I once had the pleasure of being part of a huge audience at the UP Faculty Center in 1990 when then Agrarian Reform Secretary Miriam Santiago was speaking to what she said were her “brothers and sisters” by virtue of attending the same university. Back then, as she was in the senate these recent years, Senator Miriam was quite the enthralling speaker. I remember her to be slim, and she looked like she was in her 30s though she was definitely older then. The late 1980s to the early 1990s was what I considered to be, the golden age of being an Isko (iskolar ng bayan kuno, hahahaha). Ang yabang namin nun!
And that air of arrogance common to us at that time further fueled the hilarity of Sen Miriam’s speech, which I would rather describe as a stand-up comedy act filled with (not pick up lines) UP jokes, which some of my friends these days will most likely take offense. To give you an example dear reader, let me reveal that I first heard this old joke from her:
I only know of two schools in the Philippines. UP and the others.
How the audience roared with laughter! Naturally I was repeating this joke to as many people as I could throughout the day, but I made sure I did so exclusively on campus. Sen Miriam seemed to me that she could always get away with anything, but she was also very careful to respect those who reciprocated that respect. Give her anything less and you will get a tongue lashing enough to make you cry or blow your wig away, as what once happened to Mr “state of wiglessness”.
After her speech, she hung around with the students, even signed autographs. To the millennials, that was our version of the selfie back then. I couldn’t get near her because there was just too many people trying to shake her hand. A few years later, she ran for president and lost to Fidel Ramos, who I voted for.
When Sen Miriam Santiago ran for president again last May 2016, I was very sad that she had to when she didn’t need to. Without pomp or shame, Sen Miriam announced to the public that she was battling with stage 4 cancer in a privilege speech at the senate in 2015, I think. Even then, she was still eliciting giggles from the crowd. Intentional or not, Sen Miriam was always tastefully funny, even when she insults other people. No other statesman can ever make such speeches, those that are hard-hitting as well as hilarious and yet makes you think deeper about the issues, all at the same time.
Sen Miriam was a gift to the Philippines. I am proud to say that I have three things in common with her; UP Visayas, UP Diliman and being Ilonggo. I don’t have her brains, nor her wit but I do have that fond memory of her, one that I share online so that future generations will have something of mine to remember her by.