MANILA, JUNE 1, 2012 (PHILSTAR, POSTED MAY 20, 2012) WILL SOON FLOURISH By Wilson Lee Flores - Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is perhaps the country’s most famous judge, whether in the ongoing impeachment trial, as a feisty multi-awarded RTC judge in Quezon City in the ‘80s, or next year going to Europe to serve as judge in the prestigious International Criminal Court (ICC).

A consistent top honors graduate from grade school, high school, University of the Philippines to University of Michigan, she has won the Magsaysay Award for government service and was the leading presidential candidate in the controversial 1992 election.

In the home stretch of the telenovela-like impeachment trial and a few days before Chief Justice Renato Corona is scheduled to testify, Senator Miriam D. Santiago gave Philippine STAR an exclusive interview at her home. One of the unique features of her house is her most impressive and extensive library, because she loves books. Here are excerpts from the interview:

PHILIPPINE STAR: Is it true, as some media reports claim, that you have sided with actor Raymart Santiago and his wife actress Claudine Barretto against Mon Tulfo in their airport brawl? Why?

SEN. MIRIAM DEFENSOR SANTIAGO: Not true. Santiago is a distant relative of my husband, but Mon Tulfo is also his friend.

Any legal advice from an ex-judge to both sides?

I counseled them to settle out of court. I said among us in the judiciary before, the common aphorism is: “The best case is the case settled out of court.” We judges are often asked what is the best case, whether civil or criminal, etc. I always say the best case is the one settled out of court, because you see so much burden on all parties, so much costs in terms of time, money and emotional energy.

Why are you so passionate and sometimes volcanic in anger as senator judge now and as a judge before in QC?

I actually prefer to be a scholar in the ivory tower, but there’s so much fire in my belly. Maybe it’s because I graduated from a Catholic campus. I was very conservative before, but I remember what the nuns taught me, that we should fight evil. That’s why I allow myself righteous indignation against evil, corruption. The problem with our country is many people are smug and complacent, especially those belonging to the elite and the middle class. They demand many services like peace and order, physical security in their gated communities and public services, but when it comes to prosecuting the corrupt, all of them withdraw into their shells like turtles!

Our Philippine history seems filled with many gross miscarriages of justice. As the country’s most famous judge, can you comment on the unjust death sentences meted to Dr. Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and many others?

There is no excuse at all for all the deaths of Filipino heroes, especially those who fought the colonialism of Spain and then America. Colonialism was pure evil.

Your comments on the Spanish regime’s kangaroo court which tried Rizal?

On Dr. Jose Rizal, of course, the charges in that trial were a farce. The colonizers believed he had to be eliminated, because his thoughts were becoming popular.

What about the President Emilio Aguinaldo’s government trial and death penalty for Katipunan founder Andres Bonifacio, wasn’t that an unresolved injustice?

In the case of Andres Bonifacio, he appears to have faced trumped-up charges, and he had no chance. The rationalization was that he was splitting the revolutionary forces, that this would spell certain doom for the revolution at that time. He had to be eliminated in the name of solidarity. Maybe if we can go deeper into it, maybe there was egotism at work in this case.

As a topnotch lawyer, life-long student of law and jurist, what other cases of miscarriage of justice do you remember in our jurisprudence?

There was a certain Justice Perfecto, who felt so strongly about a certain decision in a case, that he affixed his signature with his own blood. Law students consider him an icon. Maybe he was a justice after the we got our independence, after the Commonwealth era.

What is your opinion of the anti-colonial revolutionary hero Macario Sakay, whose death penalty under the American colonial regime was penned by Judge Ignacio Villamor who eventually was appointed president of the University of the Philippines?

Macario Sakay… he was a rebel. He was convicted, because he clearly violated the law, he never hedged it, he publicly violated the law. In effect, Sakay became a prisoner of conscience. He was defying society at that time, he was enthroning the concept of the individual against state conformism. I would call him a freedom fighter.

During World War II, many among our political elite became collaborators with the Japanese invaders; some claim to have done good and almost all of them were not punished. How should we judge them?

