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Senator of the Philippines
Assumed office
June 30, 2004
In office
June 30, 1995 – June 30, 2001
Secretary of Agrarian Reform
In office
July 20, 1989 – January 4, 1990
President Corazon Aquino
Preceded by Philip Juico
Succeeded by Florencio Abad
Personal details
Born Miriam Palma Defensor
June 15, 1945 (age 70)
Iloilo City, Philippines
Political party People’s Reform Party
Spouse(s) Narciso Santiago, Jr.
Alma mater University of the Philippines, Visayas (BA)
University of the Philippines, Diliman (BL)
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (ML)
Maryhill School of Theology
Religion Roman Catholicism
Website Official website

Miriam Defensor Santiago (born June 15, 1945) is a Filipino politician, notable for having served in all three branches of the Philippine government – judicial, executive, and legislative. Santiago was named one of The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 1997 by The Australian magazine.[1] In 1988, she was named laureate of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service, with a citation “for bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a corrupt-ridden government agency.”[2][3][4][5] She ran in the 1992 presidential elections but was defeated in an election marred by allegations of impropriety by the victor.[6]

In 2012, she became the first Filipina and the first Asian from a developing country to be elected a judge of the International Criminal Court.[7][8] She later resigned the post, citing chronic fatigue syndrome, which turned out to be lung cancer.[9][10] In 2016, Santiago was invited to be part of the International Advisory Council of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), an intergovernmental body that promotes the rule of law.[11] She has also written books covering topics in law and the social sciences. She has served three terms in the Philippine Senate.


Early life

Santiago was born in Iloilo City to a judge and a dean. She is the eldest of seven children. Santiago was a child prodigy, winning the high school spelling bee as a freshman and then for the next three years. She graduated valedictorian in grade school, high school, undergraduate school, and law school in the Diliman campus (at that time separate from the Manila campus).[12]

In 1965, Santiago graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines Visayas. After graduation, she was elected to the Pi Gamma Mu and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies.[13]

Santiago proceeded to the University of the Philippines College of Law. There, she was champion in numerous oratorical contests and debates.[1] She became the first female editor of the student newspaper, The Philippine Collegian, and was twice appointed ROTC muse.[14][15]

She graduated Bachelor of Laws, cum laude, from the University of the Philippines College of Law. Santiago went on a fellowship to the United States, and earned the degrees Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She finished both degrees in a period of only one and a half years.[16] Following school she took a position as special assistant to the justice secretary. She also taught political science at the Trinity University of Asia. She was law professor at the University of the Philippines, teaching evening classes for some ten years.[17][18]

She has studied at several universities, including Oxford and Harvard law summer schools; Cambridge; and The Hague Academy of International Law. She earned the degree Master of Religious Studies (without thesis) at the Maryhill School of Theology.[1]

In Oxford, Cambridge, she was a Research Fellow at St. Hilda’s College. She also took a summer program in law at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford. At Cambridge, she was a Research Fellow at the Lauterpacht Research Centre for International Law.

In 1970, she married Narciso Yap Santiago. They had two sons, but one died in college. They have five grandchildren.

Legal career

United Nations lawyer

After a stint of ten years at the justice department, Santiago served as Legal Officer of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at Geneva, Switzerland. She was assigned to the Conferences and Treaties Section. She became skilled at treaty negotiation and drafting. She resigned her position when her father in the Philippines developed prostate cancer.[19]

Quezon City judge

Santiago was appointed judge of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Metro Manila by President Ferdinand Marcos – the youngest judge appointed to Metro Manila. Further, she was exempted from the practice of first serving as a judge outside Metro Manila.[5]

As RTC judge, she quickly proclaimed a “no postponement” policy. At that time, cases were tried in segments that were usually a month apart, resulting in trials that took years to finish. Lawyers were prone to seek postponement of trial. As a result, trial judges scheduled ten or fifteen cases a day, so that they could make up for cases postponed.

Santiago scheduled only five cases a day, and heard each case, and disposed of the highest number of cases in her first year in office.

She became nationally famous when she issued perhaps the first decision to rule against martial law. At that time, alleged illegal public assemblies were declared as crimes and were punishable by death. A large group of activist students from the University of the Philippines and Ateneo, as well as activists in the film industry, staged a rally in a central business district, and denounced the First Lady for her excesses. To retaliate, Marcos issued a Preventive Detention Action order which authorized the military to hold suspects indefinitely, without bail. The students faced the dire prospect of missing their final exams and, for many of them, missing graduation.

Santiago suspended hearings on all other pending cases, and conducted whole-day trials. In the end, ordered the military to allow the students to post bail. After promulgating her decision at the end of the day, Santiago drove herself to the state university, where she was teaching law.

The Philippine Jaycees, the Philippine Lions, and the YMCA Philippines all gave her awards for judicial excellence.[1]

Political career

Aquino cabinet

After martial law, in 1988, President Corazon Aquino appointed Santiago as commissioner of immigration and deportation.[1] At that time, the Commission (CID) was one of the most corrupt government agencies in Southeast Asia. Santiago declared the Philippines as “the fake passport capital of the world,” and directed raids against criminal syndicates, including the Yakuza. She filled the CID detention center with alien criminals, and ordered construction of another detention center. She extended to legal aliens protection from widespread extortion by requesting President Aquino to issue an executive order that authorized the “alien legalization program.”[20]

She received serious death threats, but proclaimed: “I eat death threats for breakfast.”[1][21] A member of the House of Representatives delivered a privilege speech and denounced her raids against pedophile communities in Central Luzon ran by alien pedophiles. Santiago responded by calling him “fungus face.”[1][22]

The Rockefeller Foundation named her a laureate of the Magsaysay Award for government service – “for bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency.” The Magsaysay Award is the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.[2][3][4][5]

President Corazon Aquino promoted Santiago to member of her cabinet, as secretary of the Secretary of Agrarian Reform.[23][24] Under a controversial law passed by Congress and signed by President Aquino, all agricultural landholdings were taken by the government and divided among the farmers. Each landowner was allowed to keep only five hectares, and each farmer received three hectares. Payment was in bonds of the Land Bank.

