A grateful nation commemorates SEJA’s birth anniversary today, 24 September. If the whole country knew him as a legal luminary and a wise government official who had transcended political upheavals, only his family members and a few close friends saw him as a doting grandfather to his grandchildren
It was one tranquil evening when Daily Tribune visited the Makati home of Senator Sonny Angara and his wife, Tootsy. The rain had stopped, a cool breeze pervaded this side of the city, and traffic moved smoothly, allowing us to reach our destination ahead of the appointed time.
No less than the lady of the house, Tootsy, met us at the front door. Slim and tall, she looked composed while flashing us a reassuring smile. ‘No, you have not come too early. I was looking forward to seeing you,” she said.
Decorated in the sleek style of the 21st century, with art works strewn about tabletops and hanging on the wall, the Angara home looks perfect yet well-lived, with a big ball lying about, ready to be picked up and thrown into a chair turned upside down, as though a basketball goal, by the youngest of the brood, Javier, who accompanied his mom in welcoming us. “You caught us in our usual setting,” Tootsy said, “This is how our house looks on any given day,” with Javier and his toys sharing the space with sculptures, bric-a-brac and throw pillows. “This is a happy house,” I thought to myself.
We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the elder Mrs. Gloria Angara, nicknamed Baby, Tootsy’s mother-in-law and wife of the late statesman Edgardo J. Angara, had come to visit her children and grandchildren. In an elegant black dress, she exuded the charm of a dignified grandmother who has found the fountain of youth. Her mien is naturally pleasant and relaxed.
Both Mrs. Angara and Tootsy invited us to sit in a corner round table laden with two kinds of noodles (palabok and canton), pichi pichi (cassava balls), pastillas de leche, among other native delicacies. Brewed coffee completed the early evening fare.
I knew that what he was doing was very important. That he wanted to help the Filipino people. But as to the details, no, we never got into that kind of conversation
Mrs. Angara, in our first meeting, was amiable and gracious, as we moved from one topic to another, including how she and the late Senator had first met on a blind date arranged by his law office partner Teddy Regala and his wife Carminda who was her co-teacher at the International School; how the late senator loved Baler so much he brought his grandchildren there often so they would appreciate and be proud of their provinciano roots; and how he had indulged his grandchildren — “something that he never did with our own children.”
Tootsy, who had initially joined us while waiting for Sen. Sonny with whom she was going out to a dinner engagement, said of her father-in-law, “He would find time to be with the children. They made him very happy. He treated them out to Japanese dinner always. He called them up and asked how their day in school had been. The running joke in the office was if he was ever in a bad mood, all they needed to do was to borrow the children from us to mitigate his anger.”
The late senator had become even closer to his grandchildren after he retired from the Senate in 2013. Says Tootsy, “He even brought Javier to Hong Kong last May so they could bond together, just the two of them, but we insisted that they be accompanied. Can you imagine if anything happened, and it was just the two of them?”
As it turned out, SEJA passed on a week after his Hong Kong trip with Javier. He was 83.
It was only two years ago when Ines found out that “he was serving the country. I saw him on the news. I knew that my Dad was part of the government, but I never knew my lolo, too, was.”
Sen. Edgardo J. Angara (SEJA) left behind a legacy of landmark legislation that had made a big and positive difference in the country’s education, arts and culture, legal, industrial, social services, environment, women and agriculture sectors, benefiting Filipinos in almost every aspect of their life.
The list of the groundbreaking laws he authored and co-authored is not only endless. It is also astounding.
In the field of education, his landmark legislation includes: Free High School Act (RA 6655) Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Act (RA 6657); Fair and Equitable Access to Education Act (RA 7880); Philippine Teachers’ Professionalization Act (RA 7386); Creation of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA (RA 7796); Establishment of Congressional, City and Municipal Libraries and Barangay Reading Centers Throughout the Country (RA 7743); Creation of the Commission on Higher Education or CHED (RA 7722); Science and Technology Scholarship Act of 1994 (RA 7687); Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997 (RA 8292); Legal Education Reform Act of 1993 (RA 7662), and Kindergarten Education Act (RA 10157).
