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Miriam Palma Defensor-Santiago


Born Miriam Palma Defensor on June 15, 1945 in La Paz district, Iloilo City, she grew and lived with her parents. Her father, Benjamin A. Defensor was a district trial judge, and her mother Dimpna Palma Defensor, a school teacher. She is the eldest of seven children.

She graduated Valedictorian of the 120 student La Paz Elementary School, and Valedictorian of the Iloilo Provincial High School, also earning a medal for all-around exuberance. In high school, her parents considered her to be a child prodigy. As a freshman, she won a Spelling Bee. Also still a freshman, she topped oral examinations and was appointed by a faculty member as editor of the high school paper, a post which she held for over four years. She was high school swimming champion for the province during competitions sponsored by the Red Cross. She topped the National College Entrance Examinations for the Western Visayas region.

In 1965, Santiago graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, ‘Magna Cum Laude’ from the University of the Philippines Visayas. It took her only three and a half years to complete her degree. After graduation, she was elected to the Pi Gamma Mu and Phi Kappa Phi sororities.

After a three-month bout with illness, Santiago attended the University of the Philippines Diliman. There, she continued to participate and won as champion in numerous oratorical, public speaking, and debate contests. She became the first female editor of a student newspaper, The Philippine Collegian and was twice made ROTC muse. Her successful classmates included former Senate President Franklin Drilon, San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora, and Eli Pamatong. Unlike Drilon and Zamora, who both opted to enter big law firms, Santiago chose to make her own law firm known as Miriam Defensor Santiago and Associates. She also taught Law subjects at Trinity College now known as Trinity University of Asia, and University of the Philippines as part-time job.

She earned a Bachelor of Laws degree, ‘Cum laude’, from the University of the Philippines College of Law in Diliman. Santiago pursued higher learning, earned an LL.M. after only 6 months, instead of 2 years and an S.J.D. after only 1 year, instead of 2 years from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with flying colors. She attended postdoctoral courses at various prestigious international universities. In 1996, she attended the Summer Program for Lawyers at Harvard Law School. In 1997, she attended the Summer Program in Law at Oxford University and has since claimed alumna status at both institutions. She wrote and published her own law and political science textbooks at her own printing press. She has also attended other prestigious international universities including Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.