“No statesman of this generation has authored and implemented more far-ranging reforms than Senator Edgardo J. Angara,” says the business magazine BizNews Asia. “His reforms for education, agriculture, healthcare, anti-graft, senior citizens, and the economy have made life significantly much better for many Filipinos and laid the foundation for future growth for the country.”
Indeed, many of the laws he has crafted are called landmark and milestones. His prolific track record and solid performance spring from a rich background as an educator, lawyer, banker, farmer, patron of the arts.
The man who would become Senator Edgardo Javier Angara was born in Baler, Aurora on September 24, 1934, the sixth of ten children to Juan and Juana Angara. His parents were both graduates of the UP-PGH and were the first health workers in Baler. From their example, Angara learned to value healthcare, education and public service.
Angara graduated valedictorian from Baler Elementary School. He continued his secondary education at Roosevelt High School in San Juan, Rizal, where he was a school paper editor-in-chief and class valedictorian.
He went to the University of the Philippines College as an entrance scholar, and pursued his dream to be a lawyer. He graduated among the top of his law class in 1958 and passed the bar the following year. Afterward he joined the law firm Ponce-Enrile Siguion-Reyna Montecillo & Belo Law Offices.
Angara did further studies in law. He was first granted a Columbia Law School Scholarship, but he accepted the University of Michigan DeWitt Fellowship, where he obtained his Master of Laws degree majoring in labor and corporate laws.
With leadership and service in his blood, Angara was elected delegate of Quezon province to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. At only 36 years old, he was one of the youngest delegates, and made his mark for proposing a parliamentary system of government, democratizing ownership of public utilities and creating an independent judiciary.
A year later, in 1972, with an enterprising group of law classmates, they founded the ACCRA Law Offices, dubbed the first Filipino law firm for catering to Filipino entrepreneurs, and has since been one of the country's top law firms.
While in corporate practice, he served in the boards of many leading companies, including San Miguel, RCBC, Insular Life and IBM.
The success of Angara’s law career made his rise to the pinnacle of the legal profession little surprise. In 1975, he was elected president of the Philippine Bar Association, the oldest voluntary bar society in the country, and in 1979, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the unified association of lawyers, demonstrating his emergence as one of the most prominent leaders of the Bar.
His visionary leadership reached the international arena. He was instrumental in persuading the Bar organizations in Southeast Asia to come together and form the ASEAN Law Association (ALA), one of the largest regional law associations in the world. Elected founding president, he envisioned the ALA as a transnational lawyers’ union committed to the goals of the ASEAN and cooperation among its member states.
A turning point in his career in the public eye was his term as president of the University of the Philippines (UP) from 1981 to 1987. He was described as a “resolute technocrat” and a “tough-minded leader”.
Under his leadership, a multi-campus university organization was established, a common General Education program for all campuses introduced, a seven-year honors medical curriculum installed, and fiscal autonomy obtained. It was also during his presidency when he worked for the establishment of the Philippine Rice Research Institute and was henceforth called the “Father of PhilRice”.
“Angara’s administration’s solutions to the university’s problems would later go on the record as unprecedented and unsurpassed ... credited with the signal achievement of rationalizing the transformation of UP into a system of autonomous universities,” states an official chronicle of his presidency entitled At the Helm of UP.
Angara also rallied alumni in the country and abroad behind a massive fundraising drive both for UP’s diamond jubilee in 1983 and centenary in 2008, when he chaired the UP Centennial Commission. Massive funds raised went into faculty development, scholarships, student assistance program, and infrastructure development.
The UP Board of Regents honored him with the UP President Edgardo J. Angara Fellowship, the largest single grant available to UP professors.
At the height of the political turmoil arising from the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in 1983, Angara was invited to join the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) as Board Member and later Chairperson to lead the watch over the 1984 Constitutional Plebiscite.
Angara’s foray into politics was upon the invitation of President Corazon C. Aquino, who personally invited him to join her senatorial slate. “Ed Angara is the face of decent politics abroad,” she once said. He placed 5th in the 1987 senatorial elections in spite of being a political neophyte.
The Philippine Star says that, through his legislative work, he has dramatically changed the lives of all Filipinos “from womb to tomb.”
Angara earned the title “Mr. Education” for taking up the cause of education reform, neither dramatic nor headline-grabbing but to him was vital to quality of life and nation-building.
He authored the joint resolution creating the Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM), and headed it. Through its landmark report “Making Education Work, An Agenda for Reform”, EDCOM restructured the country’s educational system.