Philippine arts and culture has been enriched through the Creation of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts or NCCA (RA 7353); Designating the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company as the Philippine National Folk Dance Company (RA 8626); National Museum Act of 1998 (RA 8492) and the National Book Development Trust Fund Act (RA 9521).
Senator Angara sought to promote the development of agriculture, industry, livelihood and enterprise through the Cooperative Code of the Philippines (RA 6938); Cooperative Development Authority (RA 6939); Magna Carta for Small Enterprises (RA 6977); Iron and Steel Industry Act (RA 7103); Cotton Industry Development Law (RA 8486); Jewelry Industry Development Act (RA 8502); Real Estate Investment Trust Act of 2009 (RA 9856); Renewable Energy Act (RA 9510) and Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 (RA 8435).
His legislative efforts toward the protection of the Filipino citizenry include the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (RA 10173), Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA 10175), Pre-Need Code of the Philippines (RA 9829) and the Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710).
Equally beneficial to the Filipino people are the Pag-ibig Fund Law of 2009 (RA 9679), PhilHealth Act (RA7875) and the Senior Citizens Act (RA 7432). These are but some of his legislative accomplishments.
The late Edgardo J. Angara, in his lifetime, became Senate President, President of the University of the Philippines, Chairman of the Philippine National Bank, Secretary of Agriculture and Chairman of the National Movement for Free Elections.
A leading co-founder of the ACCRA Law Office, one of the country’s leading law firms, he received no less than 12 honorary doctorates.
He was also the recipient of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, conferred by his Majesty the Emperor of Japan, for promoting friendly relations and developing economic cooperation between Japan and the Philippines (2013) and the Commandeur de l’Ordre de Palmes Academiques, Order of Chivalry of France for academics and cultural and academic figures, for his contributions to promoting excellence in higher education (1974). He was the first Southeast Asian to be awarded Spain’s foreign policy award, Premio Casa Asia (2010).
He is recognized as the main sponsor of the Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day or the ‘Día de la Amistad Hispano-Filipina’ which celebrates the strong links between the Republic of the Philippines and the Kingdom of Spain every 30 June.
A grateful nation commemorates SEJA’s birth anniversary today, 24 September. If the whole country knew him as a legal luminary and a wise government official who had
transcended political upheavals, only his family members and a few close friends saw him as a doting grandfather to his grandchildren.
Daily Tribune has been privileged to listen to the stories of Sonny’s and Tootsy’s children. A bonus during the interview was, of course, the presence of their Lolita Baby whose recollections were precious.
Champion tennis player
Manolo, the eldest of the three at 14 years old, has won around a dozen tennis championships. He is in Grade 10 at the British School of Manila.
It was not so much in the material sense,” Mrs. Angara said, “but from the reputation he built up, so they would have nothing to be ashamed of.
He shared, “My Lolo’s gift to me on my last birthday was an Ipad. It was also a gift for my graduation from grade six. But what I truly value, more than any of his gifts, is his presence, his just being there.”
Theirs was a constant grandfather-grandson companionship that was heightened by Manolo’s interest in tennis. “It was Lolo who suggested to my father that I be enrolled in tennis lessons. And I have since been hooked on the sport.”
Manolo was in Thailand, competing in a tournament, when he found out that his Lolo had passed on. “I came home. The top three of each country participated in it, and the winners were to represent Asia in a tournament in Europe, but I don’t regret not having advanced to that level. It was more important that I came home for Lolo’s funeral.” He delivered a heartwarming eulogy which elicited praises from the multitude who came to pay their last respects to the gentleman from Aurora.
Manolo feels that his Lolo would be proud of him today. He had just won a gold medal in a tournament at the Polo Club.
His Lolo Edong had been supportive but not hard on him.
Manolo recalled, “If I lost in a tournament, he’d say, ‘Don’t feel bad, it’s just another tournament out of the many tournaments to come. Just put more effort to it. Play harder.’”
Whether he won or lost, his Lolo always invited him and his siblings to eat Japanese food in Kuratake, a restaurant at Rockwell, which had since closed.
Or if they did not dine out, “Lolo came over to chat with us. Or he’d take us to his ACCRA office. This goes all the way back to when I was growing up. Everyone there was very serious. Javier and I would go together and just stay in one meeting room and just play around. What was important for Lolo, I guess, was that we were with him.”
