Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago

Senate Office:
Rm. 521-A GSIS Bldg., Financial Center, Roxas Blvd., Pasay City
Trunk Lines: (632) 552-6601 to 70 loc. 5561
Direct Lines: (632) 552-6693
Telefax No.: (632) 552-6692

Biography | Agenda

Asian Nobel Prize Laureate

Miriam Defensor Santiago became globally famous with her courageous and brilliant crusade against corruption in the Philippines. As a result, at 43, she was named Laureate of the Asian Nobel Prize, known as the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service. She was cited "for bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency."
Miriam was widely featured in the international press because of her charisma, flamboyant personality, and her signature witticisms, making her good copy. In 1997, the Australian magazine named her one of "The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World." In later years, Miriam was keynote speaker of the international anticorruption conference in Sydney, Australia. As senator, she sponsored and secured ratification by the Philippine Senate of the UN Convention Against Corruption.
Miriam ran for President of the Philippines in 1992, and led in the canvass of nationwide votes for the first five days. But she was ultimately defeated by a margin of less than a million votes out of 36 million votes. The campaign was reportedly marred by widespread election fraud, notably power blackouts after the first five days. The public outrage over the presidential results prompted Newsweek to feature her and her rival on the cover with the question: "Was the Election Fair?" In another cover story, Philippine Free Press magazine asked: "Who's the Real President?"

Child Prodigy

Miriam was born in 1945 in Iloilo City, in southern Philippines. Her father Benjamin was a district trial judge, and her mother Dimpna was a college dean. She is the eldest of seven children, most of whom she helped to send through college.
Miriam graduated valedictorian of the La Paz Elementary School, and valedictorian of the Iloilo Provincial National High School, also earning a medal for all-around excellence. In high school, she proved to be a child prodigy. As a freshman, she won as champion of a Spelling Bee which included seniors. Also still a freshman, she topped written examinations and was appointed by a faculty panel as editor-in-chief of the high school paper, a post which she held for four years. She was high school swimming champion for the entire province during competitions sponsored by the Red Cross. She topped the National College Entrance Examinations for the Western Visayas region.

Record-Setter at University of the Philippines Visayas

At 16, Miriam enrolled as freshman at the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo City. Repeating her high school achievement as a freshman, she topped the written examinations and was appointed editor-in-chief of the college paper, a post she also held for four years. She emerged champion in oratorical and literary contests. She even held a campus beauty title as UP ROTC corps sponsor.
She finished the academic requirements in only three and a half years, instead of four years. Nonetheless, she remained at the university for an extra semester, which she finished with a near perfect average grade of 1.1. (In the Philippines, 1.0 is the perfect grade.) She graduated Bachelor of Arts in political science, magna cum laude. She was also recipient of the Rotary Award for Most Outstanding Graduate.

Record-Setter at University of the Philippines Diliman

Miriam then flew to Metro Manila to take up law at UP Diliman. As a freshman in law school, she topped written examinations and was appointed editor-in-chief of the law school paper. Eventually, she was also appointed editor of the Philippine Law Journal. She was only a freshman when she won campus-wide elections as councilor in the University Student Council, where she eventually became vice-chairperson.
Miriam is best remembered in the state university for breaking a record of 50 years of male dominance, by topping the written examinations and getting appointed as the first female editor-in-chief of the nationally prominent student newspaper, the Philippine Collegian. She also made history by posting the highest number of consecutive college scholarships in the state university (a college or university scholarship is equivalent to a place in the Dean's List). Another record was that she became the only female to be appointed twice to the campus beauty title of UP ROTC corps sponsor. Another record was that she twice received the Vinzons Achievement Award for excellence in student leadership. Another record was that she became the first female to win as Best Debater in the annual debate between UP Diliman and UP Manila law schools.
A faculty panel chose her as one of the U.P. Ten Outstanding Coeds. A feature story in the Manila Chronicle magazine said it all, when it described Miriam as "super girl at the state university."
Miriam graduated Bachelor of Laws, cum laude, from the state university. She was valedictorian of her class at the UP Diliman campus. (At that time, there was an evening law school for working students at UP Manila).

Record-Setter at University of Michigan

After marriage, Miriam won the DeWitt Fellowship at the University of Michigan law school. She finished her first semester in graduate school with an A average. On the basis of her high grades, for the first time in the law school's history, a graduate student was allowed to pursue a special program. Thus, she earned the degree Master of Laws after one year, and the degree Doctor of the Science of Jurisprudence, after only six months. Her grades qualified her for the prestigious Barbour Scholarship. Her doctoral dissertation, with Prof. William W. Bishop, Jr. as supervisor, was later published as Political Offences in International Law.