Angara also sponsored the laws which created the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skill Development Authority, both of which enabled the Department of Education to focus on its main concern: basic education.
His were among the most groundbreaking laws on education: the Free High School Act; the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE), the country’s biggest scholarship program to this day; the Philippine Teachers’ Professionalization Act; the Fair and Equitable Access to Education Act ; the Science and Technology Scholarship Fund; the Higher Education Modernization Act; and most recently the Kindergarten Education Act, which institutionalizes learning during the most critical years of a child’s development.
Health was another major advocacy of Angara. He authored the Senior Citizens, one of our most enduring laws on social welfare, as well as its succeeding expanded act; the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers; the Breastfeeding Act; the Generics Act; and the National Health Insurance Act which created the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) providing social health insurance for all Filipinos.
Angara has consistently shown deep commitment for the promotion of culture and the arts as the author and sponsor of the laws creating the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the new National Museum and the Natatanging Manlilikha ng Bayan Award, the equivalent of the National Artist Award for Filipino folk and traditional artists.
He authored the National Book Publishing Industry Development Act; the National Cultural Heritage Law to protect the country’s tangible and intangible heritage, and set up Sentro Rizal around the world; and the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Act, for which Spain’s Congreso de los Diputados and Senado separately passed parliamentary resolutions thanking the Philippines.
National Artist F. Sionil Jose said Angara “showed himself to be the national leader most actively engaged and committed to our cultural uplifting.
Agriculture and countryside development were also very close to Angara’s heart, having grown up in Baler. He authored the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA), which created a special purpose fund called the Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) that makes credit available to small farmers and fisherfolk, as well as the Magna Carta for Small Farmers, which empowers small-scale subsistence farmers, cooperatives and independent farmers’ organizations. During his term as UP President, he created spearheaded the creation of the Philippine Rice Research Institute.
Angara, a firm believer in the power of strong institutions to eradicate corruption and promote good governance, has authored or sponsored relevant landmark pieces of legislation, namely the Ombudsman Law, the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the Salary Standardization Law, the GOCC Governance Act and the internationally lauded Procurement Reform Act. He also sponsored the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, and co-sponsored the Anti-Red Tape Act and the law strengthening the Office of the Solicitor General.
Angara has endeavored to lay down the groundwork for sustainable economic growth through banking and financial markets reform. He revised the charters of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Pag-Ibig Fund.
To deepen the country’s capital markets, Angara initiated the Personal Equity And Retirement Account (PERA) and the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). He sought to establish the regulatory framework of pre-need firms through the Pre-Need Code, as well as increase access to credit through the Credit Information System Act. His Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act (FRIA) updated the country’s 100-year-old law on bankruptcy.
His National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act has made the Philippines compliant with the standards on biological diversity management and protection set under various international conventions, such as the World Heritage Convention and the ASEAN Agreement on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Ever the visionary, Angara sought to create the Congressional Commission on Science, Technology and Engineering (COMSTE), which now serves as the primary proponent of science, technology and research and development in the country. In this regard, he has pushed for the passage of the Biofuels Act, the Technology Transfer and the Renewable Energy Law, touted as one of the finest models of clean energy legislation in Asia.
Most recently passed were the triumvirate of ICT bills he authored or sponsored—Data Privacy, Cybercrime Prevention and creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)—that will serve as the foundation of a knowledge and technology-based economy.
Angara was elected Senate President at a crucial time (1992-1995). Against a backdrop of uncertainty, Angara was instrumental in uniting Congress and the Executive. He strived for cooperation and consensus to avoid disastrous deadlocks by introducting the Legislative and Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). Former Senator Ernesto Herrera credited Angara for institutionalizing planning for the legislative agenda ahead of the official session of Congress.
Angara strived to build a purposeful and working Senate. During his term, the chamber passed more than 500 laws, 130 of which were reform measures including the creation of an independent Central Bank (New Central Bank Act). His tenure remains one of the most outstanding to date, according to the Social Weather Stations survey.
Having been elected to four consecutive terms (1987-1998 and 2001-present), Angara is the longest serving Senator in the post-EDSA era.
He also remains the chairman of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), the only political party to which he belongs since 1995.
Angara remained productive during the mandatory term break. He first served as chairman of the Philippine National Bank (1998-1999). Though a brief tenure, he managed to institute an equitable profit-sharig scheme for the bank’s rank and file employees—a first in the bank’s history. He also put up a non-contributory pension fund and expedited a Collective Bargaining Agreement that had been dragging on for two years. Overall, PNB posted a strong performance and was the most trusted bank of OFW’s and small depositors.
