MANILA - A visionary “probinsiyano,” champion of education, dedicated statesman, loving family man.
In the chamber he led for many years, former Senator Edgardo Angara was honored in many words. But for those who spoke in two and a half hour necrological rites Tuesday, no superlative will ever be enough to capture his storied life.
Angara, the senator who served the longest since democracy was restored in 1986, was honored in his “second home” of 23 years, with former colleagues and protégés expressing gratitude as they mourned the loss of an irreplaceable public servant.
“How do I even start honoring a man so accomplished on wide-ranging issues and advocacies? It seems there was no issue he did not know about. How do I choose the words to describe him and the life he lived? Even the best words would seem too humbling for someone so great,” said Sen. Loren Legarda, fighting back tears at the start of her eulogy for a long-time colleague and friend.
She recalled how she and Angara shared their advocacies for education, agriculture, the environment, and cultural and heritage preservation: “Ed was a man who had his heart in the right place.”
And despite all his achievements, said Legarda, Angara never forgot his modest Aurora roots, a quality that lent him the natural ability to relate to people from all walks of life.
“Yes, he was a very accomplished lawyer, legislator, statesman. But he had always maintained a connection with the people. Maybe because even with all his achievements, he had always considered himself a “probinsiyano,” said Legarda, of Angara who was born in a brood of 10 to a doctor father and nurse mother in Baler in 1934.
“His sudden departure leaves a gaping hole in his beloved Aurora, where his towering presence had served as a powerful inspiration to the young to pursue excellence as a way of life. On the national stage, his absence will be felt long after his body is laid to rest,” she said.
Legarda recalled Angara’s effortless sense of humor, perhaps unexpected of a man so driven in the serious business of nation-building.
“No one can doubt his sincerity in the causes he had espoused; but one cannot resist the urge to smile or even laugh when he shows his wit,” she shared.
“Once, when I greeted him on his birthday, he replied: “Whose birthday? It’s been deleted for being overdue!”
Former Sen. Pia Cayetano shed tears as she spoke of her “Uncle Ed,” who she first met as a young girl when her late father former Sen. Rene Cayetano also served in the legislature.
She shared a bond with Angara for their advocacy for education. Incidentally, they both call the University of the Philippines their alma mater: when Cayetano was a freshman, Angara just started his term as UP president.
She recalled how Angara granted her and the school’s volleyball team free tuition for a semester for winning the UAAP championships.
“He gave us free tuition, all of P400 per semester back then. It has never been repeated— well the free tuition yes, it is now a law, but the championship no. We remain the UAAP volleyball champions,” she said.
“And then we would both bask in the euphoria in that memory and he would say to everyone ‘parang anak ko talaga itong si Pia (Pia is really like a daughter to me),” Cayetano said.
Through the several speeches that honored Angara, he was hailed for passing critical legislation in education and social services, among others. As Cayetano put it, Angara’s laws “are the foundation education today.”
These include measures that created the Commission on Higher Education, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the Free High School Act, and the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education, “said to be the biggest scholarship program of the nation,” according to former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
His efforts to improve the country’s education system reflected Angara’s lifetime goal of “giving every Filipino a fighting chance."
“I suggest that Ed wanted our people to realize that education is “the key to upward mobility" that will inevitably lead to the expansion of the horizons of anyone’s service and relevance to the nation,” Pimentel said.
“I guess he wanted all our citizens - and especially the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized- to realize that to extricate themselves from the clutches of poverty, they must have access to and make use of education,” said the former lawmaker in emphatic remarks.
His son, current Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, echoed this, saying: “I agree with Tito Ed: education is the great equalizer. It is our weapon in the fight against ignorance and poverty.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto described the list of Angara-sponsored laws “encyclopedic,” describing them as “national assets” that make an impact on the Filipino’s life every day.
“Because of Ed, Filipinos are born to this world covered with medical insurance, and are sent off to eternal life with discounted services,” he said, in reference to the PhilHealth Act and the Senior Citizens Act.
“In between, they can be enrolled in free kindergarten, thanks to him, And high school became universal through a landmark law of his,” he added. Angara had authored the Kindergarten Education Act and Free High School Act in separate terms at the Senate.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri recalled Angara’s mentoring during his time as a neophyte senator in 2007. He said he considered Angara among his “two father figures” in the chamber, the other being Sen. Richard Gordon.
“He always said, “Migs, the quality of the legislation that you will sponsor and pass will be the one that defines you.” And to the this day, I religiously practice his mantra of hard work, dedication and having laser focus when it comes to the passing of landmark legislation,” Zubiri said.
