Senators urge Duterte to give Miriam Santiago highest civilian honor

MANILA, Philippines – If former senator Miriam Defensor Santiago were alive, what amusing remarks would she make on the nation's current affairs?

Some members of the Senate pondered over this thought as they remembered their esteemed colleague days before her first death anniversary on Friday, September 29.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and senators Grace Poe, Juan Edgardo Angara, Risa Hontiveros, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Manny Pacquiao delivered speeches in support of resolutions seeking the conferment of the Quezon Service Cross on Santiago.

The Senate adopted the resolutions on Wednesday, September 27.

The Quezon Service Cross is the highest recognition that may be given to a civilian by the Philippine president with concurrence of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Pimentel, Santiago's former student at the University of the Philippines, urged President Rodrigo Duterte to confer the recognition to his law professor and former colleague.

"Let us support this resolution and call on President Duterte and fellow members in the House of Representatives to grant the Quezon [Service] Cross to Senator Miriam Santiago," said Pimentel, Duterte's top Senate ally. 

"The Quezon Service Cross, the highest national recognition of outstanding service in the Republic, [should] be granted to those who serve the Republic in such a manner and such a degree as to add great prestige to the Republic or to contribute lasting benefits to the people. These words perfectly describe the life of the late senator Miriam Santiago, my law professor," he added.  

The resolution was authored by Poe, who was among Santiago's opponents in the 2016 presidential race. In her sponsorship speech, Poe recalled how Santiago became a "comrade" even though they were in different political camps.

"Though we were opponents, I found a comrade in her. We were two women trying to make our mark in our male-dominated history. Sadly, it was to be one of her last battles," said Poe. 

She also delivered some of Santiago's hit pick-up lines that made the late senator a social media darling in her final years:


On a serious note, Poe said she filed the resolution seeking to honor Santiago in hopes it would help restore trust in the government.

"I believe that we need to show our people that not all politicians are bad, that not all are thieves. On the contrary, there are many in government who remain true to their oath and who uphold public interest over their personal interests," she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"Her memory should serve as an inspiration to future generations, especially those who wish to enter public service." 

Other senators recalled how Santiago was a role model to them.

"She may not have been my teacher but I can say that I learned a lot from her. All one needed to do was listen and observe her. And I was privileged to do so, up close, particularly as her vice chair in the committee on foreign affairs last Congress," said Angara.

Zubiri, who fondly called Santiago "Tita Miriam" or "palangga," also recalled moments she helped him out. "Palangga" is a Visayan term of endearment.

He said that Santiago, a legal luminary, would rephrase some of his measures for them to be constitutionally correct.

"A lot of people feared her. But for those with a lot of opportunities with her, she was so motherly… And that's how kind she was, Mr President. [She is known] as a feisty fighter in the Senate… to us, she was a motherly figure," Zubiri said. 

Meanwhile, Hontiveros thanked Santiago not only for supporting the passage of the reproductive health (RH) law but also for ensuring that women have a voice in the Senate. Hontiveros was an RH advocate when the Senate approved the measure in 2012.

"Miriam Santiago is a woman who made sure her voice was heard. She paved the way for women like me – that there was a glass ceiling that needed to be broken, an old boys' club that [needed] to be gatecrashed," Hontiveros said. 

"We, the living, carry her memory and her legacy always... By her death, we are diminished. By her memory, we remain strong."

Santiago died in her sleep while confined at the St Luke's Medical Center in Taguig City last year. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014 but declared a year after that she had been cured(READ: Miriam Defensor Santiago: 'God is not out there but in you')

A memorial service is scheduled on Friday for Santiago's first death anniversary. The tribute will be attended by her family, friends, and supporters, but it is also open to the public. – 

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.