Lawyer and Theologian

Not content with her law doctorate, Miriam later pursued postdoctoral studies in law at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, University of California, at Berkeley, and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She attended the Hague Academy of Public International Law at The Hague, Netherlands, and at Sophia University, Tokyo.
Already a senator, she finished with high grades the academic requirements for the degree, Master of Arts in Religious Studies, at the Maryhill School of Theology in Metro Manila. She wrote her published master's dissertation, Christianity Versus Corruption, Political Theology of the Third World as a Fellow at St. Hilda's College, Oxford. Because her book was in part critical of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, she was asked to rewrite some chapters, but she refused.

Public Service

At 25, Miriam was invited to join big Makati law firms. But she chose government service, as special assistant to the Secretary of Justice who, under Philippine law, is the official legal adviser of the executive branch. Later, in the same position, she was tapped as one of the speechwriters of President Ferdinand Marcos, a lawyer.
Not content with working full-time as a lawyer, Miriam also took on a teaching post in the evening. She was professor of political science in Trinity College, and eventually professor of law in UP Diliman. She held down a third job as an opinion columnist for a Sunday magazine and later in life, in a national daily.

Prolific Author

In her starting years as a lawyer, Miriam began to write law books. She also wrote two autobiographies, Inventing Myself and Cutting Edge: The Politics of Reform in the Philippines. She has written some 30 textbooks in law and in the social sciences, particularly political science and philosophy. In her Code Annotated Series, she annotated the major codes of law in her country (Constitution, Rules of Court, Civil Code, Penal Code, etc.) with decisions of the Supreme Court. The Series, widely used in law schools and in the judiciary, will undergo second editions in 2007. Her books are listed in the US Library of Congress.
She is acknowledged by the media and fellow senators as an expert in constitutional and international law.

United Nations Officer

When the Secretary of Justice was promoted to associate justice of the Supreme Court, he requested that Miriam should be seconded to the Supreme Court as his law clerk. For half a year, she researched and drafted legal opinions.
She then flew to Geneva, Switzerland where she served as legal officer of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, assigned to the treaties and conferences section. As a UN officer, she took French classes. Her budding UN career was cut short, when her father contracted terminal cancer, forcing her to resign. Serving as a caregiver at his bedside, she accepted part-time work as legal consultant of the UP Law Center.
After her father's death, she briefly worked as legal consultant to the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. But in 1993, during the national judicial reorganization, she returned to Metro Manila to take up a new post as Regional Trial Court judge of Quezon City.

Most Decorated Trial Judge

Miriam's appointment to the trial court in Metro Manila was exceptional, because newcomers are usually appointed in the provinces before they are considered qualified to sit in Metro Manila trial courts. She soon proved her mettle, by decreeing that she would not entertain any motions to postpone trial. Postponements are the bane of the Philippine judiciary, thus delaying justice.
As a freshman judge, Miriam disposed of the highest number of cases in Metro Manila. Her reputation for integrity, competence, and efficiency became established, and she was showered with awards for judicial excellence from civic groups, notably as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Professionals of the Philippine Jaycees, and the Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service of the Philippine Lions.
Her awards for judicial excellence, added to her awards for anticorruption work as immigration commissioner, make Miriam the most awarded Filipino public official today.

National Prominence

Miriam first rose to national prominence, when a case was raffled to her court, involving an arrest warrant called Preventive Detention Action issued during the martial law regime of President Marcos. A group of university students, mostly from UP and Ateneo de Manila University, accompanied by a group of the religious and of film luminaries, staged a public assembly in Quezon City. They protested not only an oil price hike, but also the alleged extravagance of the First Lady. They were all promptly thrown in jail, placing the students in danger of missing their final examinations for that semester. The students sued for release, and the case was raffled to Miriam.
At that time, judges were afraid to rule against any martial law edict. The prosecution presented so many witnesses that it would have been impossible to finish trial, before the week of the final exams for the university students. But Miriam suspended her regular calendar of trials, and proceeded to conduct marathon hearings on the case.
Her eventual decision to release the students was hailed as a courageous act that stressed judicial independence, even during a martial law situation. She became a national heroine to all university students, and earned the grudging respect even of the martial law administrators.