In hot water: Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Chief Justice Renato Corona

It’s very dangerous to be judgemental, it’s very easy to cast aspersions after the event. Sometimes morality can enter into gray areas. Some of the collaborators were clearly self-interested mercenaries, but some of the collaborators believed if they would cooperate with the Japanese invaders, they would be able to mitigate the sufferings of the Filipino people. But if I were to be given the choice, I would follow the example of Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. He refused to collaborate, for he believed that under no circumstances should evil be supported or collaborated with. He kept his heart pure. He was given a choice between death and collaboration using different kinds of rationalizations, but he chose to die, that is the definition of a hero.


Moving to a less somber topic, it is true you recently visited the GMA-7 set of the teleserye Legacy co-starring Heart Evangelista and other showbiz stars? She once told me her family is close to you and you’re like a mother to her?

[PHOTO -Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, left, listens to a mass during the 40th wedding anniversary of Philippine Senator Miriam Santiago and Narciso at Manila's Cathedral, Philippines on Sunday June 19, 2011. At right is Filipino actress Heart Evangelista. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila]

(Smiles) Yes, I’m close to Heart and her family. It’s paradoxical, because our interests are so polar. Her mother Cecille is my friend and we both had agreed that I’d be Heart’s surrogate mother since she was still a teenager, and she’s spectacularly innocent about the world.

Any advice you gave to Heart?

Yes, I gave her a book entitled How to Act, but I occasionally teach her that the world can take a lot of evil, and that she should take it, or come to terms with it. She has a fragile personality.

You had invited President Noynoy to be best man in your wedding anniversary and paired with the beautiful Heart Evangelista. Were you trying to play Cupid?

(Laughs) Yes, I was trying to!

What happened? Why no success in your matchmaking attempt?

He got called to Malacańang, for some emergency. He was not able to attend the reception. That’s what they call, in a Shakespeare play, “foiled again!” (Laughs)

If he had not disappeared, what would you have encouraged?

(Laughs) I would have wanted President Noynoy Aquino and Heart to sing a duet. He wanted to because he said he wanted to know if he could make the grade, and Heart was already prepared for the song. The President didn’t want to be a wedding sponsor, because he has the belief that if you stand as a sponsor at a wedding, you will remain unmarried.

You had told me before that as a judge, you realized many of Philippine court cases actually only involved egos? Can you elaborate?

I noticed a high number of cases are actually amor propio cases, or ego cases. I knew this type of cases are headed to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. I believe Filipinos should adopt the attitude that a controversy is not always an either/or proposition — either he dies or I die in the attempt. (Laughs) That should not be the case. The courts should be a venue for mediation, not retribution, unless the cases involve heinous crimes.

Speaking of a clash of egos, is Noynoy’s impeachment crusade against Corona an amor propio case or a gigantic clash of egos?

(Laughs) I don’t think this is a “game of thrones.”

Why do you say so?

I think it is a genuine disagreement on the concept in political science of checks and balances in a democracy. The President is trying to prove that he possesses authority to influence the Supreme Court, while the Chief Justice is trying to pursue the so-called independence of the judiciary, to make it impervious to the President’s political program.

So it’s really not a clash of egos?

It is not just a clash of egos. It’s actually a much deeper conflict: how far can the President go, how far can the Chief Justice also go? These are serious concepts of democracy.

Why are you sometimes very passionate or adamant in the impeachment trial proceedings?

Occasionally I get indignant, because I have a habit of not “suffering fools gladly” — to quote William Shakespeare. In other words, when I see a moron, I want to kill the moron with my bare hands. (Laughs) I believe the constitutional right to life does not include morons! (Laughs)

Outside of the impeachment and politics, do you personally know Noynoy and Corona?

Yes, I know them well. I got to know President Aquino when I was serving in the government of his mother President Cory Aquino.

Critics of P-Noy claim that he lacks work ethic. How was he as your colleague in the Senate?

When we were together in the Senate, I remember he worked with me on a bill. I think we were protecting sidewalks for pedestrians. I noticed he was very conscientious about his duties as committee chairperson… I was struck by his dedication to his duty.

What about Chief Justice Corona?

In the case of the Chief Justice, we were always paired up in weddings (as godparents). He is soft-spoken, humble, modest, and he has a wry sense of humor. His wife and he are very religious. That’s why I know these two parties, the President and the Chief Justice.

Noynoy has repeatedly told media that he is not seeking to personally influence you or the senator judges; is this true, at least in your case?

