Senator Ed Angara, my ‘uncle’ and mentor

It is this probinsyano boy from Baler who would later become UP President, Senator, and Senate President, pass landmark legislation in education, many of which I had the privilege of working on with him.

 

Where do I begin to tell my story about Senator Edgardo J. Angara?

 

The stories I have of SEJA date back to my childhood when he and my father were partners in ACCRA Law, and he was like Uncle Ed to me, and ‘EJA’ without the ‘S’ or ‘P,’ and we spent every summer in their beach house in Nasugbu.

 

But let me start with the conversation we had a few years ago when we were discussing our beloved UP. Both he and I had chaired the Committee on Education. We had both been regents of the UP Board. He would always laugh when I mentioned in hearings or meetings that we entered UP together – me as a freshman and he as the UP President. He would say, ‘Pia pinatatanda mo naman ako.’ But then I’d remind him that it was worth remembering because we – my volleyball teammates and I – won the UAAP championship when he was President, and for that, he gave us 1-year free tuition! All of P400 per semester back then. It has not been repeated – well the free tuition, yes, it’s now a law, the championship, no. It has not happened since. And we’d both bask in the euphoria of that memory, then he’d say to everyone, ‘Parang anak ko talaga itong si Pia.’ But going back to my story, we were discussing education bills and UP and I just happened to ask him how ended up going to UP. He explained to me that a friend told him, valedictorians could enter UP automatically, and since he was valedictorian, why not?

 

And so he made the journey to Manila, found his way to UP, and the rest is history – he graduated from UP Law and after that, like my dad, he went to the University of Michigan.

 

It is this probinsyano boy from Baler who would later become UP President, Senator, and Senate President, pass landmark legislation in education, many of which I had the privilege of working on with him.

 

These laws are the foundation of our education today. But it wasn’t just education. In the area of maternal and infant health, one of the first bills I sponsored when I was a neophyte senator was the Expanded Breastfeeding Act. He approached me when I was defending it and gave me his input. Interestingly, he was the author of the first bill that promoted breastfeeding – the Rooming In Act.

 

Later, I took on the fight to protect various national heritage sites, including the Rizal Monument, the basis of which was his law – the National Heritage Act that he sponsored.

 

Over the years, it no longer surprised me that so many of the legislation I worked on were also his pet bills. He would be so happy that we shared the same interest. He would invite me to attend his meetings with experts in the field. I was so excited too, the only drawback is he started his meetings at 7 or 8 am! Our common interest went beyond work in the senate. He was thrilled to learn I was studying Spanish. We had so many long conversations about our Spanish heritage and the need to preserve the same, and to strengthen our relations with Spain.

 

Another thing that others may not know is his support for Philippine grassroots sports and in particular, football. He brought in Real Madrid to train underprivileged kids.

 

I happen to have two daughters who play for football for UP, he always asked about them and the UP Team. In fact, he has an outstanding offer for them to come and train kids in Baler. So I guess that’s up to Sonny now to make that happen.

 

He finished his last term in the Senate over four years ago, but I met with him often, to chat, to pick his brain, to somehow absorb the wealth of knowledge and experience he had. In fact, he had planned a summit on English proficiency, which was supposed to happen soon. But it was clear he still had so many things going on – from international projects to local ones in his beloved Baler.

 

To the Angara family – the Filipinos grieve because we have lost a humble and dedicated statesman, a great teacher, and a visionary. But my family, we grieve with you for the loss of the head of your family. My mom, Sandy, my siblings – Alan and I, who spent the most time with him, Ren his godson, and my youngest brother, Lino Edgardo, who was named after him – we grieve with you.

 

But know this: EJA, SEJA, PEJA, in the many ways he was known, will live on through the work that we do, and that of many others he has mentored and inspired. #

Photo: Senate-PRIB

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