Miriam Defensor-Santiago – a familiar name in the Philippine political arena. Today her Senate seat could easily lead her to being the second female president of the Philippines, after Cory Aquino.
Known to many as the “Iron Lady of Asia”, the first fact about Miriam is that she considers herself the protégé of Margaret Thatcher. Not only has she idolised the former UK prime minister, but she has met the original Iron Lady on a number of occasions.
Despite the sad news of her stage four cancer earlier this year, Miriam has remained in high spirits.
“I don’t know what the reactions of my enemies are,” she said. “Maybe they will be happy because on one hand, I might die, and then they could get rid of me. But on the other hand, I might survive and then I will get rid of them.”
Here are some more facts about the Filipina Iron Lady:
1) She was a swimming champion and “child prodigy”
While at Iloilo Provincial High Schoo, she excelled at swimming. In her freshman year, Miriam was also a spelling bee champion and was appointed editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.
2) She extended her time at university to ensure she got a top grade
Miriam decided to remain at the university for an additional semester and finish her course with a near perfect grade of 1.1 (1.0 is the highest grade in the Philippines). Despite a three-month bout with illness during her graduation term, Miriam graduated Magna cum Laude in 1965 – receiving the Rotary Award for Most Outstanding Graduate in the same year.
3) She broke some glass ceilings while at university
Upon her entrance into UP Diliman Law School, Miriam took to the school in leaps and bounds. She set records in the university including being the first female editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Philippine Collegian. Miriam also made history by earning the highest number of consecutive college scholarships in UP and also was the first female student to win “Best Debater”.
4) She breezed her master of law degree at Michigan Law School
Miriam entered the University Of Michigan Law School after winning the DeWitt Fellowship. In her first semester she achieved one of the high grades ever in a short amount of time. For this achievement, she was allowed to take a special programme aimed at achieving her Master of Laws and Doctor of Science of Jurisprudence Degrees after only one-and-a-half years.
5) In 1991, she nearly died in a car crash
On April 28, 1991, Miriam was driving through Tarlac during a speaking tour when another car smashed into her vehicle. She sustained life-threatening injuries and had to be airlifted to hospital in Manila. Many to this day believe the so-called accident was in fact an assassination attempt. At the time Miriam was the Agrarian Reform Secretary and was running for presidency.
6) Her library contains almost one million books
In an interview with The Philippine Star paper, she said: “Let’s just say I was a knowledge vulture. I loved learning things. I loved learning encyclopedias. I had a promise to read the encyclopedia from beginning to end, and I finished it.” Miriam has her own library, that is nearing one million books. She claims that she has read many of them and that none are for mere decoration.
7) She once had dreams of becoming a nun
Even when Miriam was young, she had aspirations of being a nun. She has since said it was sort of a fad as many of her teachers were nuns. In the end, she recognised that as her family were living in poverty she had to find a way of supporting them and her six siblings.
8) She has never worn make-up or had a crush on a boy
Miriam was a stunning Filipino beauty with flawless skin and beautiful features. During her younger years she was treated like a boy just like her numerous brothers. This, she says, resulted in never really having a crush on anyone – until she met her husband.
9) She once said she became a lawyer because she had a lot of relatives who were criminals
Miriam’s first dream was to become a writer, but in the end she became a lawyer because, in her words, “we have a lot of relatives who are criminals.” She also wanted to take up literature in college but later changed direction after her father explained that she would end up being a professor the rest of her life.
10) She nearly flunked her 1969 bar exam
Miriam only received a 78% on her Bar Exam in 1969. She also received only 56 in Ethics, one of the easiest subjects in the Bar. None of this came to light until Senator Juan Ponce Enrile launched a vicious attack against her years later. She admitted that she nearly flunked as she was in love when she took the exam. She also was in a rebellious mood after her father refused to let her to go Russia on a scholarship she had received. Two of Miriam’s classmates received the top spots in the Bar Exam in 1969; both were quickly hired by the top law firms of the time. They were Ronaldo Samora and Senate President Franklin Drilon
11) The death of her son in 2003 changed her life
Miriam lost her son in 2003 due to suicide, leading her to question God. “I can’t accept as an intellectual that prayer changes the mind of God,” she said during an interview with veteran broadcaster Korina Sanchez. “Because, if He’s omnipotent, no amount of prayer can change his or her mind. I don’t see God’s handiwork in my life. Everything I got, I got by hard work and by praying to God. Maybe because the prayer didn’t change the mind of God, but my mind.”