International Prominence

After the first People Power revolution, President Marcos was forced into exile and replaced by President Corazon Aquino, a former housewife whose assassinated husband had been the leading opposition leader during martial law. The new president plucked Miriam out of the judiciary, and gave her the mission of cleaning up the notoriously corrupt Commission on Immigration and Deportation.
Miriam rose to the challenge, and launched an anticorruption crusade that took the Filipinos' breath away. Described as "a breath of fresh air," she became an overnight sensation. She ordered lightning raids on criminal syndicates that had made the Philippines notorious as the fake passport capital of Asian. She filled the immigration detention center to bursting with foreign criminals engaged in the pedophile industry, smuggling of illegal aliens, including prostitutes, import and export of illicit firearms and dangerous drugs, and even operatives of the infamous Yakuza.
Almost every week, the media were full of Miriam's successful exploits against criminal syndicates. At this point, she earned the wrathful resentment of politicians who are patrons and benefactors of certain criminal syndicates.
For her extraordinary success in the capture of fugitives from justice, certain governments, such as the US, Australia, and Japan, invited Miriam to their countries to share her expertise in the enforcement of immigration law.

Darling of the Press

Miriam became the darling of the press, both national and international. She was featured by TIME, The Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, and International Herald Tribune, among others. She graced dozens of magazine covers. They tried to capture her colorful personality with such accolades as: the incorruptible lady, the iron lady of Asia, the dragon lady, the platinum lady, and the undisputed campus heroine. Her intense and passionate orations against corruption captured the public imagination. On the invitation of universities and civic groups, she began a hectic nationwide speaking tour that would continue for at least one decade.
At the height of her popularity, Miriam's charisma could cause shopping malls to close down for the day, and could cause traffic to snarl. On one weekend when she went shopping at a Quezon City mall, she attracted such a huge throng of autograph seekers that virtually the entire mall closed down, because store owners were afraid that the crowd might turn into an uncontrollable mob. This was duly reported in media.
On one holiday, when she went to the mountaintop resort of Baguio City, the entire downtown traffic went into gridlock. The traffic cop recognized her at the wheel of her car, and stopped traffic to greet her. All other car owners and bus drivers then left their vehicles to shake her hand, and traffic became so snarled that the mobile patrol unit had to be called to restore order.
Her famous quips have been captured in the book Miriam Dictionary. She once told media: "I eat death threats for breakfast." When a congressman delivered a privilege speech against her for a lightning group arrest of foreign pedophiles occupying a village in his district, Miriam called him "fungus face." She was famous for describing her anticorruption work as needing "the epidermis of a pachyderm" and "intestinal fortitude." Filipinos were delighted when, on TV, she told a foreigner charged with pedophilia: "Sir, I represent the majesty of the Republic of the Philippines. Now shut up, or I'll bash your teeth in!"
Finally, the ultimate recognition of her dangerous and backbreaking work came. The Magsaysay Awards Foundation named her in 1988, Laureate of the Asian Nobel Prize, known as the Magsaysay Award for Government Service. Thus, she joined the elite of Asian heroes who have dedicated their lives to public service.
One amusing postscript to Miriam's reign as "queen of popularity polls" was the constant media mention of her acclaimed beautiful legs. After she left the Cabinet, she gave a poolside interview to a reporter of the Daily Inquirer, which featured Miriam seated by the pool hugging her legs. This photo became the talk of the town, and without her permission, was used by an enterprising group of young Makati businessmen as a calendar photo.

Assassination Attempt

Miriam's popularity was so widespread among the youth, the yuppies, and the poor that politicians begun to feel threatened. As a result, she became the subject of character assassination and black propaganda, manufactured out of sheer lies and fabrications by highly paid public relations firms.
Because her millions of fans call her a genius, her political enemies tried to peddle the desperate charge that she is eccentric. Because her fans adore her charisma, her political enemies called her intellectually arrogant. Because her fans call her a fighter, her enemies dubbed her as a non-team player.
Her fans were so outraged at the political malice being thrown in their idol's direction that they begin to agitate that Miriam should run for president. At first, Miriam treated the subject as a joke. But she began to top presidential surveys by all national survey firms, as well as campus presidential surveys conducted by student organizations all over the country.
When she became a real political threat to the traditional politicians, she was suddenly victimized in a car crash that remains unsolved up to the present. On the highway during a speaking tour, Miriam suffered life-threatening injuries, after a car rammed her vehicle on the side where she was seated. Bloodied and unconscious, she was airlifted by helicopter from Tarlac to Metro Manila and taken to the Metropolitan Hospital, where a stream of her fans visited daily, although they were refused admittance. They left flowers, anyway.
Her staff decided not to reveal the true extent of Miriam's injuries, so as not to prejudice her presidential chances. But she was completely immobile and could not walk nor even move her arms. Her facial injuries made it impossible for her to talk, and she had to communicate by writing. She underwent surgery, during which she had a near-death experience.

