Photo by Dane Alegana (Flickr)

4 VERY Ilonggo Qualities of Miriam Defensor-Santiago

By martin espino

On the morning of September 29, 2016, the whole Nation was in shock over the death of former Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who lost the battle to stage 4 lung cancer after fighting it for 3 years. Many took to social media since to express their grief, sympathy, and affection for Asia’s Iron Lady.

Santiago achieved many things in her life. To date, she is the only public servant to have served all three branches of the government: as RTC (Regional Trial Court) judge in the Judiciary; as secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration (BOI) in the Executive; and as a Senator in the Legislative branch, wherein her long and colorful tenure there is she is best remembered for. Her stand on issues of national concern had sometimes been controversial, but it was based on principle and based on the law because, being a staunch defender of the Constitution after all, she personifies the law.

On the other hand, she did a lot for Iloilo City in ways that many of us don’t realize. That library in your school that’s well-stocked with books? That could be one of the many projects she did in the City. That six-classroom, non-descript building? That could be one of hers, too. She didn’t liked to be credited nor recognized for those projects because it was not her’s; it was taxpayers’ money—the people’s money—that bankrolled those. She was just fulfilling her obligation. Ultimately, it was just another day’s job for a Senator like her.

She has weathered it all. She once quipped, “I eat death threats for breakfast” while beaming her trademark smile. She also said that stress was her middle name, and she is bored when she is not stressed. She was a fighter who did not consider losing as part of her vocabulary.

Few of us may know it, but Senator Miriam was already exhibiting notable traits of an Ilonggo which let her be remembered by Filipinos all around the globe (And as for her insistence that she has “sex appeal”? Well, that may be why Ilonggas are so date-worthy).

How so? Well, we have gathered a few of those below:

1. Strong-willed, but funny

Ilonggo women are known to be strong-willed. They are molded by the landscape. They are reserved, fearless and yet they can also be funny and witty. Senator Miriam may be serious through her speeches, but outside the Senate halls, she was known differently amongst the students or anyone who happened to meet her on one of her public engagements.

She knew how to inject humor and deliver the punchline at the most unexpected of moments. In fact, she has published two books featuring her sarcastic brand of humor and punchlines that were compiled throughout the years.

2. Maternal instinct

Ilonggo women are known to be fierce and stern. But once you’re trusted enough to allow you inside their humble abodes, they can be gentle and affectionate.

Miriam, to people close to her, was an altogether different Miriam in the privacy of her home. She is like your Mother or Tita who makes sure her guests are well-accommodated. She will strike a conversation, or even lecture you for hours on end. She does so not to intimidate you, but to let you learn, broaden your understanding, and deepen your thinking.

3. Ilonggos’ love for food.

Ilonggos are known for their love for food. Every household has their own take on popular Filipino dishes and they are fiercely proud of their own recipes. Senator Miriam, obviously, has her own take on laswa, the vegetable stew that is a staple of Ilonggo cooking.

The ever-popular dish comprised of eggplants, green-leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and shrimp are spiced to just the right taste. It is a simple, yet flavorful and nutritious, dish. Miriam willfully shared her recipe and is still readily available online for anyone who wanted an idea of what her favorite food tastes like.

4. That hard-to-lose Ilonggo accent

People say the sure way to spot an Ilonggo in the crowd is to let them speak Tagalog. And sure enough, the intonation and the lambing just rolls out of their tongue.

Back in grade school, I sat glued in front of the TV screen listening to Miriam speaking at Senate inquiries when she suddenly would go full-blast on a tirade to emphasize her point—all spoken in Tagalog by way of an Ilonggo accent against anyone hapless enough to receive the full brunt of it. It was one of the first things that made me recognize that she is a kasimanwa and, by extension, made me proud to be an Ilonggo despite not having met or known her at all.

So, what other Ilonggo qualities do you think Miriam had? Do share it in the comments section below!

Martin Espino is a caffeine-reliant, analogue-loving individual who writes in his spare time. You can follow him on Instagram at @frozen_armpits.