Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago still hates corruption, but has
promised to keep persons with disabilities out of her fiery quips.
In a letter to Tony Pasia, president of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, Inc., Santiago said that “out of goodwill, I will impose self-censorship, by avoiding in future any word that refers to a person with disability.”
This correspondence came after parents of children with Down syndrome hit her for referring to her critics as "mongoloids." They said the term was derogatory and insensitive.
Earlier this week, Santiago tagged her critics as "mongoloids" and recently justified why she used the controversial line.
"The line “Stop molesting me, you mongoloids,” was taken from a book that won the Pulitzer Prize, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. While he was still alive and until now, no person ever criticized him for repeatedly using the word “mongoloid” in his funny lines. Instead, The New York Times Book Review said about his book: “A master work . . . . The novel astonishes with its inventiveness . . . . It is nothing less than a grand comic fugue,” Santiago said in her letter.
But for the parents of children with Down Syndrome, Santiago should have issued an apology.
"I think you owe children with Down syndrome an apology. If you are
angry with persons in Congress, you can probably use other words other
than the term you used. It is hurtful to say the least to us parents
blessed with children with Down syndrome," Pasia told the senator
Other parents and advocates wanted to take things further, saying Santiago should be charged for violating the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons for her remark.
Santiago, in her letter, said she was merely exercising her freedom of speech. "If there was any public ridicule and vilification, I certainly did not aim it at any PWD, but at corrupt politicians. It is unfair and misguided to charge me with intent to violate the law, when my intent was to emphasize my anti-graft stance," she said.
She said the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons penalizes the ridicule and vilification of a specific person with disability, and not the use of words like "mongoloid" and "autistic." Barring the use of those words would be unconstitutional, she said.
The senator added that if anyone should be brought to court, it would be her critics.
"Some in your group threaten to sue me in court. They are in danger of committing the crime of threats, also known as blackmail. If so, I would then have the right to sue them for damages, under the law penalizing any private individual who 'obstructs, defeats, violates, or in any manner impinges or impairs,' any person’s freedom of speech," Santiago, a former trial judge, told Pasia.
Santiago said, however, that she understood that the comments against her for using the term were from "parental love and concern."