Fair Question

by Juan L. Mercado

Is it fair to ask if Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has the psychological stability required  of an International Criminal Court justice at the Hague?

No. “That’s black propaganda”, Santiago bristled before reporters in a surprise visit to the Teodoro Locsin Sr. Room at the Senate.  “I’m being singled out by the dirty tricks department of whoever is paying all these people. You are being used against me. Please do not ask me that anymore. I feel very insulted.”

Yes. Psychological fitness is relevant,  says an online petition, launched from San Francisco. The issue should be debated, not smothered. Created by US-based lawyer Rodel Rodis, with Ben Rattray and Mark Dimas from Stanford University, the petition has been posted on the Net.  “Bizarre behavior has been her trademark in the Senate and in other public fora”, the petition says Santiago’s presence in the ICC “will make us the laughing stock of the world.”

Jokes cascade in. Some are too scurrilous to print. Others balance humor, fairness and good sense. Columnist Manny Pinol  spins one, in Manila Times, about a blind masseur, at the airport pre-departure lounge, giving the senator a head massage.                                                        

“Ma’am are you Ilongga?”, the blind masseur asks after a few minutes kneading the senator’s brow.  “How did you know?,” a surprised Miriam replies “I’ve not spoken a word.”                       

“Ilocanos are tight-skinned, the masseur explained. “Some Pampangos sport jewelry and Tagalogs have tough facial muscle.” “What about Ilongos like me,” a puzzled Miriam persisted. Madaling malaman Ma’am. Maraming kasing hangin ang ulo. (Easy to know Ma’am. There’s a lot of hot air in the head”).

“Ilonggos, including myself, make fun of ourselves,” Pinol explains. “(We have) the penchant to employ hyperbole“.  (We) tend to exaggerate when we tell stories. This peculiar character is called “Tikal”. And we declare that only people of Iloilo and Negros have the license to do it.

Is the lady, at the vortex of today’s controversy, the  Miriam of yesterday?  National Artist and novelist  Francisco Sionil Jose says the contrasting images jar.

“I first met Santiago, at a writing seminar, some time back, when she was a judge. She was stunning, a very good writer endowed with a pleasant disposition,”  Jose recalls. “The late Belen Abreu of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation spoke of her highly when she was with the Bureau of Immigration.“

Santiago in fact, received the 1988 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service. She displayed “bold and moral leadership” in cleaning up the Augean stable of a graft-riddled Commission of Immigration, RMAF’s citation noted. She gave grafters no quarters but was innovative in improving work conditions of  Immigration personnel.  As trial judge,  she set a record for fair efficient decisions as trial judge. “She deserved it”,  Sionil Jose adds.

“You cannot change the seasons, the wind or tides,” we are told.  “But changing yourself is something you have charge of.”  Miriam changed in ways that left her many admirers at a loss.

In the abortive Estrada impeachment,  the once crusading Santiago bobbed up among the “Craven Eleven” who sealed the “second envelop”. People Power 2 over-ruled  Miriam & Co.  But she seared an indelible image on Day 15.  In that  high-pitched tirade that has became her signature, she demanded expulsion of three viewers “ who looked at me in a provocative manner.”

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” On Day 26 of the Corona impeachment, Santiago demanded  ouster of private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre III. The senator was midway thru her periodic horsewhipping of the prosecution. when, Aguirre cupped his ears because they “hurt”.

“I charge this private prosecutor with contempt, Miriam fumed. “Seething with anger, Santiago strode toward Aguirre and confronted him, Inquirer reported. “What?” Santiago taunted him, her eyes fixed on Aguirre for a few minutes”.

“Whatever happened to (Santiago)? To her sense of rectitude, her dedication to the public service?“ Sionil Jose wrote. “In explaining her vote, to acquit Corona, Santiago asked: “Why are we considered one of the most corrupt countries?

“By her acquittal of Corona, she answered her own question. “We  reached this moral metastasis because leaders are hobbled by their tremendous self esteem, their encyclopedic legal knowledge, they forget that that the basis of law is moral.

“Were she cognizant of this, she would have joined the majority vote in the Senate. Like so many power holders, she flaunted power. This is one major flaw of most Filipinos  even the common security guard who finally holds a gun often forgets the great responsibility that that weapon has given him.”

Santiago’s “tantrums left an indelible mark, Columnist Pinol observed.  Some ask if she is psychologically fit to become a member of the ICC.

Soldiers and police must undergo neuro-psychiatric tests to ensure they do react violently without justifiable reasons. So should judges, so, they’ll be level-headed  in reaching judgment.

To further judicial reforms,  this administration should require judiciary applicants to undergo such tests. The San Francisco advocacy group must not just single out Santiago.

ICC rules do not demand such tests, Santiago notes. But there is the higher bar of  honest self-appraisal. Would an ICC justice say: ”I request the secretariat to record in the journal that I said, ‘Wah! Wah! Wah!?


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