THE Philippines mourns the loss of a statesman, technocrat and consummate politician, Edgardo J. Angara, the former Senate president who passed away on Sunday at the age of 83.
Angara was a reliable hand in Philippine governance and a stalwart of pragmatic and centrist politics that has characterized the post-Marcos Republic.
He began to build a name as founder of the big-shot Accra Law Offices, one of the country’s most prestigious law firms.
In 1981, he rose to national prominence when he was named president of his alma mater, the University of the Philippines, by President Ferdinand Marcos, who wanted to improve the governance of the state university.
With the ouster of the Marcos regime, Angara was among the few public personalities with adequate competence and enough gravitas to run for the newly restored Philippine Senate.
He quickly built a reputation for pushing reforms, not through force, but by aggressive consensus. When he rose to the Senate presidency in 1993, Angara spearheaded the passage of several bills of national importance. The Senate during his term was among the most outstanding based on satisfaction ratings of the Social Weather Stations.
Measures steered by Angara through Congress include the Free High School Act; the law creating the Commission on Higher Education, Technical Education and Skill Development Authority and the National Health Insurance Act (PhilHealth); the Senior Citizens Act; the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act; the Renewable Energy Act; and the Procurement Reform Act.
Angara found himself on the opposite side of the fence when Ramon Mitra lost the 1992 presidential election to Fidel Ramos.
Yet he stopped obstructionist politics in its tracks by efficiently utilizing the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) mechanism to craft a common legislative agenda and ensure the passage of priority bills in Congress.
In 1994, Angara saw the need for a unity ticket for the mid-term elections to contribute to much-needed political and economic stability following coups and debilitating blackouts in the previous administration. He agreed to enter his Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino party into a coalition with the then-ruling Lakas-National Union of Christian Democrats – forming the Lakas-Laban Coalition, which later won the majority of seats in the 1995 senatorial elections.
A realist, Angara knew that the climb to the ultimate goal – the presidency – was uphill, and so he did not hesitate to play second fiddle to more popular candidates with whom he could pursue his reformist agenda.
In 1998, he lost the vice-presidential race to his fast-rising Senate colleague, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
This allowed him, however, to help keep the government running amid the problems that besieged the short-lived Estrada administration, serving as agriculture and executive secretary.
Angara’s diary helped the Supreme Court craft jurisprudence that upheld Arroyo’s ascension to the presidency following the “constructive resignation” of Joseph Estrada as a result of the EDSA People Power 2 uprising.
Angara found himself opposite to Arroyo anew in 2004 when he ran as vice president to the late action star Fernando Poe Jr.
The bitter memory of electoral defeat, however, did not stop Angara from cooperating with the Arroyo administration, at a time when crucial legislation was needed to boost the economy amid a global financial and sovereign debt crisis.
Evidence of Angara’s enduring goodwill is the election to the Senate of his son, Juan Edgardo or “Sonny.”
Sonny inherits his father’s political legacy, but it would be very hard to fill the void left by Edgardo Angara, who was ready to sacrifice ambition when the Republic needed it the most.