“A grand opportunity to serve”: Edgardo J. Angara, 1934-2018

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He was considered one of the best Presidents the country could have had, one of the most accomplished legislators in contemporary Philippine history, and a respected mentor to junior leaders.

He was a tireless advocate for science, technology and innovation, multidisciplinary research to support national policymaking, education reform, and the people’s right to education.

In his long, colorful life, he served as educator, lawyer, farmer, diplomat, and patron of the arts. Before he passed away last May 13, he was appointed special envoy of the Philippines to the European Union.

But for the University of the Philippines, Edgardo Javier Angara will be remembered first and foremost for his service as UP’s 15th president from 1981 to 1987.

For the UP community, Angara was the president who worked to strengthen UP’s general education program, installed the seven-year Integrated Liberal Arts and Medicine (Intarmed) Program, energized the liberal arts program and strengthened the humanities and sciences in UP, and built a multi-campus university organization. He also rallied UP alumni to support the University during its Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1983 and its Centennial celebration in 2008 as chair of the UP Centennial Commission, serving UP twenty years after his term as UP President ended.

 

“A grand opportunity to serve”: Edgardo J. Angara, 1934-2018

 

The boy from Baler

Born in Baler, Aurora in 1934, Edgardo J. Angara earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the Philippines, and his Master of Laws degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1964. Upon his graduation from UP, he became a lifetime member of the Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society and the Phi Kappa Phi International Honor Society.

While studying in UP, he joined the Sigma Rho Fraternity. He later went on to found the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW) in 1972, which would become one of the country’s most recognized and prestigious law firms.

In 1975, Angara became president of the Philippine Bar Association, and in 1979 he became president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. In 1980, he was founding president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Law Association.

 

The outsider President

Angara’s selection in 1981 as UP President sent shock waves through the University at the time, since he was perceived as having come from out of the blue—specifically, from the distinctly non-academic world of corporate law. In his biography of the former UP President, Edgardo J. Angara: In the Grand Manner (UP Press, 2015), author and current UP Vice-President for Public Affairs Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. wrote that Angara himself had expressed his doubts about his own preparedness to take on “such a lofty academic position,” given that his only teaching experience to date had been as a lecturer for two semesters after his return from the University of Michigan.

Despite his misgivings, Angara dove right into the difficult job of UP President, working to reorganize and streamline UP’s bureaucracy, revamp its academic programs, and secure fiscal autonomy for the university. Angara’s massive fundraising drive among UP alumni in the country and abroad raised a substantial amount of funds for faculty development, scholarship, student assistantship programs, and massive infrastructure development. It was also during UP President Angara’s term that the UP Colleges of Fisheries and Veterinary Medicine were transferred to UP Visayas and UP Los Banos, respectively.

 

A defender of dissent

Angara’s legacy lives on in part through the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP-CIDS), which was born from Angara’s vision of a policy research unit that would harness the multidisciplinary expertise of the University toward the resolution of the nation’s critical problems. The UP-CIDS provides a venue for the recipients of the UP President Edgardo J. Angara (UPPEJA) Fellowship to present the results of their multidisciplinary research. The UPPEJA is the largest single grant available to UP Professors, which the UP Board of Regents established in Angara’s honor.

As his son and now senator Sonny Angara once said, his father was “best remembered for defending the state university’s tradition of dissent and obtaining fiscal autonomy. His efforts contributed to upholding its reputation for academic excellence as the country’s premiere educational center.”

 

A storied political career

Angara’s storied political career began in 1971 with his election in Quezon Province as one of the youngest delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, where he authored constitutional provisions such as the protection of public domain from undue exploitation by developers.

After his term as UP President, he was elected senator, first from 1987 to 1992, then from 1993 to 1998. He served as Senate President from 1993 to 1995, then in August 1995, he resigned from the Senate Presidency and was elected as the Minority Leader of the Senate.

Angara was set to run for president in the 1998 Philippine election, but yielded to popular vice president Joseph Estrada, running as his vice-presidential candidate instead. During the Estrada Administration, Angara was named Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Philippine National Bank, serving from 1998 to 1999, before being appointed Secretary of Agriculture in 1999.

During his term as Agriculture Secretary, he implemented his legislative creation, the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA), to oversee an improvement in food production programs and support services. In 2001 at the height of Estrada’s impeachment trial, Angara was appointed Executive Secretary following the resignation of Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, although he only served for 14 days before the Estrada administration was toppled by the EDSA II Revolution.

 

A legacy of laws

Angara was reelected senator in 2001, and again for a fourth term in 2007, making him the longest-serving senator in the post-EDSA revolution legislature. His achievements as legislator include authoring and passing measures for:

  • the Free High School Act to ensure that the poorest will be able to finish secondary education;
  • the creation of the Commission on Higher Education and the technical Education and Skills Development Authority, thus freeing up the Department of Education to focus solely on basic education;
  • the National Health Insurance Act or PHILHEALTH, providing health insurance to every citizen;
  • the Senior Citizens Act, known as the Angara Law, enabling the elderly to avail themselves of substantial discounts for medicines and public transportation;
  • the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, providing farmers and fisher folk improved seeds and plant materials, better irrigation, better financing and market access;
  • the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE), the biggest scholarship program;
  • the Renewable Energy Act;
  • the Procurement Reform Act;
  • the creation of the Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), which was later amended to Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority or APECO;
  • the creation of the new National Museum and National Commission on Culture and the Arts;
  • the National Book Publishing Industry Development Act and the National Cultural Heritage Law.

Angara was also an avid Hispanist, moving to rekindle the Philippines’ historic ties with Spain and Mexico, and institutionalizing the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Act and the Dia del Galeon. He was known for his vast collection of antiquarian maps, books, and works of art, and he championed the creation of a Department of Culture.

His fourth term as senator ended in 2013, and in 2017 he was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as special envoy to the European Union.

“It’s been a far from perfect life, fraught with accident—sometimes happily so—and misadventure,” Angara mused in his biography. And so it would seem to anyone reading an account of his legacy, one marked by both achievement and adversity. Then Angara adds: “But it has also been a grand opportunity and privilege to serve the Filipino people as lawyer, lawmaker, and educator.”

(The University will honor former President Angara in necrological rites to be held on Friday, May 18, at Malcolm Theater following a Mass at 6 pm. Interment will follow over the weekend in Baler.)