Political Persecution

While Miriam was physically incapacitated, her enemies in the administration filed charges against her with the antigraft court. The charges were ironic, because they consisted of the very same anticorruption programs, for which she had earned the Magsaysay Award.
Thus, she was prevented from leaving the country to avail of a Mason Fellowship granted her by the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard. Thereafter, for the next seven years, she was placed under a hold-departure order, only to be finally acquitted for absence of any evidence on the part of the prosecution.
Her humility and courage in bearing political persecution endeared her even more to her fans, and her presidential candidacy became inevitable.

Political Phenomenon

After she was discharged from hospital, Miriam was forced to remain confined at home. Thus, a few months later, when she resumed her speaking tour of the nation, she had become a martyr to the murderous malice of corrupt politicians.
In her public speeches, Miriam had always twitted the political parties for being beholden to campaign contributors. She despised traditional politicians for placing political protégés in revenue-producing offices, where the political appointees could earn illicit incomes that they shared with their political patrons. Hence, she disdained to join any established political party.
Instead, she organized a completely new one, the People's Reform Party, which she headed as president. She then fielded a national senatorial ticket and candidates at the local level. Miriam's PRP carried out an unorthodox campaign. Because she had no party funding, she called on university students to campaign house to house for her, and to literally construct her rally platforms from secondhand lumber. Unlike other parties that rented their crowds, Miriam's PRP attracted mammoth crowds and sometimes hysterical mobs, on the sheer strength of her personality.Twice or thrice, while Miriam was speaking on the platform, it became so crowded with her supporters that the entire platform collapsed.
Young people also served as Miriam's watchers in the precincts, since she did not have money to pay for professional poll watchers. Work in the Philippines came to a halt during the first televised TV presidential debates, as even peasants left their farms to watch TV in town. Media concluded that Miriam won as Best Debater, with her wit, eloquence, and mastery of national policy.
In the 1992 elections, nearly a hundred PRP candidates won, led by the mayor and vice-mayor of Manila. In her home region of Western Visayas, Miriam won an unprecedented 98 percent of the votes. She placed first among presidential candidates in Metro Manila, and in regions with the highest voter populations.
Unfortunately, it appears that in 1992, massive vote cheating was carried out at the presidential level. Her closest rival was a former military general endorsed by the administration, and thus had access to the massive resources of the administration.
The Philippine Congress conducts the canvass of votes in presidential elections, on a random basis. This means that canvass certificates by province are counted as they are brought to Metro Manila, without any particular order as to voting population or geography. Hence, the political analysts even of the global media concluded that since Miriam had led in the canvass of votes for the first five days, in effect the canvass was tantamount to a survey of the voting universe, and she was a sure winner. In reporting election results, global TV called her "President-elect."

Victim of Electoral Fraud

But her political rivals were determined to ensure that Miriam "won in the voting but lost in the counting." Media exposés later revealed that she was cheated by the Sulo Hotel Operations Group of the administration candidate. This Group, operating in a hotel near the Congress, was able to get advance copies of provincial canvass certificates, and to switch the high votes of Miriam with the low votes of her closest rival.
This process of vote-switching between a winner and a runner-up was dubbed in later elections as "Operation Dagdag-Bawas." This term means Operation Add-Subtract, a reference to the subtraction of votes from the real winner, and the simultaneous addition of her subtracted votes to the column of votes for her rival.
Miriam refused to concede victory to her opponent, and instead filed an election protest with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, which is also the Philippine Supreme Court. She mortgaged her law office to pay for the judicial fees.
Her rival, already the newly-proclaimed president, moved to avert the brewing political crisis caused by the electoral fraud accusations. He postponed the opening of classes in Metro Manila, to prevent the youth from taking to the streets in protest. An official from Malacañang Palace (the president's office), called up university administrators in Metro Manila to instruct them to prohibit student organizations from inviting Miriam as guest speaker.
Even the press downplayed her electoral protest, as the administration's PR firms set to work against her. Except for the young people, businessmen stayed away from her, for fear of harassment from the administration. And the administration's paid hacks in the notoriously corrupt media worked overtime to continue their attempts to discredit Miriam.
In addition to the trumped-up charges filed against her in court, Miriam was threatened by the military. A group of men and women in military uniforms stormed Miriam's house, at a time when she was supposed to be home with dengue fever. However, unknown to her assailants, Miriam had decided at the last minute to deliver a speech at a Manila university. The armed group tied up all the househelp and overturned Miriam's clothes closet and dresser, in an attempt to make it appear as a robbery. But the real intent was to intimidate her to keep quiet on her electoral protest.