The President certainly has not directly or indirectly tried to influence me, to his credit. I’ve not gotten any threats, even if I exhibit my outrage about any irregularities in the proceedings, but I do get flak from identifiable gunslingers in the social media, because they follow the same line of attack over and over again. Obviously, they play the same playbook.

You maintain that you were cheated in the 1992 presidential election by Fidel V. Ramos. Was your situation the same as that of the late Fernando Poe, Jr. who believed that he was allegedly cheated by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?

The problem with that election during my time was the manual counting of votes. Millions of my supporters said that I had won in the voting but I had lost in the counting. During the first five days of the election count, I was always number one from random results coming from different provinces, then there was power blackout all over the country, then all of a sudden I had lost my lead… The international news services were then already describing me as the president-elect. The new election results had a lot of erasures and snowpakes, so that’s why I call Fidel Ramos a snowpake president!

Have you ever met FVR ever since?

We try to avoid each other. Once, we met during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo… Also Joe de Venecia set up a photo-op of us together, the three of us, but the following week I hit him all over again. (Laughs)

Why are you still angry at FVR?

It’s impossible for me to conciliate myself with evil. It was so easy for me to concede, because I was offered money, but I refused because it would have been exchanging principle for cash.

Going back again to my previous question, was FPJ, like you, also a victim of alleged massive election cheating in 2004?

In the case of FPJ, I’m not familiar with the circumstances, because he was not leading the election count in the first five days. In the case of FPJ, I think the polls and the results were erratic. In my case, my many youth supporters wanted to go to the streets to challenge the proclaimed government, but I discouraged them because I wanted to protect them from rifle fire from the soldiers.

Do you think FPJ should not have become despondent over the alleged election cheating and that he should have continued fighting on like you did?

Yes, it’s maybe because FPJ was not a lawyer like me. He should have run for the Senate, he could have used the Senate as a platform.

As a jurist and law expert, how do you view the case of ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo now?

In the first place, there’s the issue of her health, so she has sought medical help abroad. I’m very concerned, because the constitution provides — “neither the right to travel can be impaired except in the instance of national security or public health.”

I am very concerned, because unlike in the United States, the right to travel in the Philippines is constitutionally protected and the rule is when there is a constitutionally protected right, it should not be denied, except if there is compelling state interest. So the burden of proof is in the state, that there is a threat to national security.

For example, that she might go abroad to raise an army to stage a revolt? Or a case of injury to the public safety if we allow her to go abroad, but there is no evidence whatsoever of that intent. Finally, the third requirement is that her trip will pose a threat to public health.

If this constitutional right to travel is tested, who or what court should eventually decide?

Well, eventually, it will be decided in trial court, and so in effect, GMA’s fate will depend on whether the Chief Justice is found guilty and is automatically removed from office or not.

Chief Justice Corona is testifying next week in your Impeachment Court. Your advice to him?

No special advice, except the general advice of any judge in court: Tell the truth or I’ll throw you in jail! (Laughs)

Senate President Enrile seems so impressive at age 88. Why do you think that is?

I’ve heard that he has gotten stem cell treatment, like Erap did also.

The 83-year-old Justice Cuevas is also remarkable in wit, intellect and energy. Do you think he has had stem cell treatments too like Enrile did?

(Laughs) I wonder…

What about the tireless Imelda Romualdez Marcos, also 83 years old? Stem cells, too?

Well, all of the people who are still very active beyond the age of 80, it is valid to speculate about their possibly having had stem cell treatments. Some of them admit, while others may not.

Medical science is predicting that people of my generation may die at age 100, no longer at 80. I dread the thought, I don’t want to be 100 years old, unless they discover the fountain of youth! (Laughs) Some in medical science even predict that humans will eventually live up to 1,000 years, but that’s complicated, we’ll have to reduce the rate of birth in the world.

Last but not the least, how would you like history to remember Miriam Defensor Santiago?

I don’t want history to remember me at all.


I just don’t think my life would be possibly interesting in Catholic terms. My life is characterized by cosmic meaninglessness.

Really the final question: Aside from you, who else do you think are good men or women who could have been good presidents of the Philippines?

There are many good people in the Philippines who could have been good leaders, but they don’t want to sacrifice their peace of mind. They think: “Why should I submit myself to cretins?” However, in my case, I think differently: “Show me a cretin, and I’ll step on it!” (Laughs)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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