MIRIAM DEFENSOR SANTIAGO: MOTHERHOOD ALSO BECOMES HER
MANILA, AUGUST 5, 2010 (STAR) By Denise Roco (People Asia) In every home (or at least in most) is a mother. It just so happens that in this particular residence, it is Miriam Defensor-Santiago. And in this house that she has made into a home, she unravels another facet.
Not many people have the kind of brain this woman has, and with it Miriam Defensor-Santiago has graduated valedictorian throughout her entire scholastic life. She broke a record of 50 years of male dominance in UP Diliman by topping the written examinations and getting appointed as the first female editor-in-chief of the prominent student newspaper, the Philippine Collegian. She became the only woman to be appointed twice to the campus beauty title of UP ROTC corps sponsor. Graduating law with no less than a cum laude to boot, she proceeded with a DeWitt Fellowship at the University of Michigan Law school where for the first time in the Law school’s history, a graduate student was allowed to pursue a special program. Thus, she earned her Master of Laws after one year, and a Doctor of the Science of Jurisprudence degree after only six months. It’s interesting to note that with a Master’s degree in Theology, Miriam Santiago is fond of philosophy especially with the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. What’s more, she has written some 30 textbooks in law, political science and philosophy.
“I was the eldest child of an accomplished family, but there was never enough money for seven children. So I had to work very hard and the only way I knew how to do that was to excel in my grades,” explains this Ilongga. And now that she has children of her own, motherhood has been somewhat of a pivotal moment in her life. “Before my kids (Narciso III and Alexander Robert), I had no patience for mistakes or for accidents. When I had kids I learned that every person is an individual that has to be cared for individually. That’s how motherhood changed me. Before my children (came), my husband complained that I was so authoritarian; he sometimes doubted whether I was still human. I would get out of bed at exactly the same time. I did not have the creativity to deal with spontaneous situations. I lived like a robot,” the Ramon Magsaysay Awardee continues candidly and remembers, “One time I was in the library when the dinner bell rang. I didn’t notice ‘cause I was busy trying to finish something so as was the family rule, they started eating ahead of me. If a family member has been notified that he’s late then everybody gets to eat early. When I came out, my two children were not speaking of me as a person but as a thing. They were saying ‘It’s coming out. It’s coming to the dinner table. It’s eating.’ By this kind of humor I began to realize how alienated I was from my family. I tried to become more accommodating of my relationships with others.”
Having breastfed her children and having taught them to swim, the former Agrarian Reform secretary shares that she can’t imagine life without being a mother. In fact, she has adopted four children and hopes for a rocket science breakthrough before she dies so she can have more children. “It’s really like a precursor to some other universe where people just love each other for the other’s sake and not for any other ulterior motive. I think it changes you forever,” she says about motherhood with candor.
“Every person is a bundle of insecurities and you have to try to make that person feel more secure. So that’s what I tried to do when I had my children. I tried to give them a sense of unquestionable love no matter what happened. And I felt really very irate – in fact homicidal is the better term – about certain professors who would put up my children to humiliation when they were not doing as well as I did. I resented that. I always told my children (that they were) not a product of the circumstances that produced me. So therefore (they could not) be expected to react the way I did... But of course it couldn’t be helped so I lost one of my birth children,” the senator says about her son Alexander Robert who committed suicide in 2003 at the age of 22.
Miriam states, “I am motivated by the thought that there must be an infinite intelligence over and above mine.” Believe it or not, she initially wanted to be a nun but elaborates, “That met with virulent resistance from my father because he thought that was a waste. I thought that I could have all the time in the world to read, write and then garden. And I thought that would give me freedom from socializing. I could just be self-contained and not talk to people if I didn’t feel like it.” Though it’s the complete opposite of where she is now being a “public servant” who must deal with innumerable people, Miriam says, “Yes. That’s why I’m a very conflicted person. You can see for example I can be very, very serious discussing my law and I can be full of mischief when I’m discussing politics in the floor of the Senate.”
But the best thing about being herself, she reveals, is that, “I can use my analytical powers that I learned in law school, particularly in the doctorate level. That I can use laws that will subject generations after me to minutest scrutiny. That’s why sometimes my thought process sometimes becomes impenetrable to my colleagues; they don’t fully understand what it is I’m trying to get at and why I lose my temper and then I realize with thrill that what I’m doing is something that I learned exclusively from one of the classic professors (some who are world-famous). I realize that in effect I’m helping entire generations with what I’m doing,” she elaborates.
So this almost judge of the International Court of Justice carries on with what she does best. She is a guest candidate in three other parties, running for a senatorial seat for the second consecutive term. “I don’t really go out ‘cause sometimes people recognize me and they want to talk, or even worse, tell me their life history. If I’m not in the mood, I will just stay home. I love Mozart. I have the complete set of all Mozart works ever known to man,” she openly admits and shares her preference for Ingmar Bergman films as well as films with Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro.
Despite her stern image, Miriam knows how to unwind and certainly, how to be a good wife. Miriam dutifully takes care of her husband’s laundry and loves to cook. Her marriage to presidential adviser Narciso Y. Santiago Jr. has survived over the years, she relays, because, “We are very fascinated with each other’s personalities. It’s endless fascination. I’m very happily married and I hope he is (too),” she says in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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