Meet the ‘millennials’ behind Miriam Defensor Santiago’s campaign

Patty Pasion
Meet the ‘millennials’ behind Miriam Defensor Santiago’s campaign

Jasmin Dulay

Miriam Defensor Santiago's senate staff, composed mostly of young professionals, also man her campaign team

MANILA, Philippines – Unlike other presidential candidates who try to woo every sector, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has set her eyes on only one: the youth.

Indeed, the senator, although the most “senior” among contenders, appeals to the younger voters. This favorable attention from the youth, which comprises 37% of the 2016 voting population, is credited to her pickup lines in speeches and her books Stupid Is Forever and Stupid is Forevermore.

Despite her low ratings in pre-election surveys, Santiago tops most youth-oriented polls that are commissioned by schools and universities.

Santiago topped pre-election polls released after the official campaign period kicked off. These were surveys conducted by several universities, such as the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), Holy Angel University in Pampanga, and the Colegio de San Juan de Letran campus in Calamba.

She got a voter preference of 43.2% in UA&P, 40% in Holy Angel University’s poll and 58.48% in Letran–Calamba.

Last year, the senator got 48.36% of the votes in a Facebook survey while she got 86% and 71.3% in the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and Polytechnic University of the Philippines, respectively. (READ: 3 ways Miriam Santiago can revive her magic at the polls)

You can credit Santiago’s Senate-slash-campaign staff for helping keep her appeal among the youth even on her 3rd bid for the presidency. The team is composed mostly of “millennials” or those born from the 1980s up to the 2000s, and all graduated from the country’s top universities.

Here are some of the young and young-at-heart on Santiago’s campaign team.

Photo from Santiago's Facebook account

Narciso “Jun” Santiago Jr – campaign manager 

The fierce senator has entrusted her chances of winning to the man who holds her heart. Former interior undersecretary Narciso Santiago Jr is the senator’s husband of 4 decades and now campaign manager.  

This is not the first time Mr Santiago rendered campaign services for his wife. In 1992, he resigned from his post in the Bureau of Customs to man Mrs Santiago’s presidential bid against eventual winner Fidel Ramos.

Aside from Mr Santiago, the key people behind the presidential candidate’s campaign are her 3 chiefs-of-staff:

Maria Angelica Thelmo, advertising head

Having passed the bar two years ago, Telmo is a relatively new lawyer but has served Senator Santiago’s office for almost a decade, previously as part of her media team. For the campaign, the lawyer in her early 30s handles all advertising contracts.

Fatima Panontongan, sorties head

Panontongan is a law graduate from the University of Santo Tomas. Also in her 30s, she has worker for Santiago for 11 years. She arranges the candidate’s tours and rallies, which are currently confined to speaking engagements in universities.

Photo from Laguna State Polytechnic University's Facebook account

Dr Nenalyn Defensor, administration

Defensor, a sister of the senator, was a former commissioner at the Commission for Higher Education (CHED). She obtained her bachelor’s degree in education from West Visayas State University, a Center for Excellence in Teacher Education. Dr Defensor was educated abroad – a scholar/fellow in several countries, including South Australia, United States, United Kingdom, and China. 

Cynthia Blardony, finance director

Blardony has been working for Santiago for at least two decades as her senior aide. With a master’s degree in business administration, Blardony handles the financial aspect of the campaign together with Santiago’s husband.

Kim Arveen Patria, media coordinator

Prior to being a senatorial media relations officer, Patria was a correspondent for Yahoo! Philippines. He graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in journalism in 2011. This is the 26-year-old’s first time to be directly involved in a campaign – much less be at the forefront of a presidential election.

Youth for Miriam, volunteer group 

Beyond the key players on her team, what also boosts Santiago’s campaign is her volunteer group that is composed of students and young leaders.

YOUTH VOTE. Young volunteers from different parts of the country come together to support the candidacy of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.

Youth for Miriam,”  launched on February 14, convenes all the senator’s young supporters from different parts of the Philippines. According to its spokesperson Edrian Villanueva, there are 20 chapters of the group in provinces like Laguna, Cebu, Iloilo, Leyte, Zamboanga del Sure, Pangasinan, and Pampanga, and in Davao City.

The group, Villanueva said, is very hands-on. They have 5,000 volunteers who signed up on Facebook. Most of them serve as “social media ambassadors” who disseminate their message online. Others who work “on the ground” set up activities and events for the senator.

Recently, they launched their “Youth for Miriam Probinsya (provincial) Caravan” to campaign for the senator, who has kept herself from local sorties. Villanueva said the senator’s team provides them with a briefer with the messages they want to convey, but they are still free to formulate their own themes or strategies.  

“We go around in different provinces, public markets, terminal. We also do gimmicks like the flash mob we just did,” Villanueva told Rappler in a phone interview.

Their funding comes from the money they were able to raise before the election period started. “It is not that much, it did not even reach 6 figures,” Villanueva said. He noted, however, that they receive pledges from private individuals who message them on social media. –

Read on the campaign teams of other presidential candidates:

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.