Miriam in chiaroscuro

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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Miriam in chiaroscuro
The feistiness we shall also miss, especially because most of the time, it unmasked hypocrisy, pretense, and fraudulence! And we so badly need that today.

She will rightly be long remembered for having dared the odds: She would not give the House Managers of the Corona Impeachment easy sailing – even if the tide was against him, and against her. PNoy had left no doubt: Corona was the hindrance to his promise of “daang matuwid” and he had to go, never mind that he was the Chief Justice. Speedily, the Lower House really acted low and filed the Articles of Impeachment. It was for Miriam and for Joker Arroyo to show the nation that the Chief Justice had been haled to the dock on trumped-up charges. 

“What were you thinking of?” she bellowed repeatedly when the prosecutors conceded that they did not have the evidence to support the litany of charges they had brought against the defendant.  There was nothing more they could do than cower like chastened sheep beneath the withering gaze of the feisty senator.

There were shadows, to be sure.

Her stint in the Cory Government was not altogether placid. She was plucked from the Bench – a judge who had won an award for writing not only legally correct but elegant decisions. She became head of the then Commission on Immigration and Deportation where she made some enemies who would charge her before the Office of the Ombudsman. She tried to fend off a preventive suspension meted her by the Sandiganbayan on the theory that as an elected member of the Senate – she was a senator by the time the charges were filed in court – she could be suspended only by the chamber of which she was a member. “Nice try,” the Supreme Court acknowledged – but not good enough.

Preventive suspension was not a penalty, and the fact that the Senate could suspend one of its members did not mean that only the Senate could! She was eventually acquitted of all the charges.  Before running for the Senate, she was DAR Secretary where she introduced bold measures, but earned a notable list of foes. (Read her obituary: Miriam Santiago: ‘God is not out there but in you’)

When she ran for President and lost to Fidel Ramos, she brought the matter up to the Presidential Electoral Tribunal and never really forgave FVR.  Every year, after each SONA, she would give FVR a worse grade than that of the preceding year.  Asked once what she thought of FVR’s announcements, she quipped: “It gets worse every year.”

She attended formal classes in theology at the Maryhill School of Theology, known for its progressive position on Church doctrine. And when, early in the PNoy regime, he wanted to send the CBCP a clear signal that he would not have the mitered heads speaking over his telemprompted discourses, much less speaking against his mantra of self-proclaimed righteousness, he dragged bishops he and his minions derisively called “the Pajero Bishops” before a Senate inquiry. Miriam took the floor at the very first turn, and gave the bishops’ detractors a severe spanking: Who, she thundered, had bused in the hordes that had taken their places on the Senate grounds to ridicule the bishops? And what, she demanded to know of her colleagues, really constituted separation of Church and State? – following that challenge to a debate (which no one wisely took) with a lecturette on American constitutional law as the provenance of our “separation clause.”

Exposing ignorance

Many admired her for her acuteness while some raised the question of her mental equilibrium. But she acted every inch a member of the Senate, except perhaps when she unleashed a barrage of very “unsenatoriable” remarks against Juan Ponce Enrile with whom she had engaged in a tussle. But she was sufficiently respectable to wallow neither in unquenchable vendetta nor in self-aggrandizement.  When she had fired her missiles, she quieted down and resumed working respectably and respectfully.

She held a doctor of juridical science degree from the University of Michigan – and not everyone holds such a degree. She was quick to expose the ignorance of those who claimed to know but in fact did not. She labelled as an “unrecognized creature” some lawyer who ventured to send the committee she chaired an unsolicited legal opinion. She may not have been a courtroom eagle, but she was a scholar of the law. One may be able to point at brighter lights, but she shone with a luminescence all her own.

One of her last political decisions raised many an eyebrow: She ran with Bongbong Marcos. Actually, it was more like she was Bongbong’s running mate because it was quite clear to all that the sickness had extinguished the roaring flame that once was there and that only embers were left.  But she stood her ground: She believed in Bongbong Marcos, and even after his questionable defeat, she did not change tune nor shift allegiance. She was, without a doubt, principled.

That brand of statesmanship, we shall miss. The feistiness we shall also miss, especially because most of the time, it unmasked hypocrisy, pretense and fraudulence! And we so badly need that today. – Rappler.com


The author is Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College, and professor at the Cagayan State University


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