His Lolo wanted him “to follow in his footsteps. Like he would say, ‘O, Manolo, you have very good grades in Social Science, nag A-plus ka. You should become a lawyer. Of course, he knew I was more interested in tennis, but somehow, he would bring up Law as a possible profession for me.”
From his Lolo, Manolo learned “Never to give up. He always said I should always persevere in life, in what I wanted to do.
They did not exactly talk about the details of the law profession, or his Lolo’s work in government, “but he would be talking to my Dad, and I was just there in the room listening to what they were talking about.”
What is clear to Manolo is: “My Lolo’s job was really hard. Also My Dad’s. It requires effort and sacrifice.
“I knew that what he was doing was very important. That he wanted to help the Filipino people. But as to the details, no, we never got into that kind of conversation.”
Traveling was one of their bonding opportunities. “It was usually the family together. He’d always join us. The last trip I went with my Lolo was in London. We visited the parks and museums. He would also give a background about these places.”
It was Baler, though, “that was Lolo’s favorite place, out of all the many places he visited. He was always happy there. In Manila, it was all work. When he went to Baler, he looked happier.”
Growing up with Lolo and being constantly around him, if that was possible despite their respective schedules, he in his school and tennis practice, his Lolo at work, had been a big factor in Manolo’s education.
“I would sleep over in his and Lola’s home. One time, he wanted to talk to me, but I kept playing with my Lego. He got super mad at me. I was grounded for a month. Like I couldn’t watch television.” That was the first and last time he was reprimanded by the Senator. “I learned my lesson fast,” Manolo said.
His Lolo tried to interest him in certain books.
“He read a lot. We would go to the bookstores in London. He would buy me books, including a few about law. I was 10 years old then. He would give them to me and tell me to read them. I never really read them, because they weren’t something that a 10-year-old would read,” said Manolo who mostly reads school stuff.
Never give up
After SEJA retired from the Senate, he saw the children or communicated with them more often.
“I would see Lolo usually once a week. But he’d call us every day. Like three minutes, or even 10 minutes.”
From his Lolo, Manolo learned “Never to give up. He always said I should always persevere in life, in what I wanted to do. No matter how hard it may seem, or how far it may be. He also emphasized that effort always has its rewards. Now and then, I would have difficult time in school, which was after a tournament when I needed to catch up, so he would tell me to keep going.”
If there is any trait that he inherited from his Lolo Edong, it would be “his perseverance. His work ethic in both academics and sports. With Lolo, the way he would study and learn things, he really wanted to understand what the book is saying. He was really hungry for knowledge.”
We asked Manolo what he would tell Lolo, if he could talk to him. He said, “That I miss him, and that I wish he was here. I am doing well for myself.”
What would he tell his children about his Lolo?
“Lolo inspired me to become what I wanted to be. That he was really a big part of my life back then.”
The only girl
Ines or Aurora Athena combines the good looks of Sonny and Tootsy. “She looks like Sonny’s sister, her Tita Ana,” according to Lolita Baby.
Only 13 years old, Ines loves to dance ballet. She is an honor student.
Ines recalled, during our conversation, “Lolo would take us to a store during Christmas. The last time, though, he was busy so he gave me money instead. I bought an Iphone.”
When it was her turn to give him a gift, like his birthday, she would give him a card “where I would write something, like greetings.”
According to Ines, her Lolo told her that “his favorite subject was writing,” which might have been his way of bonding with Ines, whose favorite subject is English.
Ines started ballet when she was four years old, “but then I quit when I was 11. Then I started again last year” in Steps Dance Studio in Makati.
Lolita Baby volunteered, “She sings very well.” Ines shared that she sings popular songs. She takes lessons every Thursday and Friday with a vocal coach who comes to their house. As a kid, she used to sing children’s songs to Lolo. “Songs similar to ‘Bahay Kubo,’” she recalled.
Lolo, Javier said, “worries about me now and then,” although he does not recall over what. He simply said, “when I do stuff,” which is probably his way of saying when he gets too energetic.
Like Manolo, she had been encouraged also by her Lolo to take up Law, “although he said he would support me in anything that I like.”
