Senators: Miriam a big loss, 'best president we never had'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senators mourned the passing of an esteemed colleague, former Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.

Santiago died away early Thursday, after battling lung cancer for two years. She was 71 years old. (Read Santiago's obituary: Miriam Defensor Santiago: God is not out there but in you)

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Santiago is the "best president our nation never had."

"Today, the Filipino nation lost a moral giant in the fight against corruption, and an intellectual force and brilliant legal mind in Philippine politics. As a nation, we are poorer today by former Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s passing," Pimentel said in a statement.

Pimentel recalled how Santiago would light up the Senate hall with her "crackling and slashing wit," which earned her admirers and followers.

He said Santiago, who ran for president and lost thrice, always chose the "good" for Filipinos.

"While she did not always win her political battles, she always stood on the side of what was moral, what was legal, what was constitutional, and ultimately what was good for the Filipino people. She was the best president our nation never had," he said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon said the brilliant late senator is a “loss” to the country. (READ: The last battle of Miriam Defensor-Santiago)

“Today marks one of the saddest days in the history of our country. It is with an extreme sense of loss and grief that I join the entire country in mourning the passing of my close friend and colleague, former Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, whose unique brilliance, wit and charm endeared herself to each and very Filipino from all generations and from all walks of life,” Drilon said in a statement.

“My condolences go out to her husband, Jun and their loved ones as they go through this difficult time. She's a loss to the country. She will remain an inspiration to all of us, ” he added.

Drilon had nothing but fond memories of Santiago, his classmate from college in the University of the Philippines-Iloilo until UP law school in Manila and his editor in the Philippine Collegian.

Drilon said he would miss his friend and colleague, adding the Senate would never find another brilliant and fiercely dedicated senator like her.

“There is no senator, past or present, who can match Senator Santiago’s uncommon brilliance and fiery dedication to her principles and beliefs. She was an intellectual giant and a legal luminary whose wit and words benefited this nation and its people so many times over,” he added.

Santiago is a renowned constitutionalist and was elected judge to the International Criminal Court in 2011, but stepped down from the post in June 2014, citing her chronic fatigue syndrome. Weeks later, she announced that she had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III also expressed sadness over the death of the fierce senator. Sotto and Santiago a  Reproductive Health advocate, had a heated exchange at the height of the RH bill debates in 2012.

“I am saddened to know that Miriam will now be debating with a much greater body than the Philippine Senate,” Sotto said.

‘Brains, beauty, and balls’

Minority Leader Ralph Recto, for his part, expressed gratitude for meeting Santiago – “a one-of-a-kind” person.

“Senator Miriam was one of a kind. And we are lucky that like a meteor that streaks across our skies once every century, we were able to witness her dazzling brilliance during our lifetime,” Recto said.

Recto said those who come after Santiago “will be reduced to students forever parsing what she had said as beacons that will light their way and illuminate their minds.”

Even during her weakest point, Recto said Santiago was still sharper than any of her colleagues, “displaying an acumen that was hard to defeat.”

Santiago, the senator said, has it all – “brains, beauty, and balls” – who would gracefully demolish opponents using language that was “devastating “yet classy.

“She rarely cursed, never had invectives in her debating arsenal, but she was able to demolish her opponents using language that was devastating yet most elegant,” he said.

“Senator Miriam not only set the benchmark in clarity of thought and convincing discourse, but also in courage which she showed whether in pursuit of her advocacies for the people or the latter’s enemies,” he added.


Other newer and younger senators, meanwhile, expressed admiration for Santiago, calling her their “idol.”

Senator Leila De Lima said Santiago had personified the strength of women: “to be a wife and mother, a success in her career, and a powerful social force for nation-building.”

“In the midst of the political crisis that we have been experiencing as of late, her death is a sobering reminder that while our time on earth is fleeting, our service to our countrymen is eternal,” said De Lima, who is facing attacks and criticisms from the Duterte administration.

Kailanman ay hindi natin malilimutan ang isang Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Mananatili kang idolo at inspirasyon sa napakaraming Pilipino. Sa ngalan ng sambayanan, maraming maraming salamat sa paglilingkod, Senadora Miriam. Mabuhay ang iyong gunita at mabubuting halimbawa,” De Lima added.

(We will never forget Miriam Defensor Santiato. You will continue to be an idol and inspiration to many Filipinos. In the name of the nation, thank you very much for your service, Senator Miriam. Long live your memory and your good examples.)

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who did not get to work with Santiago at the Senate, said the late senator was one of the "staunchest champions" of the RH law. "The Filipino people lost a champion of women rights and defender of the country’s sovereignty," she said.

Senator Nancy Binay said she is among those who listened intently to the “wise words” of the late Senator.

“I was one of those who would stop and listen to the wise words she would say in the Senate sessions. I knew that Senator Miriam would be ready with her witty lines and feisty attitude. Senator Miriam - a brilliant legal mind, a loving wife and mother, and a public servant – would be missed,” Binay said.

Senator Grace Poe, a fellow advocate of the Freedom of Information law, said Santiago taught her a lot of things about the measure.

She recalled how scared she was to be interpellated by the feisty lawmaker, who turned out to be a gentle woman and mother.

"I was quite scared to be interpellated then by Senatir Santiago. I remember having sleepless nights preparing for that particular time when she would interpellate me. That time I was finally given that opportunity, what she said was, before interpellating ating me: I feel very maternal towards you,” Poe said.

“Instead of actually interpellating me, she lectured me on the importance of having a freedom of information bill and I will never forget her for that. She stressed that the presidential communications privilege should not be abused by any sitting president and I think it’s a valid point. And so this bill is also decicated to her. And hopefully we also pass it in her memory,” Poe added.

Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV said Santiago's memory "will continue to influence and inspire the current and next generation of Filipinos"

"At times larger than life, she was a true public servant who showed generosity and kindness to younger leaders like myself," he said.

Patriot, ‘Iron Lady of Asia’

Senators Juan Edgardo Angara and Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, said the country just "lost a patriot and much admired public servant."

"A notable woman who have served all 3 branches of the government, Senator Miriam Santiago was a great patriot who dedicated her life to serving the country. I am out of words to adequately express our deep gratitude for all the selfless work she has done for the country,’ Villanueva said.

Senator Francis Escudero and wife Heart Evangelista, who was like a daughter to the late senator, sympathized with the bereaved family.

“Today, we join the Filipino people in mourning the loss of one of the finest leaders of our country, a pillar of Philippine politics, the Iron Lady of Asia, a public servant, and a friend,” Escudero said.

He added: “She may have left us, but with a great legacy that will challenge the nation to become better for the future of the coming generations, something that Senator Miriam has long been fighting for.”

Senator Juan Miguel Zubir said Santiago is like family to him.

“Senator Miriam was not only an exemplar of public service and a mentor to me, I also considered her as family. I express my sincerest condolences to her family during this difficult time. The whole nation joins you in remembering her exceptional life,” Zubiri said. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email