In 1981, he breezed into the political limelight marked by rolling thunder and raging winds, though not of his own making.
Edgardo J. Angara had been named president of the University of the Philippines (UP), hotbed of student activism, and the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, then trying to deodorize his regime on the world stage 9 years after he placed the entire Philippines under martial law, was widely believed to have had a hand in the appointment of the man who hailed from what was then known as God-forsaken Aurora province, the other side of Quezon.
The appointment meant Angara had joined the league of highly distinguished writers, diplomats, and educators, among them Carlos P. Romulo, Salvador P. Lopez, and Onofre D. Corpuz, people whose credentials he never had, who headed the country's premier state university.
Angara was perceived to have neither the charm nor the eloquence of the three men, all belonging to the so-called "Greatest Generation," but neither did they have the legal mind of this younger man.
“UP does not need an educator at this time,” Marcos declared in an interview thereafter, defending Angara’s appointment. “What it needs now is an administrator.”
Marcos had the eye, even his worst critics agreed, to spot and recruit the best and the brightest, and feel comfortable in their company, the likes of Romulo, Rafael Salas, Blas Ople, Cesar Virata, Roberto 'Bobby' Ongpin, Vicente 'Ting' Paterno, and then Angara.
Top-notch corporate lawyer
Until Marcos spotted him for the UP post, Angara was making a huge fortune as lawyer of several companies, including those ran by Marcos’ cronies, and thus his designation was met with a lot questions and criticisms, even if he was a distinguished UP alumnus.
He was the co-founder and principal partner of Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz (ACCRA), then the country’s most influential law firm. The other founder was his former colleague from the Siguion Reyna law firm, Juan Ponce Enrile of Cagayan Valley, who remained unnamed in the law firm even until he resigned to concentrate as Marcos’ defense minister, but later put up his own—the Ponce Enrile Cayetano law firm, or Pecabar, along with compañero Rene Cayetano.
Angara was a most-sought-after lawyer in the company of senior and more seasoned trial lawyers, among them Juan David, Dakila Castro, and Antonio Coronel.
Like Enrile, Angara belonged to Sigma Rho, and most of ACCRA’s lawyers were recruited from the fraternity, save for a privileged few like Richard Gordon of the rival Upsilon. Sigma Rho members pride themselves as the fraternity's initials, ΣΡ, from the Greek alphabet, mean "Seekers of the Right.
“This man had so many good ideas for the country,” said Gordon, now a senator. “He wanted me to join ACCRA, even if I had not finished my law schooling yet. And I was not even a Sigma Rhoan.”
Gordon later joined the Sigma Rho-controlled law firm and made hay. “If I did so, that was a testament to his sense of fairness,” he said.
Another prominent UP graduate, the late Joker Arroyo, an Upsilonian, used to make fun of the Sigma Rhoans, even though some of his friends, including the best of them all, came from the fraternity, among them former Executive Secretary Rafael Salas, former Senate President Jovito Salonga, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, and the late human rights lawyer Romeo Capulong.
Months into his term as UP president, Angara surprised even his own critics when he defended the state university's tradition of dissent, academic and fiscal autonomy.
“In person, he was as quiet as anyone who preferred to work behind the scenes and [he] got things done,” said Antonio Llorente, a former ACCRA partner, over coffee at ACCRA’s Makati office years back. “He was not of the grandstanding type. He was a man of few words.”
Angara raised funds for the school, estimated at P80 million, from various successful UP alumni, based here and abroad, for the university’s Diamond Jubilee, raising the biggest faculty endowment of the university. He earmarked the funds for the creation of new professorial chairs and faculty grants.
It was in this campaign that Angara took in a young Cecilia 'Cheche' Lazaro, another UP graduate who would later become a giant in the media industry. “I recruited her,” he told this newsman years ago over coffee at the Escolta Restaurant of the Manila Peninsula, his favorite hangout after retirement. He also helped noted newsman Amando Doronila, in exile for several years in Australia, to come back and find a place inside UP.
1971 Concon delegate
There are many things about Angara that have remained untold.
Like some of Marcos’ staunchest critics, Hilario Davide and Aquilino Pimentel, Angara was a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention (Concon), then representing Quezon. It was there he spotted Gordon, the youngest delegate, from Olongapo City.
