plans of running for president, seeing the Philippines is more fractured than it ever was. She said Filipinos find it hard to be good citizens and see how their actions affect others.

Kasi ang mga Pilipino, hanggang ngayon, walang mga lider who are capable of inspiring them to be better than themselves.” (Until now, Filipinos have no leaders capable of inspiring them to be better than themselves.) 

Looking at the ongoing impeachment trial, she said a conviction will make Supreme Court justices fearful of the President, possibly endangering checks and balances. 

Referring to President Aquino, Santiago said, “He also has to think of the system itself of checks and balances. He has a personal goal, the anti-corruption drive, but there is also an institutional aspect to this controversy. The presidency cannot be powerful over the two other branches. Otherwise, he will be an absolute despot or tyrant.”

10. “No one will remember who I was.”

Now, Santiago is looking forward to her ICC stint.

“I have to take a completely new life, no politics, no person to talk to, completely isolated in our little ivory towers but I’m used to that when I was a judge.”

Santiago said she does not want to be remembered at all.

“If I die today, after a few months, no one will remember who I was.” – 

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