‘A far from perfect life’ – Edgardo J. Angara

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FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

THIS was how the former Senate President described his journey in 2015, on the launch of his second biography, Edgardo J. Angara: In the Grand Manner, by UP professor Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr., nine years after the publication of his first bio, Seer of Sea and Sierra, by the National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin. “It’s been a far from perfect life,” he said, “fraught with accident—sometimes happily so—and misadventure. But it has been a grand opportunity and privilege to serve the Filipino people as lawyer, lawmaker and educator.”

Ed Angara passed away last Sunday after a heart attack in his home. He was 83.

This morning, former colleagues will be paying their final tributes during necrological services at the Senate. I will be missing all this because I would be flying to a conference workshop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the US. My wife and I attended Mass at Heritage Memorial Chapels in Taguig on Monday night.

A life well-lived
Perhaps the only Filipino to have had two bios written about him during his lifetime, one cannot possibly add anything new to what has already been said about him. From his early youth in Baler, Aurora, where he was born on September 24, 1934, to his last appointment as President Rodrigo Duterte’s Special Envoy to the European Union, everything about him has been well-chronicled.


His was a life well-lived and well-spent. He tried to use his gifts in the service of others.

Humble without being poor, he went to Roosevelt Memorial College in San Juan for his high school, took up law at the University of the Philippines, and as a Dewitt Fellow, obtained his master of laws degree from Michigan University Law School. He came home to practice law and was quickly elected delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. In 1972, he joined the Harvard-trained lawyer Johnny Ponce Enrile in setting up the ACCRA Law Office, together with other topnotch lawyers, Manny Abello, Jose Concepcion, Teddy Regala and Avelino Cruz.

How ACCRA began
Enrile had intended to go back to law practice, following the administration’s 1971 senatorial debacle, caused by the communist bombing of Plaza Miranda, which left so many killed and wounded, but which the opposition quickly blamed on Marcos. It took years before the communists finally owned up to the crime. But Marcos called Enrile to the Cabinet, changing his well-laid out plans to return to legal practice. This left Ed Angara to lead the law office. ACCRA quickly became one of the country’s leading law firms as other young lawyers came on board. Among these were Franklin Drilon and Raul Roco, of happy memory, both of whom would eventually end up in the Senate.

In 1975, Angara became president of the Philippine Bar Association; in 1979, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; in 1980, founding president of the Asean Law Association.

In 1987, he entered the Senate where he served through successive administrations until he was replaced by his son, Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara in 2013. He became Senate President from 1993 to 1995, and gave to his office far more than it ever gave him. Given his natural zeal and enormous skills, he did not have to become Senate President to accomplish what he did.

Maximum impact
He went for laws with maximum impact. These included the Free High School Act, the Commission on Higher Education Act, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Act, the National Health Insurance Act, the Senior Citizens Act, the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, the Renewable Energy Act, the Procurement Reform Act, the National Museum Act, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Act.

He loved working with the soil and was perhaps at heart a farmer. But he also loved building bridges between the past, present and future, and between the Philippines and other nations. He founded the parliamentary associations between the Philippines and Japan, between the Philippines and India, between the Philippines and Spain, among others, and was honored with national awards from Spain, Singapore and France.

The lure of the presidency
He had his eye on the presidency, and was never shy about it. But somehow he failed to contend with the workings of fate. As Senate President he had his gaze fixed upon a lady colleague whom he thought would make an ideal running mate should he decide to run for president in 1998. He helped her gain maximum exposure in the grassroots, but when the day came, he ended up running as Joseph Estrada’s vice- presidential candidate against the very senator he was hoping would be his running mate. GMA bested him to become Erap’s vice president, and she later succeeded him when he was ousted.

Beside Mahathir Mohamad who recently returned to power in Malaysia at 92, Ed would have looked like a young man in Malacañang at 83. But the best he got was an offer to become President Duterte’s ambassador to the United States or the United Kingdom, which he declined. He finally became special envoy to the EU, which he could no longer turn down. A few days after his appointment, the President blasted the EU for poking its nose into the extrajudicial drug killings, making his job the most difficult in the world.

Not long after this, I met Ed and asked him how it felt to be given a room to sleep in and then see one’s host set it on fire. Ed understood what I meant and simply laughed.

First elected in 1992 and reelected in 1995 for a total of nine years, I became Ed’s Majority Leader and close political ally, just as I was to all the other Senate presidents during my watch—-Neptali Gonzales (twice), Ernesto Maceda, Franklin Drilon, and Nene Pimentel. We fought many tough battles together. Of these, easily the most significant was the Senate concurrence in the ratification of the Final Act establishing the World Trade Organization.

