VIPs, selfie crowd bid farewell to ‘Iron Lady’
From the powerful to the common folk, thousands queued up to bid former Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago their final farewell on Friday night in a line that stretched from the entrance of the Immaculate Conception Church at Lantana Street to Boston Street in Cubao, Quezon City.
Time ran out on Santiago Thursday morning as she passed away in her sleep after battling stage 4 lung cancer. She was 71.
High-ranking public officials were first in line to pay their respects to Santiago, who in her decades-long political career served in the three branches of government.
Former President Benigno Aquino III remembered the former senator, popularly known as the “Iron Lady of Asia,” as someone who never worked in half measures.
“She gave it her all in every activity or position she was holding at that point of time,” he said of his former colleague in the Senate.
Aquino noted that Gen. Benjamin Defensor, Miriam’s brother, was an ally of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino.
“She has made an indelible mark on the people,” he said. “I’m sure throughout her life she has contributed to the maturing of our political system.”
Political rival, ‘kumare’
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said Santiago was a fighter who knew all the laws of the land.
“She feared no one. She is very admirable,” he said. “Perhaps in the history of the Senate, we’ve never had a female senator who is as fierce as Senator Miriam.”
Outside the Senate halls, Estrada said Santiago, who was his rival in the 1998 presidential elections, was a kind friend and kumare.
During the impeachment trial of Estrada in 2001, Santiago was one of the few senators who opposed the opening of the so-called “second envelope” that reportedly contained the letter linking the former President to businessman Jaime Dichaves who requested to open a bank account under the name “Jose Velarde,” who turned out to be Estrada’s pseudonym.
Other prominent public officials at the wake on Friday night were: former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., who served in the Senate with Santiago; former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson; Sen. Cynthia Villar; Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque; and President Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo.
Actors Tessie Tomas and Baron Geisler were also seen at the wake.
Selfie-taking millennials behind the late legislator’s youth vote also queued up along with parents and young kids in tow.
Architecture student Onofre Guiao, 20, who was commissioned by Youth for Miriam Movement chair Rhyan Malandog to create a gift for the senator for her birthday on June 15, took a five-hour bus ride from his hometown in Gapan, Nueva Ecija province, to have a last glimpse of Santiago. Unfortunately, the senator was never able to see or receive the art piece—a unique string art portrait displayed during her wake—as her health had steadily declined.
But she already has a piece of Guiao’s art in her home: a charcoal portrait handed to her during her campaign stop in his town.
“When Senator Miriam arrived, I tried to give it to her but the crowds already grew and I couldn’t reach her,” he said. “When she got near me, I pushed my artwork in her way. She paused, smiled and said, ‘thank you.’ I cried afterwards.”
The charcoal painting bore some of Santiago’s iconic lines, including, “I will never quit. I will never stop. I will never withdraw.”
Popularity among the youth was one of Santiago’s strongest assets, particularly in the May elections. Her witty, “hugot” lines made crowds of millennials wild, particularly in school stops during her campaign.
“She is like us, direct to the point and fun,” college student Shanice Entuna, 18, said.
Wendell Orcino, who actively campaigned for the senator as a member of the People’s Reform Party as a college student, brought his son Juan Paulo, 7, and Juliana, 12, to let them see their “Lola Miriam.”
“She has set an example to the youth,” he said.
Yesterday, young senators who had the opportunity to work with Santiago during her last years’ paid tribute to their mentor.
“Having served with her for a few years, I saw her as someone who willingly gave her time and wisdom to the youth. We miss her and our country will miss her… We lost someone who really made a dent in our history,” Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV told reporters.
Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said he would best remember Santiago for her nationalistic fervor, taking note of her stand during the Senate’s deliberations on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which she was opposed to.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said he would be “eternally grateful” to Santiago, who crossed party lines in the recent elections and “strongly endorsed” his candidacy.
Villanueva said he hopes that the legacy left behind by Santiago would be instilled in the hearts and minds of the people. He took note of the premium Santiago put on education, especially on the technical-vocational sector.
‘No. 1 protector’
Also among those who were at yesterday’s wake were: Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Nancy Binay; former Senators Freddie Webb, Jun Magsaysay and Gringo Honasan; Commission on Elections Chair Andres Bautista; Commission on Higher Education Chair Patricia Licuanan; Ambassador Anton Lagdameo Jr.; former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita; former Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board board member Ariel Inton; and former Mayor Junjun Binay.
Shortly after arriving from Vietnam, Sen. Francis Escudero and wife Heart Evangelista went straight to Quezon City to pay their last respects to Santiago, whom the actress earlier described as her “No. 1 protector” and her second mother.
Twenty minutes later, Escudero and an emotional Evangelista stepped out of the chapel.
“It’s just a sad day. I have no words. I’m sorry,” Evangelista told reporters.
Public viewing was temporarily stopped around 8 p.m. on Friday for a private Mass attended by the family and friends of the late legislator. It resumed about an hour later, drawing more than a thousand visitors from all over the country.
At 1 p.m. today, a final Mass will be held at the chapel. Santiago will be laid to rest at Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina this afternoon. With a report from Cynthia D. Balana/TVJ
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