Miriam Santiago: I have lung cancer

Ayee Macaraig

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Despite having stage 4 cancer, Santiago uses her signature humor and says, 'I'm not afraid of cancer. There is nothing I'm afraid of!'

#MIRIAMFIGHT. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago's announcement that she has lung cancer sparks an online trend in support for the senator with the hashtag #MiriamFight. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines (3nd UPDATE) – “I’m not afraid of cancer. There is nothing I’m afraid of,” said Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago as she announced that she is diagnosed with lung cancer.

In a press briefing at the Senate on Wednesday, July 2, the renowned constitutional law expert made the teary-eyed announcement but tried to keep with her usual colorful character and even joked about her condition.

“I think you’re expecting I would announce I am the only senator who out of boredom developed a relationship with a toyboy but that is not the case. The distinction lies somewhere else. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself to you as the only senator who has been diagnosed with lung cancer as of last week,” she said.

A resigned judge of The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), Santiago said she has cancer of the left lung.

While her cancer is at stage 4, Santiago said she expects to be cured in 6 weeks through “chemotherapy [that] has been reduced to a tablet called molecular targeting.” She said she takes the tablet daily. 

“[My stage 4 cancer] is not metastatic, as you know metastatic is just a high word for spreading. It is not spreading. If you know that cancer has already metastasized, the only cure is chemotherapy and the chances are very low but in my case they are very, very well behaved. I believe I’ve been disciplined all my life. Even my cancer cells are showing excellent discipline,” she quipped.

Still, Santiago said she is also bracing for a negative prognosis. “There’s also a chance I might croak. There’s a chance I might die because nobody is sure of the results in cancer.”

Watch this report below.


The announcement stunned the public and reporters, with some expecting she will announce her political plans in the 2016 presidential election. She announced that she will hold the press briefing as early as last week, hinting that she will make “an important announcement.”

Santiago, 69, was elected judge of the ICC in December 2011 but announced in June that she is resigning from the post because of her illness known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Known for her legal expertise, fiery temper and witticisms on traditional and social media, Santiago is one of the most colorful personalities in Philippine politics. She infamously said, “I eat death threats for breakfast!” 

She was a former immigration commissioner and secretary of agrarian reform during the presidency of Cory Aquino. She first made a name for herself as a trial court judge and eventually as professor and author of various law books. 

The senator who hails from Iloilo won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, known as the Asian Nobel Prize. 

CHARACTER HUMOR. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago bravely faces the press to announce she has lung cancer, even saying she is "very excited" about it. Photo by Romeo Bugante/Senate PRIB

Healthy lifestyle but…

Calling her condition “strange,” Santiago said she was diagnosed with cancer despite having a healthy lifestyle. She said her doctors attributed her illness to “genetic mutation.”

She joked that “giving trouble to my colleagues at work” caused her cancer but turned serious when she said her doctors are also unsure about the cause.

“These doctors don’t have any clue just like my chronic fatigue syndrome, which is related to my cancer now. Right now, with cancer I feel just like I did when I had chronic fatigue syndrome. They don’t know what causes it because I don’t smoke and my husband doesn’t smoke.”

Santiago said she is seeking medical treatment but via long distance. She said her oncologist is the “number one lung cancer specialist” based in Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. The specialist works with her sister, who is also a medical doctor.

“This tablet is a sort of magic tablet so I don’t have to take anything, just take the tablet and in effect, it will give me all the benefits of chemotherapy without the side effects. So I hope to be able to see you in 6 weeks fully cured of cancer and you will probably feel even envious of my status because if will give me gravitas if I talk to people about cancer.”

Yet she later said it may take 6 months for the results of the treatment to be known.

“After 6 months, by this tablet, they’re expecting that the mass or the tissue will simply degenerate, meaning to say it will just shrink by itself and it will no longer be there but if it does not do that, that means things have gotten worse. I have to go to Cedars-Sinai, which to me is a source of great grief, because it’s a very expensive hospital.”

Santiago said her doctors told her that she will not experience the ill effects of chemotherapy.

“Unlike before when everybody was so terrified of chemotherapy because your hair will fall off, you don’t have energy to talk or move your body but apparently, people can get along with this magic tablet and they can act.”

In the Philippines, Santiago said her doctors are former health secretary and cardiologist Esperanza Cabral of St Luke’s Medical Center, and pulmonologist Ruth Marie Divinagracia of Makati Medical Center.

Santiago said her doctors “took nearly two cups of blood from my lungs.”

GOD'S HANDS. Santiago says, 'God never asks us for an opinion. God just goes ahead and does whatever is in his hands.' Photo by Romeo Bugante/Senate PRIB

‘I can still work’

Santiago said her doctors assured her that she can still continue her Senate work. The senator though only attended a handful of sessions since the start of the 16th Congress because of her chronic fatigue syndrome.

Asked about her doctor’s advice, she said, “Well he said because I am notorious in the international community for doing my own thing, he’s not going to give me any advice that I’m going to disregard anyway.”

Despite the grim announcement, Santiago carried on with her signature humor.

“My husband said, ‘Go to the United States’ and I said, ‘Are you thinking you’re lucky? Ano ka sinuswerte?’”

Santiago said she informed her nonagenarian mother about her condition. “My mother said, ‘Well, everyone has to go some time.”


With all the reactions to her illness, Santiago was most energetic discussing her own.

“I’m very excited. I’m not kidding. I said, ‘Yes, I got cancer!’ Because now I’m entering another dimension of human life. That has always been my attitude.’” 

The senator with a masters degree in theology turned spiritual. “God never asks us for an opinion. God just goes ahead and does whatever is in his hands. I just say okay.” – Rappler.com 

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