No Filipino has served in the post-1986 Senate longer than Edgardo J. Angara, former senator and former Senate president—a total of 23 years.
Angara was first elected into the Senate in 1987, serving for six years till 1992. He sought reelection and served until 1998. That year, he sought the vice presidency, of Joseph Ejercito Estrada, but lost. He then served in the Estrada cabinet, first as agriculture secretary, May 1999 to January 5, 2001, and later as executive secretary, January 6 to 20, 2001.
Ed wrote a diary of that brief stint as Executive Secretary. The reminiscences became the basis of the Supreme Court in its controversial decision declaring Estrada had constructively resigned.
Estrada didn’t resign. What happened was that Angara drafted a resignation letter. That letter was never sent to Congress. Then Deputy Secretary Boying Remulla drafted another letter, this time, informing Congress that Estrada was going on leave. That is the letter that was sent to and was stamped received by Congress. The Supreme Court should have referred to that which was a legal document, and not to the Angara diaries.
In mid-2001, Angara got elected back into the Senate and served until June this year.
In 1987, Angara first joined a legislature charged to help restore democracy after years of authoritarianism and rebuild a nation beset with degeneracy and corruption.
There was, he recalls, “rampant poverty, illiteracy, crime, and economic stagnation hounded the country, making these the foremost challenges a renascent Congress had to address head on.”
On his last term that ended this June 30, Angara is “heartened that the seeds of reform have borne fruit, and committed leadership is making the yield all the richer.”
EDJA has worn many hats in his life—lawyer, educator, farmer, banker, patron of the arts.
But being a lawmaker, he says, allowed him to channel multifaceted interests and experiences toward meaningful work that made a difference in the lives of our countrymen.
As a legislator, Angara endeavored to meet a nation’s aspirations through landmark pieces of legislation on education, agriculture, healthcare and social welfare, culture and the arts, economy and financial system development, science and technology, and good governance.
In the field of Education, he helped create the Congressional Commission on Education which laid down the agenda for education reform.
The Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skill Development Authority were brought to life, and the resulting trifurcation of the education system allowed the Department of Education to concentrate on basic education.
Through the Free High School Act, Angara says, “we ensured that each Filipino child receives quality education. We de-clogged classrooms in public schools by helping deserving students study in private schools, through the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education—the country’s largest scholarship program to this day.”
Angara also sought to promote teaching as a profession—a most noble one, in
fact—through the Philippines Teachers’ Professionalization Act.
Congress then passed the Higher Education Modernization Act to establish a uniform governance system for state universities and colleges.
The just concluded 15th Congress, Angara asserts, “was a watershed for education reform, dramatically overhauling our education system. We provided access to early childhood care and development programs (Early Years Act), created a well-rounded learning environment for Filipino students (Kindergarten Education Act), and started to make basic education on par with the best in the world (Enhanced Basic Education Act or ‘K to 12’).”
Meanwhile, in agriculture, the landmark Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act is emulated across the Asean.
The Philippine Rice Research Institute was established. The biggest appropriation for R&D was made. Thus, the agricultural sector grew by an all-time high of 3.6 percent, when Angara was secretary of Agriculture.
“We also safeguarded the rights of small-scale subsistence farmers, cooperatives, and independent farmers’ organizations through the Magna Carta for Small Farmers, and expanded formal countryside financing through the Rural Banks Act,” Angara says.
In healthcare and social welfare, Angara pushed for the creation of a social health insurance system, PhilHealth to give every Filipino universal access to preventive and life- saving medical care—a pioneering measure in our region.
He authored the Senior Citizens Act and its expanded version, now among the country’s most important social safety nets.
Also empowered are health workers through the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers. Cheaper medicines were made widely available via the The Generics Act.
The Philippines became the first country to promulgate a Breastfeeding Law, in recognition of breastfeeding as essential to the optimal growth and development of infants.
In culture and arts, Angara’s work also sought to preserve our treasures and sharpen our sense of nationhood. Some of these laws include National Cultural Heritage Act and measures creating the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Museum and The Commission on the Filipino Language.
In Economic and Financial System Development, Angara pushed to strengthen capital markets and the banking system, through such laws as Personal Equity Retirement Act (Pera), the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), the Credit Information Systems Act and the Pre-Need Code.
The senator also modernized insolvency proceedings in the country through the Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act.
Meanwhile, to shield the financial system from the strains of financial crisis, Angara introduced charter reforms of two key financial institutions: the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Pag-ibig Fund.
There are many other Angara achievements in social and economic engineering. Many of the laws Angara authored still have to bear fruit. The problem is the execution.
The REIT law, which would have channeled savings of OFWs and investors, into property development remains a dead law. Also dead is the Pera which would have allowed employees to pool funds as investments with the income not subject to tax.
As I have said in a previous column, we have too many laws covering every conceivable advocacy and act of man. Did the country become a better one because of these laws? You answer the question.