Unsinkable Miriam

Despite the unremitting campaign of a powerful administration to harass her with trumped-up charges and armed invasions, Miriam refused her rival's oft-repeated public offers of "reconciliation." She refused to recognize him as a duly-elected president. Instead, she coined the term "snowpake president," because in many canvass certificates, her votes had been erased with white snowpake correctional ink.
Despite alleged offers from the Office of the President for a financial reward to every mayor who could keep Miriam out of the winning circle in his municipality, Miriam won her first term as senator in 1995. She earned her laurels in the Senate, by unremitting exposés which were vindicated by investigative reporting by the press in subsequent years.
For example, after he left the presidency, the press uncovered alleged massive corruption in her rival's expensive pet projects, such as the grant of exorbitant contracts to independent power producers, the huge financial losses incurred in a widely-touted Centennial City which never got finished, and the alleged illegal disposition of expensive reclaimed land along the Manila Bay shoreline, in favor of presidential cronies.
Media reported Miriam to be an outstanding senator. She was always among the yearly topnotchers in number of bills filed. But she is most impressive during Senate debates, with her meticulous preparation and searching interpellations. She is warmly regarded by both administration and opposition senators, although some fear her independence of mind.
Miriam was the first senator in Philippine political history to decline a pork barrel allocation, on the ground that it was unconstitutional because it lacked an appropriation law, thus creating headlines. She was also the first legislator to expose building contractors who solicited public works projects from Congress members, with a promise to give an advance ten percent kickback.

Standing by the Rule of Law

As senator, Miriam became an ally of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, a former movie actor. He was impeached by the House of Representatives, and tried by the Senate as an impeachment court. Miriam was the only one of 24 senators who had served in the judiciary. As a former trial judge, she insisted that Estrada should be granted due process of law. Instead, the impeachment trial was never concluded and Estrada, like Marcos, was overthrown by another People Power revolution which installed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, an economist.
Under a new administration, Miriam ran on the Estrada opposition ticket, and again led during the early days of the canvass of votes. But eventually, her votes were whittled down, and it appeared that she was again cheated in the elections. By this time, Estrada was already in detention as the accused in a plunder case.
In the next elections, Estrada handpicked another movie actor to run for president. Miriam objected, and instead ran for senator under President Arroyo's ticket. In 2004, Miriam won her second term as senator. She chairs two powerful committees: the energy committee, and the foreign relations committee.
She is also one of President Arroyo's most trusted legal advisers. In late 2006, a group of young lawyers nominated her for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But she reportedly gave way to the senior associate justice, saying that she was too young for the post.

Personal Tragedy

Miriam's husband Narciso Y. Santiago Jr. from Tarlac, nicknamed "Jun," serves as presidential adviser on revenue enhancement. Under President Estrada, Jun served as undersecretary of local government. The couple has two birth children, Narciso III and Alexander Robert.
Miriam lost her younger son in November 2003. He was only 22 years old and was on the Dean's List at the Ateneo University. In the years that followed her personal tragedy, Miriam's irreparable grief manifested itself as a health failure, including a minor stroke (thankfully without lingering effects), hypertension, pinched nerves, high cholesterol, and most recently, unexplained anorexia (an eating disorder) which caused her to lose weight.

Political Icon

Her diehard supporters still hope that Miriam will run again in the 2010 presidential elections. But she has implied that reforming a corrupt system has lost its challenge, maybe because she has not yet healed from the loss of her beloved son.
 Miriam has turned into a cult figure, and fans consider her a living legend in Philippine politics. She creates a stir when she appears in shopping malls or trade exhibits, provoking fans to whip out cellphones and go on a photo and autograph frenzy. 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.

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16th Congress Senators