MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 2 11:13 a.m.) — Longtime senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Thursday, died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 71. Santiago’s husband, lawyer Narciso “Jun” Santiago confirmed the veteran politician passed away peacefully on Thursday morning, according to a report by the STAR. Miriam’s staff said the veteran lawmaker died at 8:52 a.m.
Santiago’s former colleague, Sen. Grace Poe, meanwhile, announced her passing during a Senate hearing on the freedom of information bill, which Santiago supported during her tenure. Poe offered a moment of silence and prayer for her former colleague.
Miriam was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in 2014 but declared she had beaten her illness a year after. She then pursued her presidential bid despite doubts cast on her health. She lost to President Rodrigo Duterte in the May elections earlier this year.
During the last stretch of her tenure as a senator, Miriam filed an indefinite leave from the Senate due to her health. She was hospitalized last May 30 due to lung complications.
The former senator celebrated her 71st birthday last June 15.
Santiago was one of the most endearing figures in Philippine politics, pop culture and academia. For some, she could be among the best presidents the Philippines never had, after having ran for government’s top post three times and lost.
She was first elected senator in 1995. In 1997, then President Fidel Ramos initiated a people’s campaign for an infinite presidential term which Santiago criticized and and went to court. She won and preserved the people’s mandate for term limits.
She was again elected senator in 2004 and in 2010. During these two terms at the Senate, she served as chair mostly of the foreign relations committee and the constitutional amendments committee.
‘Ningas Kugon’ – a common Filipino trait
Yes, what is “ningas kugon”? For the sake of literal interpretation so that it is easily understood, allow me to dissect what the phrase means: ningas means “in flame”, it could also be a “spark” that could eventually turn into fire, something that could also be “burning”. There are many ways of interpreting it but, basically those are the straight out meaning in English as they are in Tagalog and of course if you come from a different province in the Philippines, the word might have a contrasting significance. But for purposes of understanding, we shall make use of how it is commonly understood. Going to the ‘kugon’ – it actually refers to a tall, perennial grass used in thatching. Its scientific name is Imperata cylindrica.
Etimologically, the English word ‘cogon’ is from the Spanish cogón, while in Tagalog, it is expressed and spelled as ‘kugon’.
Cogon grass is called by the Japanese as bloodgrass and is considered a noxious weed that’s a more invasive species than kudzu in the southeastern United States.
The two words put together is “flaming cogon grass”. As a Filipino cultural trait, it refers to the Filipino cultural trait of enthusiastically starting things, but then quickly losing enthusiasm soon after. So if you try to lit up a ‘cogon’ you would observe how it will just burn into flames and poof!, gone afterwards!
Correlating ‘ningas cogon’ to the Filipinos could be rooted from the fact that at times or in more ways than one, Filipinos tend to leave problems unsolved or projects undone because of lack of knowledge on how to resolve or fix the problems thus, it is “better” to leave it, but, the truth is, it is more of the lack of understanding of the root of the problems.
In short, that cultural trait has been attributed to the Filipinos for years and somewhere along the years, it appears that Filipinos themselves – not all but some – have admitted or even owned, such a character trait. The reality though is different, because we know full well that we are much more than what that preconceived attributions say of Filipinos than what we actually are. It is a negative connotation which we ourselves have proven to be a mere attribution outside of the fact.
Insofar as I am concerned, it is a misnomer in the Filipino culture that could even lead to discrimination to us as Filipinos and to our culture in general. It has been proven for years that Filipinos are hard workers, and those who are abroad working are sacrificing for the sake of their families and loved ones left behind the Philippines, is a demonstration of NOT being a ‘ningas kugon’. Filipinos has made themselves worthy to any society they face. Experience tells us that. Although a saying holds true ‘that in any forest there is a snake’ but, the Filipinos have shown integrity and dignity, and in the midst of the problems the country and its people are facing now, our nature is to prosper, and it may not come now but surely, later.
With the ideals of the present dispensation, and in the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, the speck of light at the end of the tunnel the Philippines is going through, can already be seen even from the far distance.