Miriam Palma Defensor Santiago (is a Filipina politician and a Senator of the Philippines. She is known popularly simply as Miriam. She is the founder and current leader of the People’s Reform Party as well its former presidental candidate. She is also a 1985 TOYM Awardee for Law.
Santiago was born in June 15, 1945 in Iloilo City, Iloilo to District Judge Benjamin A. Defensor and Dimpna Palma Defensor. In her youth, she was an accomplished student, graduating as class valedictorian in both elementary and high school levels.
Despite a three-month bout with illness, Santiago graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of the Philippines Visayas in 1965. She finished it in only three and a half instead of four years.
She was the first female editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper, The Philippine Collegian, in its fifty-year history. She was twice made Corps Sponsor of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. In later years, she would claim to have held a campus beauty title twice, despite not having actually won any beauty contest by any standard.
An accomplished debater, Santiago has participated in numerous oratorical, public speaking, and debate contests in high school, college, and law school. Ironically, in the 2001 Senatorial race, she refused to debate with economics professor and broadcaster Solita Monsod, another feisty and knowledgeable debater. Also, during the 2000 Estrada Impeachment Trial, she refused to debate with then Senator Raul Roco after a heated argument with a lawyer-witness.
She earned a Bachelor of Laws, cum laude, from the University of the Philippines Diliman in 1969. Her classmates include former Senate President Franklin Drilon, San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora, and Eli Pamatong. Miriam took the 1969 Bar Exams and received a 78% average grade, to her great dismay. Her classmates Zamora and Drilon were first and third respectively, getting high grades, eventually landing in top law firms. In stark contrast, Santiago ended up teaching Political Science to undergraduates at Trinity College of Quezon City.
To bolster her credentials and do over her dismal performance in the bar exam, Santiago resorted to higher learning. She attended the University of Michigan Law School from 1974 to 1976, earning degrees in Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridical Science.
Santiago continued enrolling in short courses, attending seminars, and participating in conferences locally and abroad. In 1995, at the age of fifty, she completed the academic requirements for a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at the Maryhill School of Theology with an average grade of 1.25. In 1996, at the age of fifty-one, she attended the Summer Program of Instruction for Lawyers at Harvard Law School. In 1997, at age fifty-two, she attended the Summer Program in Law at Oxford University. In later years, she would claim to be a Harvard and Oxford alumna, despite not having attended nor completed any academic degree program in these schools.
When she win in the Senate races of 2001 and 2007 and was a presidential candidate in 2004, she worked on updating her law and political science textbooks, which were last released 2002.
In 1986, Santiago was recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Professionals of the Philippine Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1988, she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the local equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
In 1996, Santiago was cited by The Australian, an international current affairs magazine, as one of “The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World”.
It has been claimed that the Filipino masses regard her as possibly the most intelligent living Filipino citizen and the most academically prepared public official. Many female law students view her as an epitome of women empowerment, scholastic competence, and professionalism. However, a considerable number of lawyers, academicians, political analysts, journalists, and activists measure her as a traditional corrupt politician, carrying high levels of arrogance, greed for power, and opportunism. She is often quoted as having described less educated Filipinos as “species of lower life forms”.