By Cherie M. del Rio
“I am insulted by the way your minds run.”
Addressed to her colleagues, this statement was one of the most memorable quotes Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago delivered during the highly publicized impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Her speech immediately became a cause for controversy, with her powerful lines eliciting both praise and scorn. Santiago has been known to bring to public attention issues that most politicians deliberately conceal or are afraid to acknowledge. But while the substance of her speech and the wisdom of her statements are often admirable, many people find her antics and method of delivery – in her trademark Ilonggo-accented shrieking voice — discourteous, insulting and arrogant. In the halls of Congress, her actuation is referred to as “unparliamentary.”
Santiago’s witticism, or antics if you will, never fails to land on primetime television news. She is a favorite of young professionals and college students who abhor the typical long-winded boring and uninspired remarks of politicians. Like a whiff of fresh air, she brings vigor and color – and controversy — to the drab proceedings in the Senate. But there is always the question of whether or not she goes too far and whether her “eccentricity” crosses the lines of “propriety” and “civility”.
In one of the hearings on the Corona case, Santiago vented her ire on the prosecution panel for boasting that it had already won the case. “Kung ano-ano ang pinagsasabi nyo sa media na panalo na kami . . . you are engaging in a public discourse on the merit of the case . . . ang yayabang ng nagsasalita ng ganyan, gago naman . . . Ang kagaguhan is a ground for contempt of court. . . Sasabihin nyo na panalo na kami sa tatlong articles of impeachment. Kami ang nagde-desisyon nyan, hindi kayo. Ang yayabang nyo!”
Reacting to Santiago’s rant, Fr. Catalino Arevalo remarked that Santiago was “worthy of the fires of hell”. The respected Jesuit priest said the senator should issue a public apology for always berating the congressmen-prosecutors during the Corona impeachment trial. “If you call anybody ‘you fool,’ you are worthy of the fires of hell,” he said. “And she called them gago, which is Filipino for fool, before millions of people.” Santiago’s retort: “Under Vatican 2, there is no hell; but even if there is, there is nobody there.”
Others joined in. An editorial chided Santiago: “She is loud, arrogant, and intolerant of anyone but herself.” A lawyer observed, “I was just wondering why the Senate, composed mostly of lawyers, has not admonished or even disciplined Santiago for her uncalled-for behavior of bamboozling key witnesses and other parties during the impeachment trial and even in committee hearings.”
Among the more recent onslaught against Santiago was initiated by the group US Pinoys For Good Governance, which launched an online petition asking the International Criminal Court, where Santiago was elected as one of the judges, to reject the senator.
The petition read in part: “We are bringing this matter to your attention for fear that you may construe her uncivilized behavior and her loose ethics as epitomizing the Filipino people. While, ironically, it should be a source of pride for Filipinos to have one of our own elected to your honorable court, we are embarrassed by the ill-considered nomination of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Far from representing the best of us, she typifies the worst. We fear that her presence in the International Criminal Court will make us the laughing stock of the world.”
In the face of it all, it cannot be denied that while people are both thoroughly amused and incensed by the senator’s theatrics, there are those who have come to admire the honesty and candor of her words. Although her way of conveying her views may appear infuriating to some, Santiago indubitably sheds light on realities in a manner so effective that her detractors probably wish they had the same flair and competence.
Her page in official website of the Senate of the Philippines declares, “No other politician in the country, despite wealth or popularity, has received the universal admiration she evokes as a brilliant, principled politician with a wicked sense of humor. She remains feisty and controversial, as she weaves her unique brand of what media calls ‘Miriam Magic,’ the noble appeal to idealism in the hurly-burly world of politics in a developing country.”
Santiago’s brand of humor was on the news again recently when her “pickup” lines strewn all across the Internet, spreading quickly among social media platforms. Addressing an audience at the University of the Philippines, she dished out her own pickup lines:
Kung magkakaroon ako ng sariling planeta, gusto ko ikaw ang axis nito, para sayo lang iikot ang mundo ko.
Sana naka-off ang ilaw, para tayo na lang mag-on.
Parang see-saw, pag wala ka, down ako.
She followed it up with her taray lines. “So… kailangan minsan sa pulitika, para lang mabuhay sa pulitika, to survive, if not to prevail, kailangan mataray ka. Iba naman klaseng taray ito. Eto nga yun sinasabi ko:
Di ko sinasabing maganda ako. Sinasabi ko lang, pangit ka.
Pag nakikita kita, parang gusto kong magsorry sa mga mata ko.”
Is Miriam a worthy idol or simply an idiot? There are no easy answers and the question will persist even when she vacates her Senate seat soon to assume her post at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The only sure thing is that without Miriam Philippine politics will never be as wacky and entertaining.