MANILA, JUNE 21, 2011 (STAR)
By Christina Mendez - After the powerhouse wedding anniversary rites at the Manila Cathedral last Sunday night, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has expressed her support for the divorce and Reproductive Health (RH) bills, two controversial measures that might bring her at odds with the Catholic Church.

Santiago said divorce should be made available to couples who can no longer stand the sight of each other.

“I think that divorce should be availed by people who become homicidal at the sight of each other. That is much better than making each other miserable for the rest of their lives, and impacting the lives of their children as well,” Santiago told reporters at the dinner reception of her 40th wedding anniversary celebration at the Manila Hotel.

Santiago said she had always been open about her views since she was a regional trial court judge.

“I am in favor of a divorce bill provided that the grounds for divorce are very strict. So we will not encourage young people to rush into marriage and rush out by divorce,” the senator said.

The senator made the statement when asked for her reaction to the homily of Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales who stressed the sanctity of life and family during the couple’s renewal of marriage vows.

She said she wrote the cardinal several months ago and expressed her position on the divorce and RH measures now pending before the Senate and the House of Representatives.

While she is a devout Catholic, Santiago said she has learned from her higher theology studies about the freedom of conscience.

She said she has asked for Rosales’ understanding.

Santiago, who bore two birth children with husband Jun during their four decades of marriage, said she wanted every “poor Filipino woman” to be given a chance to full information on the choices that she can make in bearing children.

“That’s why I will continue the fight. I am not fighting for myself, or any political agenda. I am fighting for the oppressed poor Filipino woman who does not have any access to information. All I want to do is to give her access to full information. Certainly, there is no crime or sin involved in that,” Santiago said.

She believes that the Catholic leaders including Rosales will be able to understand her stand, adding that she considers them as the “apotheosis of Catholic love.”

Total happiness

During her renewal of vows with husband Undersecretary Narciso Santiago Jr. last Sunday, the senator was a picture of total happiness as she walked down the aisle.

“I feel very sexy,” said the 66-year-old bride who was in a ruby red gown by Inno Sotto.

She arrived at the church about 15 minutes before 6 p.m. and greeted members of the bridal entourage that included President Aquino (best man), former Presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada as well as former first lady Imelda Marcos, and actress Heart Evangelista (bridesmaid).

The groom, also 66, was also dashing in a piña barong.

The processional songs were “Trumpet Tune and Air” by Purcell and “Trumpet Voluntary” by Clarke. Before the wedding march, the groom passed by the media with not much fanfare.

Asked if he felt nervous, the smiling groom answered in the affirmative and pointed to his heart.

More years together

Estrada, Marcos and Sen. Manuel Villar wished the couple more years of togetherness.

Businessman Danding Cojuangco was also present in the event but he and Marcos did not greet each other.

Estrada, meantime, brought the house down when he serenaded the power couple. But before doing so, he wished the Santiagos another 10 years of married bliss.

Estrada said he and his wife, former senator Loi Estrada, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

A known womanizer, Estrada explained in jest why his marriage with Loi has lasted this long.

“She refuses to listen to my song ‘Please, release me, let me go’,” the former president said, eliciting laugter from the guests.

“My kumpadre Jun does not have the nerve to sing this to you,” he told Miriam.

Prior to this, Estrada called Miriam his kumadre and (godmother) since she was also a sponsor during the Estrada couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.

The former president also made jokes about himself.

“I would say, Kumadreng Miriam, that among them I have the most “ex” – I am an ex-movie actor, I’ve been an ex-mayor, an ex-senator, ex-vice president, ex-president – then I’ve been an ex-detainee, and I am now an ex-convict. So nobody can beat me here,” said the former president, getting him another round of laughter and applause.

But Estrada made the joke after former President and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo left the reception at about 9 p.m.

It was during Arroyo’s term that Estrada was jailed and subsequently convicted for plunder.

He was later granted pardon by Arroyo.

After Estrada’s song number, Marcos also sang two songs, but not her usual “Dahil Sa Yo” but a Perry Como classic titled “I Want to Give,” and “Malipayong Antakna,” said to be a Boholano song.

Miriam did not invite professional performers but requested her guests to sing.

