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History and Traditions
Student Profile
Miriam D. Santiago
Class of: 1975

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?"

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.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts in political science, magna cum laude, from the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo City; her Bachelor of Laws, cum laude, from the University of Philippines Diliman; and her Master of Laws and Doctor of the Science of Jurisprudence from the University of Michigan Law School.  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.
Miriam worked 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.  She 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.
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.
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.
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.  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.  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
She organized a completely new party, 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.
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.
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.
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.
--From the Senate of the Philippines website
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