He said Angara even sent him a text on Thursday just to ask: “How is our beloved Senate?”
“All I can say, Tito Ed, is it has been an honor to have worked beside you and be mentored by you in the Senate. I am what I am here today because of what you taught me and the impact you have created in my life,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III summed up Angara’s contribution’s to the nation through the widely known shorthand for his name: “SEJA.”
“His legacy is also his acronym: SEJA, which stands for ‘Senate dedicated to Education, Justice and Arts,” said Sotto, calling Angara his “idol” in politics.
ANGARA A ‘PARAGON’
In his remarks, the younger Pimentel called Angara "a paragon of what a senator of the republic should be.”
“For all of us not born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, Sen. Ed Angara can and should serve as an inspiration and a role model – that success in what we have involve our selves can be achieved through hard work, industry and study – coupled with a clear vision and the ability to form and work with a competent team,” he said.
Gordon, who worked with Angara at the 1971 constitutional convention and later at the ACCRA law firm, remembered how the late lawmaker always had his eyes on the future.
“He thought well. He had vision. A man could see things far ahead and saw a vision of a life better than what was there,” he said.
“He was quiet yet he was substantial,” Gordon added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon recalled his shock upon learning of Angara’s passing on Sunday, just a day after the latter hosted him and other friends for merienda at his Tagaytay home.
“I was one of the last people to see Ed and enjoyed his company just hours before he quietly passed on… He was in a jovial mood and seemed to be in good health,” said Drilon, who was also Angara’s ACCRA colleague.
“He talked animatedly about his life away from politics,” said the senator, whose friendship with Angara “ran for almost 50 years.”
Sen. Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, likened Angara to the giant waves of the sea in his beloved Baler.
“Lumikha po ng mga dambuhalang alon sa ating kasaysayan si dating Senate President Edgardo J. Angara o EDJA – mga along bumago at nagpayabong sa ating edukasyon, sining, agham at teknolohiya, governance, pamumuhunan, health at agrikutura (former Senate President Edgardo J. Angara or EDJA created a giant wave in history- waves that changed and developed education, culture, science and technology, governance, investment, health and agriculture),” he said.
He said Angara served as adviser to the group of young senators tagged the “seatmates,” which includes himself, Angara’s son Sonny, Zubiri, and Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and JV Ejercito.
“In our last moment with him, he gave us a challenge that reflects his deepest love for this institution, the Senate – protect its traditions, lead fearlessly and fulfill goals that matter to the people,” he said.
Former President Joseph Estrada, who chose Angara as his running mate in the 1998 presidential race, said it was an honor to have been the late senator’s friend.
"We have lost a public servant of the highest integrity,” said Estrada of his former agriculture and executive secretary.
Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo praised Angara, her colleague in the Senate from 1992 to 1998, for his “principled and strategic direction” in legislation.
“Edgardo Angara was a giant among legal luminaries and a skillful public servant. He wore many hats and he wore them well,” said Arroyo in her eulogy.
“Dear Ed, the impact of your principled work is larger than life,” she said.
Sen. Sonny Angara, the one who followed Angara’s trail in politics, spoke on the family’s behalf, thanking those who spoke to honor his father and came to pay their last respects.
Angara’s mother Gloria, sisters Anna, Alex and Katya and other members of the family were in attendance.
Also at the necrological rites were former Vice President Noli de Castro, former Senators Rene Saguisag, Wigberto Tañada, Heherson Alvarez, Rodolfo Biazon, Alfredo Lim, Tessie Aquino-Oreta, Nikki Coseteng and Robert Jaworski, incumbents Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Cynthia Villar, Risa Hontiveros and Nancy Binay, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap, and Franz Jessen, head of the European Union’s delegation in the Philippines, among others.
The younger Angara called on the public for prayers in memory of his father each time they experience the benefits of laws the latter had crafted, as he cited: discounts for senior citizens, free kindergarten and high school education, state-run technical-vocational training, PhilHealth coverage, overseas absentee voting, expanded deposit insurance, and preservation of culture and heritage, among many others.
“Bawat sandaling ito, sana po ay alalahanin at ipagdasal po ninyo ang aming ama na si Ed Angara (In these moments, I hope you remember and pray for our father, Ed Angara). A boy from a small town with big dreams and big plans. The boy from Baler who made good and who gave back,” he said.
Angara, who passed away on Sunday due to a heart attack, is set to be honored Friday at UP. His remains will be at the UP Law Auditorium until Saturday, when he will be brought to his hometown, Baler. His interment is set on Sunday.