As Secretary of Agriculture from 1999 to 2001, Angara came full circle in his efforts to make the sector more competitive. He successfully steered efforts toward food security and improved productivity. He invested in R&D and massive education and training programs for agricultural scientists and technologists, sending over 150 Filipino scholars to US universities under the DA-Fulbright program he enacted. He also undertook a comprehensive improvement of the national irrigation network.
From 1993-1997, the real Gross Value Added (GVA) in agriculture, fishery and forestry only grew by 2.6 percent per year. From the beginning of his stint at the DA until 2004, average growth rate nearly doubled to 4.1 percent per year, on par with ASEAN.
His term also recorded the highest growth in corn production, increased farm incomes to match the cost of living, stabilized the price of rice and helped the fish and livelihood industry recover from a slump.
Angara’s stint as Executive Secretary (2001) lasted for a mere 14 days but was crucial in the peaceful transition of leadership from President Joseph Estrada to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, avoiding violence and death during the turbulent second people power revolution.
Honors and recognitions
The former Senator Blas F. Ople has called Angara a “national living treasure”.
As one of the country’s foremost intellectuals and academics, Angara has been bestowed several honoris causa from the Philippine Normal University, De La Salle University, Pangasinan State University, Southwestern University, Mindanao State University and the Don Mariano Marcos State University, among others.
His alma matter has honored him with the Most Distinguished Alumnus Award, while his home college UP Law gave him the Highest Professional Award.
Angara has also been conferred with the Commandeur dans l'ordre des Palmes medal, a citation given by the French Republic to individuals engaged in promoting excellence in higher education. He was also the first Filipino Lee Kuan Yew Fellow.
Angara has strived to rekindle the Philippines' historic ties with Spain and Mexico by pioneering the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Act and the International Dia del Galeon celebration. These efforts earned him Spain’s Premio Casa Asia in 2010, making him the first Southeast Asian to win the foreign policy prize.
Likewise, he was chosen as the official representative of the Unión Latina, an organization consisting of 37 member-nations of the neo-latin languages, to the Philippines.
Angara was recently welcomed into the global fold of scholars as a Corresponding Academic Member of the prestigious Real Academia Hispano Americana De Ciencias, Artes Y Letras (Royal Hispano-American Academy of Science, Arts and Letters) based in Cadiz, Spain, the first Asian and non-Spanish speaker to be elected as such.
His drive for good governance enjoys international support. He is a member of the Executive Board of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) and was elected its Vice Chair during the group's 4th Global Conference in Mexico City in 2011.
True to being a trailblazer, he led the formation of the South East Asian Parliamentarians Against Corruption (SEAPAC) and was elected its charter president in 2005. Because of his untiring commitment, GOPAC chose the Philippines as the host of its next biennial conference in 2013 which will bring together more than 500 members of parliament from 50 countries.
For being a reformer of unequalled skill and zeal, Angara was named by PeopleAsia magazine as one of the People of the Year 2011-2012.
After decades in public service, Angara is not displaying signs of slowing down.
He pioneered the Oh My Gulay! (OMG!) campaign to jumpstart school and backyard in the hopes of encouraging young students to eat fruits and vegetables.
In his hometown of Baler, he has built an Artists Village, the first of its kind in the Philippines and even in the whole of Southeast Asia.
A voracious reader, Angara has channeled his interests toward writing his own books. Together with esteemed writer and curator Sonia P. Ner, he has co-authored beautiful yet scholarly coffeetable books: Baler, Mapping the Philippines, Manuel Luis Quezon, Aurora Aragon Quezon, and soon a monumental book on the Galleon Trade.
Angara is married to Gloria Manalang Angara, a social science teacher and former Chair of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. They have four children: eldest daughter Anna; only son Sonny, who has his own brood, Manolo, Ines and Javier, with wife Tootsy; daughter Katya who has a daughter Alegra with husband Anthony; and youngest daughter Alex.
Angara will be remembered for making a difference in the lives of ordinary Filipinos, for contributions that are measurable, not merely rhetorical.
As Nick Joaquin, the Grand Old Man of Philippine Literature, wrote, "If clothes make the man, laws make the solon, for his product describes the lawmaker. On that rule it can be assumed of Senator Edgardo J. Angara that he has range and relevance.”