Shortly after Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, word went around the convention that the military would arrest their colleagues, lawyers Raul Roco and Romeo Capulong.
Many other convention delegates had voted in favor of various provisions in the Marcos-sponsored constitution for fear of incarceration.
Roco and Capulong did not, and they went into hiding at the basement of Angara’s house in White Plains in Quezon City. They surfaced only after their names were removed from the Order of Battle, thanks to Angara who reportedly persuaded Enrile to spare the two lawyers.
“With Angara’s assurance that they would not be arrested, Romy [Capulong] and Raul [Roco] emerged from hiding and went back to work as delegates to the convention,” Pimentel recalled his book “Martial Law in the Philippines: My Story”.
Angara was their only link to Enrile, Pimentel said.
“Angara was as good as his word and no attempt was ever made to arrest them [Capulong and Roco] while the convention sessions lasted,” he added.
Angara did all that without fanfare.
“He did what he could do for the good of the country,” Pimentel told ABS-CBN News.
In 1979, the military raided Capulong’s law office on Kalaw Street, and later, his house on Sikatuna Village, Quezon City. The soldiers took his car and never returned it. He later joined the National Democratic Front as legal consultant.
Roco later joined then-Senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. as part of his legal staff.
Man in white horse
Back in Baler, the younger Angara was the proverbial man in a white horse. He graduated valedictorian in elementary and high school, and his parents, Juan and Juana Javier, knew he would go places, perhaps even becoming Aurora governor so he could liberate the province from poverty.
In Nick Joaquin's 2006 book “Ed Angara: Seer of Sea and Sierra”, the 1976 National Artist for Literature quoted Angara as saying that his family and the Baler folk “regarded him as somebody extraordinary: The kid who said he was going to be president someday.”
“Ask my classmates and they will remember what a good boy I was, so quiet and well-behaved, and always studying, studying. They have forgotten I loved games, how I liked to revel and romp, how ever ready I was to drop everything and run out to play, and how boisterous I was when with my gang.”
Ed, Eddie, Edong
All throughout childhood, Angara was Eddie at home. When he enrolled in UP, people called him "Edong." His would-be wife, Gloria, later called him simply Ed, the book says.
Angara would later say he only wished to become governor. But he went on to become a senator in 1987, later becoming the longest-serving senator after Marcos fled the country following the 4-day People Power revolution in February 1986. The Senate press corps called him Edong, the soft-spoken legislator.
Throughout his long and storied career as a legislator, Angara pushed for bills and resolutions that made a direct impact on the lives of millions of Filipinos, in education, agriculture, finance, health, arts and culture.
In between his work as senator, Angara became agriculture secretary and executive secretary of President Joseph Estrada, who was impeached and removed from Malacanang in January 2001. A diary he kept during their last days at the Palace provided the Supreme Court the basis for declaring that Estrada had resigned the presidency.
For the love of Baler
When his son Juan Edgardo or 'Sonny' became senator, Angara finally said goodbye to politics. He returned to Baler, only to resurface later as the man behind the movie “Baler.”
Angara wanted to reinforce his province as the well-spring of Filipino-Spanish friendship and draw tourists to visit its historical and ecological destinations.
In Joaquin’s book, Angara remained puzzled why previous political leaders ignored the development of Tayabas coast, "being too constrained by the distance” to Baler. He said taking care of one’s own land is a positive Filipino value and a primary duty, as expressed in the old native saying: “Sino pa ba ang magtutulungan kundi tayo-tayo rin.”
He would later invite this newsman to Escolta Restaurant, where he would endlessly talk about his Galleon project with a former Mexican ambassador and, of course, Baler.
Old man and the sea
Into his twilight years, one would find Angara in Baler, even by his lonesome. And there, he would remember his ancestors comprised one of six families who survived a Great Typhoon by running into the mountains, where now stands a tall Cross in memory of those who lived and died.
There in Baler, Angara enjoyed “the world of wilds and waves” like no other. “I don’t miss the rolling thunder and raging winds of Manila politics,” he told this newsman. “Here, life is much simpler, kinder.”