There’s nothing flashy about Sen. Edgardo J. Angara (SEJA), the longest-serving senator in the country today. He has never attended televised Senate inquiry into controversial issues that would have given him more national attention. Yet, behind that soft-spoken demeanor is a brilliant mind, with an admirable work ethic, which has contributed immensely to the enactment of progressive laws.
He delivered his valedictory address on June 6, the day the 15th Congress adjourned sine die, at which he enumerated his authorship of many laws that help improve people’s lives.
I need not write here about those laws for everybody already knows that the name “Angara” is always associated with educational reforms, science and technology although he has authored many laws on other social services, banking and finance. Rather, I’ll write about little known facts that buttress such association.
SEJA’s advocacy for educational reform is evident not only in the laws he has authored and the speeches he has delivered but also in his scrutiny of the national budget. Unlike some legislators who scanned the budget only to see what’s in it for them and their constituents, SEJA pored over the voluminous bill to make it a true vehicle for national development, especially in education.
I often saw him, along with Senators Joker Arroyo, Franklin Drilon, Manny Villar, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Juan Ponce Enrile, stay on after a regular session to hear the proposed budget. Oh yes, these senators had also conducted budget hearings before the session started.
In several instances, SEJA made the hearing of the education budget more difficult and more time-consuming by requiring the presence of the heads of state universities and colleges (SUCs). Previously, the budgets of SUCs were presented by regional heads and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to save time, but Angara was not after a quick review of the budget. He did not mind the longer time spent as long he was assured that the SUCs were making full use of the budget for the development of the community.
In one budget hearing, Angara was flabbergasted to learn that 17 SUCs were propagating jethropa through funds from the CHED. He lopped off the jethropa funding from the CHED budget but increased the budget of SUCs undertaking meaningful researches.
He rebuked the president of a college of marine studies and oceanography in Zamboanga for offering a course in Hotel and Restaurant Management. He urged some SUCs to stop offering courses with a small number of enrollees and a low rate of passing in board examinations. He urged them instead to concentrate on areas where they are strong and where job prospects are high like science and technology.
SEJA gave up his presidential ambitions in 1998 in favor of then Vice President Erap Estrada and ran for vice president instead. He lost to then Sen. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. However, he made it in all his four bids to the Senate – in 1987, 1992, 2001 and 2007.
I noted that in 2001 election, he was the only opposition candidate who didn’t invoke the name of former President Erap Estrada who had just been ousted from Malacanang. Erap was still popular and many candidates invoked his name to gain the voters’ attention and sympathy. Although SEJA was the last Cabinet member to stay with Erap, he saw no need to do the same. Instead, he invoked his accomplishments as senator from 1987 to 1998 and detailed what he had intended to do once elected.
In the 2007 election, SEJA was tipped as a sure winner and yet, he campaigned as if he had a lot of catching up to do. During a campaign sortie in Bohol, while his team mates were frolicking in a popular beach, SEJA was busy campaigning in a mall. And to think that all of those team mates were ranked lower in the polls!
In a public market in Negros Oriental, he was once approached by an elderly man with a yellowed prescription and a request for financial help. SEJA put an arm on the man’s shoulder and said in Tagalog: “I have no money to give. I could give only service.”
And public service is what he has been giving us through all these years.
I once wrote that as long as an outstanding legislator like SEJA is a member of the Senate, there is still hope for the chamber to regain its old glory, which had faded with the onslaught of divisive politics and mediocrity. I still feel the same thing, and this is why I have this feeling emptiness that he’ll be “graduating” from the chamber that he has served with great distinction for 21 years. He’ll bow out of service this June 30 and if you’ll ask me, he’ll do so as “class valedictorian.”