No Comments 23 June 2012

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.




6 Comments 23 June 2012

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

I once met a vagabond from Belgium who went from one country to the other, hawking her exquisitely handmade jewelry. Her dirty hair was tied up to reveal a pretty sunburned face, the face that looked like it had seen many places. But my assumption was quickly challenged with her straightforward question. “Where is that?” she asked when I told her where I’m from. “The Philippines. In Southeast Asia,” I said again, thinking she didn’t hear me clearly. She replied with a puzzled look. To save us both from embarrassment, I said, “It’s close to Thailand,” and moved on.

Unfortunately for the Philippines, this is not a singular incident. For some reason, our country remains as several tiny dots in the tourism map. Those who wish to explore Southeast Asia would quickly pin Thailand for the beaches, Indonesia for the culture in Bali, and Hong Kong for the shopping. As a country of over 7,000 islands, we have more than just beaches, culture, and shopping to offer. The Pearl of the Orient Seas has a treasure chest of gems overflowing, stunning or maybe even more brilliant than the finely cut jewels of our neighbors. A UK travel website claims the Philippines as “Asia’s undiscovered gem.” Yet we remain dulled like an unpolished precious stone.

On one hand, this can be an advantage, especially to travelers who prefer places that are not as heavily choked with sightseers. Many backpackers tout the Philippines as uncharted territory, their legendary hideout, and they’d like to keep it secret, the way The Beach in the novel of the same title was said to be. Ironically, it is said that the beach, which Alex Garland wrote about in his novel supposedly set in Thailand, was actually inspired by the beaches of Palawan.

We can’t blame Garland for keeping Palawan as his secret paradise. Neither can we hold territorial travelers culpable for the fact that we have yet to reach our tourism potential in spite of what we have to offer. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, the Philippines’ share of the whole Asia and the Pacific region was at 1.7% in terms of international arrivals in 2008.

It’s easy to blame the government for our country’s every failure. So let us point accusing fingers at them for a moment, drawing light on the fact that there is not enough effort to make tourism a national policy priority. We can also hold our leaders responsible for not creating enough incentives for foreign investors. According to former Economic Planning Secretary Gerardo Sicat, we are making progress in terms of tourism, but still lagging.

Poor infrastructure is one of the major reasons why we are still behind our Southeast Asian neighbors and not in tourism alone. The Department of Tourism is making waves with different advertising promotions, especially with the recent “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, but if we are to invite visitors over, we need to make our place more accessible and give our guests a pleasant stay with more world class establishments for high flyers and more budget friendly accommodations for backpackers.

But many regulations hinder the entry of big foreign hotel investors. “A major impediment here has been the constitutional provision against land ownership and the equity restrictions pertaining to land in corporations. Associated businesses tied up to these provisions have impeded a vibrant growth of the tourist sector over the years,” explains Sicat. Next door, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia are enjoying a steady influx of travelers because their laws are more accommodating to foreign investors in the tourism sector.

We could write an entire paper on the government’s failures to boost the country’s tourism, but while we’re pointing fingers, we need to remember that we too are responsible for promoting our country and welcoming guests. And those of us abroad are also ambassadors of our nation. We are after all the face of the Philippines, but somehow we have blurred our cultural identity.  It is not that we have little pride for our motherland, but because we have become so adaptable, we have weakened our identity as Filipinos. In the U.S. for instance, we have become so Americanized that to foreign eyes we are no longer so different and thus less interesting. Our capability to quickly adjust to our situation – perhaps based on our long history of oppression and poverty – has led us to blend in with our surroundings and have become one of them – Americans, Canadians, Europeans, etc.

Even our children no longer speak the native tongue. Not only has the tongue become more fluent with the English language, it has also become more inclined to international cuisine. Our palates have quickly learned to adjust. If the Chinese crave for dumplings, they don’t just make it, they build their own restaurant which eventually grows into a town. Where in the world can you find a Filipino Town? If a Pinoy craves for lechon, they quiet the hankering with a slice of pork roast.

We have also become overcritical of our country’s flaws. When we welcome guests into our home, there is always a little bit of that hiya involved. A plate of pansit is almost always served with “pasensya ka na sa handa namin” on the side. Abroad, this can be translated to “you’ll love it, but beware of the potholes and the pollution.”

One journalist even went as far as asking if we should even consider promoting at this point when our major cities are dirty and littered with beggars everywhere. Returning to our homeland, we are quick to compare and criticize. “The traffic is horrendous. Why can’t they implement a better road system like they do in Salt Lake City?” Back in our adoptive country, we talk about how wonderful it was to go home but we miss the efficiency of the foreign system.  I too have been guilty of that many times. Perhaps when asked where the Philippines is, instead of just saying that’s it’s close to Thailand, I should add that it’s more fun in the Philippines than anywhere else. And I can name more than 7,000 ways.

(The author maintains a travel blog —


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