The WTO debate
Foreign relations committee chair Blas F. Ople and economic affairs committee chair Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had been tasked to defend the measure, but as the floor debates began to sizzle, with Sen. Bobby Tañada asking the most difficult questions, Ed unexpectedly asked me to take to the floor as the third sponsor. Future President GMA, professor of economics, had all the credentials to educate our nationalist colleague on the relevant philosophical and technical issues. But to my great surprise I ended up addressing the most difficult questions.

With technical assistance from then Ambassador Lilia R. Bautista, our permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, and international law specialist Raphael Perpetuo Lotilla, who later became GMA’s energy secretary from 2005 to 2007, I managed to survive the ordeal. Ed was profuse in expressing his appreciation.

Protest from women
There’s something even better. In 1994, the Senate was reorganized. All the senators got their preferred committees, but the committee on women remained unfilled. No one wanted it. Not any of the three lady senators, nor the late Senator Roco, who had become known as “honorary woman.” But to allow the committee to operate, the chair had to be filled. Absent any takers, Ed asked me if I could temporarily chair it, just to make it operational.

As chairman of the Rules committee and Majority Leader, I was a member of all standing committees and could not chair any other committee. But this was a special situation, and we had to suspend the rules. As soon as I accepted, an instant demonstration erupted in the Senate and in some women’s college elsewhere denouncing my temporary chairmanship and demanding that I vacate it. They called me a “woman hater,” the same phrase the feminists used to castigate Pope St. John Paul II for his firm position on human life, the family and marriage.

Neither Ed nor I had considered the fact that by September that year Cairo would be hosting the International Conference on Population and Development, and that as chairman of the women’s committee, I could go there and say something offensive to the feminists. This obviously provoked the demos. But because I was innocent of any offense, I refused to be bullied. Ed appreciated my position and stood by me.

This proved costly to him. The protesters did not stop until they were able to reorganize all the committees. They finally got what they wanted, and Ed had to pay the price. But his support for me never wavered.

The best for last
Ed Angara will forever remain one of my great heroes, even if we had never become Senate colleagues. And here I have reserved the best for last.

In 1969, at 29, I became the youngest Cabinet appointee in the nation’s history when Marcos plucked me from the Manila Daily Bulletin to become his press secretary, presidential spokesman and later information minister. In 1974, an international TIME survey named me, along with Ninoy Aquino, one of the world’s rising young leaders. In 1978 I was elected to the Batasang Pambansa. But in 1980, I had a political falling out with President Marcos, and resigned from the Cabinet, six years before the EDSA revolt.

I remained in the Batasan as Bicolandia’s elected representative. But not long thereafter, some allegations of wrongdoing were brought against me by a disgruntled subordinate. I denied the allegations, and nothing more was heard from the Tanodbayan, where the allegations had originated. But in 1985, one year after I left the Batasan and began to write about the President’s actual state of health, I suddenly found myself facing five baseless criminal charges. I had become the target of the very government I had tried to defend for the last 10 years, and I had no allies to turn to for help.

The wrath of the gods
I needed a good lawyer, and the only ones I knew were those in ACCRA, who had earlier helped me in an airline case. But I had provoked the wrath of the gods, so some of the law partners were understandably hesitant to touch my case. Through my friend and Raul Roco, I appealed to Ed Angara to take my case, and even without the benefit of one personal meeting, Ed promptly told Raul to handle my defense, without cost.

This risked displeasing the gods, but Ed did not mind risking it. The case became one of the most celebrated of its kind, and resulted in the unanimous landmark Supreme Court decision in Tatad v. Sandiganbayan. Penned by Justice Yap, with Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Jr., and associate justices Fernan, Narvas, Melencio-Herrera, Gutierrez Jr., Cruz, Paras, Feliciano, Gancayco, Padilla, Bidin, Sarmiento, Cortez and Griño-Aquino concurring, the ruling dismissed all the charges as politically motivated and without merit. The decision has been cited and continues to be cited by many lawyers in their pleadings and by many judges in their rulings.

It is a permanent achievement. And it all happened because of Ed. All praise to God!

IN MEMORIAM. It is with profound grief that I ask for prayers for the repose of the soul of Most Reverend Jose Francisco Oliveros, D.D., Bishop of Malolos, who joined his Creator on May 11, after a long and heroic battle against cancer. He was 71. He was a devoted pastor and sincere friend. In 2006, he asked me and my wife to join him at the International Conference on Bioethics in Rome. After the conference, Pope Benedict XVI received all the 400 or so delegates at Castel Gandolfo, but only 20 or so were allowed to kiss his ring. Bishop Oliveros made sure we were among those. In 2007, we echoed the conference in Manila. The Bishop chaired the conference, and many international experts spoke. It was a tremendous success. May he rest in peace.

fstatad@gmail.com

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