At Large

The politics of social events

Perhaps nothing baffles foreigners more about our politics than the ability of Filipino politicians to mingle socially and cordially, at that, despite continuing discord, rancor and competition.

The recent 40th wedding anniversary of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and former DILG Undersecretary Narciso Santiago is a case in point. As most news outlets noted, the event drew figures from politics, business, the media and “society,” although it wasn’t so much the sheer number of personalities and celebrities that mattered as the fact that they represented all sides of the spectrum.


Most notably, there was President Aquino who gallantly stood as best man for the couple, and former President and now Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who stood as one of the principal sponsors. To add further complication to the mix, there was also former President Joseph Estrada (who was ousted from office and convicted for plunder, though pardoned by Arroyo), and Rep. Imelda Marcos, widow of former President Ferdinand Marcos, under whose regime P-Noy’s father Ninoy was assassinated, and who himself was ousted by People Power that put P-Noy’s mother, the sainted “Tita” Cory, in office.

Just reciting that part of the guest list alone, we had a lesson on the last 25 years of Philippine history already!


Notably missing from the list is former President Fidel V. Ramos, who Santiago to this day believes “stole” the presidency from her.

But there were more than enough political figures to make up for FVR’s absence, including Vice President Jejomar Binay, Binay’s defeated opponent and newly-appointed Transportation Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas, senators galore, members of Congress and Cabinet members.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the popularity of the Santiago couple. The senator may shoot off her mouth too often for comfort, but on the floor and in committee meetings, she lends her erudition and keen legal mind to improve legislation. Indeed, in the Senate, many senators shepherding pet bills through the process lobby to be interpellated by Santiago. Her questions may be sharp and trenchant, but they are spot-on and end up closing gaps in the draft laws.

Narciso Santiago was for a long time a customs official, but he was also a deft ambassador for his feisty wife, tempering with humor and wry put-downs (he once joked that his wife was so stingy you couldn’t recognize the faces on peso bills anymore after she clutched them tightly in her hand) his wife’s famous temper and the offenses she may have engendered.

* * *

Whatever, it must have taken no small amount of diplomacy to invite such a diverse and disparate crowd, and then to maneuver among them at both the nuptial Mass and reception. And it is a testament to the inherent civility among the Filipino power elite that they managed to mingle with no apparent hostility and even to enjoy themselves.

Only one thing soured the event. And that was the reporting, most notably that the two cardinals invited to concelebrate at the Mass threw “potshots” at Santiago concerning the pending RH bill of which she is the principal author of the Senate version.


But when the TV news programs aired the so-called potshots taken by the two prelates, they sounded quite tame and mild. Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales reminded the couple of the need for shared parenthood (“where there is a Mama, there must also be a Papa,” is what I remember) but if that was a veiled reference to the RH bill or to reproductive issues, it was very veiled, indeed. Ricardo Cardinal Vidal referred to the “teachings of the Church,” again a very general reference, and well within the bounds of liturgy.

My guess is that, given Senator Santiago’s advocacy, and the staunch opposition of the Church to the RH bill, editors were girding for a showdown and instructed reporters to watch out for any hint – even the slightest – of a showdown. But even cardinals, it seems, hew to the unspoken rules of social amity.

* * *

Still it was gratifying that, in a show of gratitude, Santiago glowed with pleasure at the presence of so many guests and basked in their ability to set aside political and ideological differences to share in the joy of a personal celebration, no matter how public and grandiose it was.

It’s also instructive that on the occasion marking 40 years of her marriage, the senator declared publicly her support not just for the RH bill but also for the divorce bill, which has gathered moss in its many years working its way through both the House and Senate. It’s a mantra among opponents of both reproductive health and divorce, after all, that the enactment of both bills would “break up” the Filipino family, the bedrock of our society.

But you need not be “Catolico cerrado” to believe in and uphold your marital vows, as the Santiagos showed. You can hold strong and firm beliefs regarding the right of couples to enjoy “safe, healthy and enjoyable sex” and the similar right of couples to bring an end to failing relationships, and still maintain your own long-term relationship.

So many foes of divorce claim that if and when a divorce law is signed into law, we will see “thousands” of couples rushing to the courts to dissolve their marriages. That may be the case, but those couples may have ended their relationships – in the full sense – long before there was a law. After all, Filipino couples aren’t waiting with bated breath for a divorce law to be passed. They are instead splitting up and breaking up their conjugal relationships without benefit of a legal mandate. Although, because their status remains in legal limbo, they are left with many issues dangling, such as child support, division of conjugal goods, and the right to marry others.

Divorce would only put an end to hypocrisy and pretension.

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TAGS: 40th wedding anniversary, politics, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago-DILG undersecretary Narciso Santiago, Social Events, wedding, wedding anniversary
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