There was not really much to remember from the final presidential debate staged on the last Sunday of April ... a good two weeks before the National Elections of 2016. Unfortunately, like some others, I was bored.
No, I did not expect the fireworks and the mala-"Face-to-Face" sort of format of the second debate which had the presidential candidates short of throwing knives and spitting fire at each other. Yes, it stood good for the ratings but ... after all the cheering, jeering and sneering from the peanut gallery you end up realizing that what you witnessed was a verbal cockfight where the credibility of a candidate was based on how well he or she verbally bashed and even castrated a rival. It had nothing to do with a discussion of platforms, an analysis of the capacity to dissect national and international problems in order to provide steps for concrete solutions ... blah, blah, blah.
But anyway that proved to the most memorable of the town hall debates. Definitely more remembered than the finale that was more of coitus interruptus. Maybe it was the format. Maybe it was the fact that it was held in an open-air venue and you could almost feel the sweltering heat from Dagupan frying everyone alive.
Or maybe because it was already an overkill ... and there was nothing more to say that has not been said. At this point of the game when surveys pre-condition people into thinking the winners as against the odds of the losers, you have no more time to sit down and intellectualize. Logic is thrown out of the window for the sake gut-wrenching strategies to convince the madlang people that you are on your way to victory.
In other words, with all the drum beating and trumpets blowing from opposing camps, who cares about issues and discussions and even plain and simple logic. It is time for blood letting and a cacophony of sound bytes.
I read somewhere (again in social media) that anybody who got bored with the final debate must be suffering from mental deficiency. Why? Because that last debate raised the bar of discussion to the intellectual. Ah talaga? Then I guess I missed the whole point.
Yet if there is one thing most memorable about that town hall meeting, it was watching Miriam Defensor-Santiago stand side by side with the other candidates in that final showdown.
Senator Santiago was not around the second debate. Her presence in the first debate did not exactly warrant the best of media attention --- as she did before.
After all, this was a brilliant lady whose sheer vocabulary and turns of phrases can actually make you choke on your own limited lexicon. Ever since Santiago grabbed national attention, she had always been our version of Wonder Woman --- whose sheer verbal power can literally turn gladiators into eunuchs. She is one woman who can cut you down with a machine gun mouth that did not fire invective but a volley of threaded logical statements that can literally melt the remnants of your brain.
You either love or hate Miriam Defensor-Santiago. But she got you gasping ... or laughing ... or mortified ... you cannot not be in awe of her.
If Rodrigo Duterte is the ultimate siga without the wristband of Erap and a mouth that petrified the Legion of the Properly Bred and Well-Mannered, then Miriam Defensor Santiago is the verbal triathlete whose brilliance of mind and sharpness of wit are packaged in a highly informed and precise persona --- especially when a camera is aimed at her. For who will not have a Santiago anecdote or quotable quote from her long career as a lawyer but more so as a judge then as a senator.
Even before the likes of Leila Delima, Conchita Carpio-Morales and Kim Jacinto-Henares came into the consciousness of Pinoys as the New Amazons of the Government who had more guts and gumption than most born with testicles, there was Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Like how many human beings of whatever gender would have the courage to go on head-on collision with Juan Ponce Enrile in the sacred halls of the Senate? Aber?
Yet watching her in the final debate was filled with pain.
There is no secret about the trials the Senator has been going through with her health in recent years. Unlike some of her colleagues in the senate who are only too available for the cameras to highlight their qualities and virtues especially in that endless (and seemingly ceaseless) variety of Upper House Inquiries, Santiago has practically disappeared. She would only show up once in a while to give privilege speeches or interpolate fellow Senators ... but otherwise there is also that reason of her health.
This became all the more noticeable in the final debate.
I need not go into details as to why I ... together with so many who have great trust and admiration for her ... felt so bad that she had to go through that live telecast. Not that she has lost her magic all together but her suffering health has taken its toll in the otherwise crispness and spontaneity of her genius in argumentation and explanation.
But this did not diminish my admiration for her.
Her bravery and determination to still stand there side by side with Binay, Duterte, Poe and Roxas only proved that she was made of far greater stuff than what has diminished the strength in her body. Here was a woman committed to what she wanted to do --- and would not allow her challenges to defeat her too easily while she was still capable of standing.
When you come to think of those who aspire to occupy seats in the Senate ... when you even assess some who have already taken their places in this august hall, you realize that the kind of Miriam Defensor-Santiago has but become extinct. When once the likes of Jovito Salonga, Raul Roco, Joker Arroyo ... and, yes, even to this day, Juan Ponce Enrile ... took their places in seats they so well-deserved, now the caliber of our statesmen has been so compromised.
Because of our obsession for sound bytes over the intricacies of reason, we have also lowered the ante to that dismal level.
Miriam Defensor Santiago may never be a president of the Republic --- but she will never be forgotten, much less underrated, for merely being who she is and how she has so radically changed the role of women in Philippine Politics. But then again ... you need not end up living in Malacanang to find your place in our history.
It is enough to be brilliant, incomparable and uncompromising. And this lady will have her chapter in the story of our republic.
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