Likeable Senator Santiago’s remarkable example
It is safe to say that Sen. Miriam Santiago’s loyalty is to principles, first of all. Whether she is exposing political incompetence or corruption in Congress, or speaking against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile on the issue of pork barrel, or defending women’s rights through the Reproductive Health Law; you can count on her to speak about equality, truth, justice and free speech. Agree with her or not, loath her or love her, it is impossible to dismiss her and quite difficult not to be influenced by her views and opinions. It is said that the current Philippine political and social scene is dominated by women. Without doubt, she is on the top of this list.
Santiago, figuratively speaking, has the balls to challenge anyone on jurisprudence. Named a judge of the International Criminal Court, Santiago’s firm grasp of the law makes her a formidable opponent in or out of the Senate. Santiago’s political wrangles with Enrile underscore her resolve to pursue justice and truth, more so because these issues affect everyone.
However, many Filipinos—especially those who are on society’s sidelines and who are abroad, those who are poor and those who are disgusted with wasteful public expenditures and with corruption—like her. On the other hand, those who conflate her confrontational approach with the issues she raises may be missing something valuable: “One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority,” a point made by another equally passionate fighter for free speech and truth, the prominent journalist Christopher Hitchens.
And questioning authority is what Santiago does. Nobody is exempt from her acrid tongue, not even priests. To her, no one is a sacred cow. Perhaps this is a good thing for democracy in the Philippines.
But what Santiago is actually teaching us is history—our history of fighting corrupt authority. We overthrew Spain’s absolute rule, we fought against the Americans and Japanese for independence; we overthrew the Marcos dictatorship, and now we have a fighting chance against corrupt leaders—again. Apparently many of us are still cowed by power-hungry politicians, those who are supposed to serve us. For example, I was furious when I learned that a local electricity cooperative failed to pay its electric supplier P713 million, thus plunging Iriga and five other Camarines Sur towns into darkness. This is the height of irresponsibility on the part of an authority.
The challenge for all Filipinos is this: If you happen to witness any case of injustice, or corruption or criminality in your town or barangay, just imagine how Santiago would respond to it.
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