To subvert the law, big landowners applied for conversion of the classification of their land as agricultural, to classification as commercial, residential, or industrial. The process became the widespread “conversion scandal of agrarian reform.” The DAR officials themselves were the biggest culprits, because they sold conversion permits for bribes on a market rate set at certain amounts per hectare involved in the conversion.

Santiago stopped the conversion scandal, and appeased the landowners by enhancing the incentives for voluntary offers by the landowners for the sale of their landholdings, which entitled them to an additional five percent cash payment.

When asked if the hacienda belonging to the president’s family should be covered by agrarian reform, Santiago replied that the family’s hacienda should be distributed among the farmers. Shortly thereafter President Aquino accepted Santiago’s resignation.[25]

Election, 1992

Santiago organized the People’s Reform Party (PRP) and ran with a senatorial ticket during the 1992 presidential campaign.

While campaigning on April 28, 1991, Santiago was severely injured in car crash,[26] which she described as assassination attempt.[27] She was wearing a white bush jacket, which became splattered with blood that gushed from a wound in her head. On orders of President Aquino, she was airlifted from Tarlac to a Manila hospital. She underwent surgery on the jaw, and at one point a Catholic priest administered the last rites of the dying. Two months later, she was back on the campaign trail.[28]

Santiago was leading the canvassing of votes for the first five days.[6] Following a string of power outages, the tabulation concluded, and Ramos was declared president-elect. Santiago filed a protest before the Supreme Court as electoral tribunal, citing the power outages during the counting of votes as evidence of massive fraud. Her election protest was eventually dismissed on a technicality.[1][21][23][29][30]

The public outrage over the presidential results prompted Newsweek to feature her and her rival on the cover with the question: “Was the Election Fair?” In another cover story, Philippines Free Press magazine asked: “Who’s the Real President?”[1]


She was first elected senator in 1995.[31] During her three terms, she served as chair mostly of the foreign relations committee and the constitutional amendments committee. She was elected as official candidate of her People’s Reform Party, hence she also served as chair of the foreign affairs committee of the Commission on Appointments.

Select laws authored

  • Reproductive Health Act of 2012[32]
  • Sin Tax Law[33]
  • Climate Change Act of 2009[34]
  • Renewable Energy Act of 2008[35]
  • Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law[36]
  • Magna Carta of Women[37]
  • Cybercrime Act of 2012[38]
  • Archipelagic Baselines Act of 2009[39]

Election, 2016

Main article: Miriam Defensor Santiago presidential campaign, 2016

In October 2015, Santiago announced her intention to run for presidency in the 2016 Philippine presidential elections.[28][40] She later confirmed that Senator Bongbong Marcos would serve as her running mate for Vice President.[41]

Awards and honors

  • Magsaysay Award for Government Service, 1988, Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, Magsaysay Awards Foundation[5]
  • TOYM Award for Law, 1985 (The Outstanding Young Men) Opened to Women 1984, Philippine Jaycees
  • TOWNS Award for Law, 1986 (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service), Philippine Lions
  • Philippine Judges’ Hall of Fame, 2015, Philippine Judges Association[42]
  • Most Outstanding Alumna in Law, University of the Philippines, 1988[13]
  • Gold Vision Triangle Award for government service, 1988, YMCA Philippines
  • Republic Anniversary Award for law enforcement, 1988, Civic Assembly of Women of the Philippines
  • Golden Jubilee Achievement Award for public service, 1990, Girl Scouts of the Philippines
  • Celebrity Mother Award, 1991, Gintong Ina Awards Foundation
  • Spain – Grand Cross of the Order of Civil Merit (November 30, 2007) [43]


Santiago has written at least 30 books, many of which are about law and social sciences.[1] Among her works is the Code Annotated Series Project 2000, a series of books about laws passed by the Philippine Congress and Supreme Court decisions. The Code Annotated Series is the main part of Santiago’s Legal Outreach Program.[44] During her initial battle with cancer, she continued to work on the 2014 edition of all her law books.[45] These were published as the 2015 edition of her Code Annotated Series, by Rex Bookstore.[46]

The doctoral dissertation Santiago wrote for the University of Michigan was published as a book named Political Offences in International Law.[47] Santiago has also written two autobiographies, Inventing Myself[48] and Cutting Edge: The Politics of Reform in the Philippines.[49]

Santiago also published a joke book in 2014 entitled Stupid is Forever, a collection of jokes, comebacks, one-liners, and pick-up lines she used in speeches.[50] A sequel entitled Stupid is Forevermore was published a year later. Both books were published by ABS-CBN Publishing.[51] The first book was named the best-selling book of 2014, selling about 110,000 copies in one month.[52]


  1. “Sen. Miriam’s ‘stupid’ book now a bestseller”. GMA News. 25 January 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2016.