“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.” Jim Valvano
By Alex P. Vidal
In all her political life, critics have hounded Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago with catcalls and unsavory allusions to mental illnesses and below-the-belt potshots normally reserved for political gadflies and imbeciles.
A Manila bus carrying truckloads of anti-Erap protesters even emblazoned the vehicle with a giant caricature and a vitriol that screamed, “Miriam baliw!” (Miriam crazy) at the height of the myth called “Edsa II” where former President and now Manila Mayor Erap Estrada was toppled in 2001.
If Santiago “ate death threats for breakfast” during her tumultuous stint in the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation under the late President Cory Aquino, she swam with ridicules and insults from political adversaries allergic to her brand of politics.
Despite the brutal verbal snipes, Santiago soldiered on and nearly conquered Malacanang in 1992—no thanks to the sudden power blackout that lasted until she lost a commanding lead during the canvassing of votes in the presidential race against FVR.
In her battle against an ailment that contributes in the rapid change of her mood from good to bad vice versa, she was pilloried and branded with names.
Her most acerbic enemies in the rival Lakas-NUCD Party called her “Brenda” or brain damage. She laughed it off and “refused to go down to their level.”
Santiago may have lost her chance to win the top position in Malacanang due to a ramshackle political party and probably to poll cheating, but she remains the darling of young voters and university students wherever she goes all over the country—and the most sought-after commencement exercises speaker to boot.
When no one was gutsy enough to defend the politically deteriorating Erap in 2001, Santiago defied the odds and risked her disastrous 2004 senatorial reelection bid by siding with the besieged president.
Santiago, a constitutional expert, always had a mouthful to preach about the rule of law and the majesty of the constitution–which made her even more unpopular in the eyes of nondescript politicians unaccustomed to her unconventional style in interpreting ambiguous provisions of law.
Her gallant vote against the move to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona along with fellow senator-judges Joker Arroyo and Bongbong Marcos stood as a towering principle amid rumors of Malacanang payoff and bribery via the doomed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) or pork barrel to cast a yes vote.
In the most recent debate related to the P10-billion pork barrel anomaly engineered by Janet Lim-Napoles, Santiago torn to shreds those whom she perceived to have connived with Napoles, including Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, in a scary speech that had the spectators–those present in the senate gallery and those watching on TV “live”–on the edge of their seats.
Santiago is fearless. A one of a kind warrior. When the 69-year-old daughter of La Paz, Iloilo City attacks an opponent, she is merciless and relentless. She always goes to war “bloodied but unbowed.” When she opens her mouth and begins her spiel, the firebrand senator produces a staccato and parody that provides unlimited excitement and entertainment to her audience.
Her admission last July 2 that she had a stage 4 lung cancer devastated her fans. Fighting tears, the maverick lawmaker assured the nation she could survive if given the proper medication.
“I have cancer of the left lung, which makes it difficult for me to breathe. I think you have noticed that for the past years, I’ve always had difficulty. I’ve always had shortness of breath,” Santiago told a news conference.
It’s risky to speculate on the real condition Santiago is in today. Stage 4 is an alarming state. What we can do for now is to pray that she can overcome the deadly disease.
God forbid, we might lose her to a lung cancer – at least not to a brain-related disease, which her critics had been trying to maliciously insinuate since time immemorial.