MANILA, Philippines – It’s a dream that eluded her twice. Will Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago finally become president of the Philippines?
Two days after declaring her presidential bid, Santiago cracked jokes about the May 2016 polls, and regaled judges with tales from her days as a former trial court judge.
The legal luminary addressed the Philippine Judges Association’s conference on Thursday, October 15, where she was inducted into the group’s Hall of Fame. In her speech at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay, she derided the ambition of many of her colleagues.
“Malayo pa lang ako, narinig ko na ang mga tawa ninyo. Naalala ko noong judge ako. Pero mas masaya sa Senado. Sa Senado kasi nananaginip silang lahat,” Santiago said.
“Nananaginip silang maging presidente ng Pilipinas,” she quipped.
(Even from a distance from this hall, I could hear your laughter. I remembered my days as a judge. But it’s more fun in the Senate. In the Senate, everyone is dreaming. All of them dream to be president of the Philippines.)
While she did not include herself in the statement, Santiago has twice sought the presidency. She first vied for the post in the 1992 polls where she lost to former president Fidel Ramos, who she continues to accuse of cheating her. She again ran for president in 1998 but finished 7th.
Santiago is one of 7 senators seeking higher office. Independent senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero are running as a tandem.
Those aiming for the vice presidency are Senator Gregorio Honasan II of the opposition, and Nacionalista Party members, Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Antonio Trillanes IV.
‘I’ll appoint you to CA’
In her first public appearance since again joining the presidential race, Santiago did not discuss why she decided to run for president or what her plans for the nation are.
Instead, the senator merely alluded to her announcement. She recalled being a law student at the University of the Philippines (UP) where she studied the works of the late American jurist and Supreme Court associate justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
“We were always reprimanded in UP to quote him but he is not of the highest virtue. The highest virtue is [to be] president of the Philippines. That’s why I’m not running for the position of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr,” Santiago retorted, drawing laughter from the audience.
The senator also joked about rewarding the judge who chaired the Hall of Fame committee that selected her.
“If it’s destiny and our mutual fate, I think you’d go to the appellate court soon,” she said.
Santiago is expected to file her candidacy for president on Friday, October 16.
After her speech, Santiago confirmed to reporters that Marcos is her running mate. Calling the tandem a mutual choice, she did not respond to other questions on the partnership.
A leading authority on constitutional and international law, Santiago became the fourth politician to join the presidential derby. Also in the running are Poe, administration standard-bearer former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II, and opposition leader Vice President Jejomar Binay.
It remains unclear though if Santiago’s health will hold up not just in the campaign, but also in the presidency. Santiago suffers from stage 4 lung cancer, and had chronic fatigue syndrome.
The 70-year-old senator has been on medical leave from the Senate. She was seen requiring assistance as she walked to the judges’ conference, holding on to her aides.
‘I’ll kill him first!’
Introduced as a “rock star”, “celebrity”, and a “hero of her generation”, Santiago devoted her speech to commending justices, judges and lawyers.
Before becoming an immigration commissioner and agrarian reform secretary, Santiago was presiding judge of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, and a professor at the UP College of Law.
“People think it’s nothing to sit on the seat of justice. But that’s the apex of human endeavor, to provide for peace,” she said.
The senator said that justices, especially those from the Supreme Court, must draw the line between socializing and “living like monks” to uphold independence and integrity.
Yet Santiago got the loudest response when she delivered her classic punchlines and jokes. As is customary in her university speeches and public appearances, she prepared her witticisms to fit her audience.
She joked: “Sabi ng lawyer sa witness: mukha po kayong matalinong tao.” (A lawyer told a witness: You look like a smart person.)
“Sagot ng witness (The witness’ response): I would return the compliment but I swore to tell the truth.”
The author of the two best-selling joke books, Stupid is Forever and Stupid is Forevermore went on.
“Tanong: anong pinagkaiba ng magaling na lawyer sa palpak na lawyer?”
“Sagot: Kung palpak ang lawyer, tatagal ang kaso. Kung mas magaling ang lawyer, mas matagal pa.”
(Question: what’s the difference between a good lawyer and a lousy lawyer?
Answer: If the lawyer is lousy, the case will drag on. If the lawyer is good, the case will drag on longer.)
Santiago said judges must be brave because of the threats they face in their work.
She said courage was a trait she had as a judge. “If someone wanted to kill me, I would go down the bench and kill him first!”
Santiago said that she had a “no postponement policy” in the courtroom to ensure the speedy disposition of cases.
“I said there should be no postponement for any reason except death. I said, ‘Counsel, you have to die!’”
She brought the subject back to the political scene.
“’Di natin malaman sino magiging presidente ng Pilipinas. Ang pag-asa na lang natin no postponement din ang eleksyon natin!” (We don’t know who will be the president of the Philippines. Our only hope is that in our elections, there will also be no postponement.) – Rappler.com
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