An instrumental medley of love songs was played at the lavish Centennial Ballroom while the guests enjoyed the dinner menu of seasonal salad with poached shrimp, cream of zucchini and spinach, guyabano sherbet, baked salmon, Australian beef tenderloin baked in mushroom crust, and a dessert of frozen banana walnut crunch parfait.

What could have been a great finale was the much-awaited duet from the best man and the bridesmaid, but President Aquino had to leave the hotel before he reached the Centennial Ballroom where the wedding reception was held.

It was announced later that the President had something urgent to attend to, prompting organizers to tap Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada to substitute for the president.

Jinggoy sang “Unforgettable” with actress Heart Evangelista, which also drew applause from the guests.

Never flirted

Asked for tips for a lasting marriage, Santiago stressed the need for a couple to give each other space.

She also said that her husband does not need to give her an itinerary of his whereabouts everyday.

“I just presume that he is just going to be loyal to his marriage vows. And I have been extremely faithful to my husband. I never flirted with anybody, even abroad,” Santiago added, saying that she has always been attached to the concept that “marriage is an invariable social institution as the Constitution provides.”

Powerhouse cast

Others who attended the Santiago couple’s renewal of vows were Incoming Transportation Secretary and former Sen. Manuel Roxas III, who was defeated by Vice President Jejomar Binay in the last elections. He came with his wife, broadcaster Korina Sanchez.

The senators who were part of the entourage were Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Manuel Villar, Ramon Revilla Jr, Edgardo Angara, siblings Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano, Loren Legarda, and Antonio Trillanes IV.

Also part of the entourage were Dr. Linnea Defensor-Evangelista, Zenaida Lazaro and Gemma Cruz-Araneta. Sen. Teofisto Guingona III was also present at the Cathedral.

The two top honchos of the top national broadsheets and television stations in the country were also at the church wedding rites.

They are Philippine STAR editor-in-chief Isaac Belmonte and Marixi Prieto, chair of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Oscar Lopez of ABS-CBN was first in line of the principal sponsors with Jocelyn Campos Hess, followed by lawyer Felipe Gozon of GMA-7 and SM’s Teresita Sy Coson; Manila Bulletin’s Emilio Yap and Prieto; Ambassador Eduardo Cojunagco Jr. and Ma. Paz Cojuangco Teopaco, Chief Justice Renato Corona and Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago, President Estrada and Marcos, and Binay and Arroyo.

Interviewed after the reception, Santiago said she was happy that her friends and fellow politicians attended the anniversary celebration even though some were at odds with each other.

“Their willingness to bury the differences in politics so as to show a united front in our country, that is to say, a united front, a sense of shared destiny, I think that is the message of tonight,” Santiago said.

“We have several ex-presidents who may have exchanged words or may have disagreed with each other. Right now, the only message is we must have a shared destiny in this country,” she added.

Santiago was amused that some of the “warring” personalities in business and politics went beyond being civil.

Villar and Roxas were spotted greeting each other as they lined up. Both were locked in intense competition during the run-up to the presidential elections last year.

Roxas gave way and ran for vice-president, leading to the Aquino presidency.

Senator Villar and wife Cynthia, Mar and Korina, as well as businessman Manuel Pangilinan and Evelyn Singson were secondary sponsors.

Santiago said she wanted to walk down the aisle again while they still could instead of waiting until their 50th wedding anniversary.

She said the renewal of vows is a tradition among Catholic couples in the country.

But she said she was not too mushy to even kiss her husband in public despite attempts by guests who wanted them to kiss, which was expressed through a wedding practice of the tapping of the glasses.

“Maybe, if I am as young as Heart Evangelista, it would be endearing to kiss in public. But to do that at my age would just be disgusting,” she said.

No more honeymoon

Neither was a honeymoon needed.

“I am not a blushing bride. I am not going into a honeymoon. I am veteran wife,” she said.

She lamented that her three grandchildren who were below five years old were not able to walk the aisle with her.

Santiago also recalled that when she celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary, her youngest son was still alive.

“We were a complete family, my two birth children with me and now, one is gone. The one who was most like me in personality and intellectual process. The other one is living away from me with his own family with three children,” she said.

Prior to the Santiago couple’s renewal of vows, the head of the Chinese General Hospital, James Dy, and his wife Julieta, also renewed their vows at the Cathedral. The Dy couple marked their 60th wedding anniversary.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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