When her Lolo died, she sang “A Thousand Years” from the Twilight series. She also sang it during his birthday.
Like her brothers, she also visited her Lolo at the ACCRA Law office, “even though we didn’t talk much. He only needed company. I just sat there while playing with my Barbie doll.”
It was, however, in Baler, “that we would bond like five times a year. We would hang out in his house, although there were lots of people.
“In Baler, though he had more time with us, since he didn’t have to work as much as if he was in Manila. He would just eat and talk with us.”
She recalled traveling with him to Spain, Bangkok and Japan. “He took a lot of our pictures,” she recounted. “He would spoil us, too. He would bring us to the toy store. My brother Manolo would buy toy cars. I bought my Barbie dolls.”
A family of public servants
It was only two years ago when she found out that “he was serving the country. I saw him on the news. I knew that my Dad was part of the government, but I never knew my Lolo, too, was.
“I wasn’t shocked, because I came to the conclusion that it runs in the family. I was a little bit surprised but I always knew that he was always helping people because that was what he loved to do.”
The last time she saw him was when he and Javier came back from Hong Kong.
“What I miss most about him is he was always considerate. When we were together, he would talk about us. He would ask us about how school was and what happened in school that day. He would not talk about his own problems in the office. It was always about us.”
She recalled that when he was alive, “he would always call me or text me. He would ask me how I was feeling. But that doesn’t happen anymore.”
If Ines could talk with her Lolo again, she would tell him “that I miss him a lot. That every day is not the same without him. I would tell him that I love him. And that I am doing well in my studies like he asked for.”
To her children and grandchildren, she would say that their Lolo “made laws that benefited the country in a really great way. And that he helped the country advance.”
Ines became interested in finding out about her Lolo’s accomplishments only after he died.
Confident singer and pianist
Javier, usually the one who loves to talk even in the company of adults, turned reticent during the interview. He recalled best his trip to Hong Kong with Lolo “where I swam most of the time in the pool.” Lolo watched over him.
They also slept together, he shared, “and we ate together.”
Once Lolo gave him money, he bought hamburger. He would also join Lolo in a Japanese restaurant, and he would always order “chicken with rice.”
Lolo, he said, “worries about me now and then,” although he does not recall over what. He simply said, “when I do stuff,” which is probably his way of saying when he gets too energetic.
Tootsy described Javier as a “confident singer and pianist.” He loves walking around with a cape, any piece of clothing that he picks up, or a robe. “He imagines himself an Eastern potentate,” said his Lolita Baby.
Javier shared that his Lolo built a swimming pool for him in Baler, in the family’s Costa Pacifica, a first-class resort.
At this point, his Lolita Baby butted in, saying that Javier was his Lolo’s favorite in the latter’s last days. “Every child would be his favorite but since he was the youngest of the three, he was at the time his favorite.”
An extremely indulgent grandfather
Mrs. Angara, who stayed behind when Sonny and Toots left for a dinner appointment, had the last word on her late husband, who, she reiterated, “doted on his grandchildren.”
“He was extremely indulgent. Once, in our home in Tagaytay, Manolo wanted to swim, but we had no pool. Since we were close to a hotel, we made inquiries. But apparently there was a party so Manolo couldn’t use the pool. He went into a tantrum, so his Lolo said, ‘Maybe we should have a pool made for him.’ Manolo got his pool, and when Manolo said the water was too cold, his Lolo had to have it converted into a heated pool.
“He actually would involve his grandchildren in what he was into. Like taking trips out of town. He would bring them to Aurora because he wanted them to appreciate the province and the rural area,” Mrs. Angara said.
“I myself hardly had any provincial roots. So, he kept telling his grandchildren, you don’t know how lucky you are. You have a province to call your own.”
I asked her if the late SEJA had a favorite grandchild. Her response: “It was a different thing with each child. He enjoyed Manolo when he saw that he was intensely interested in tennis. He wanted all of them to grow, to read a lot. He wanted them to know things not just from hearing from others, or from associating with others, but from learning for themselves through reading. He was interested in their development.”
Finally, I asked Mrs. Angara what the late Senator Angara considered his legacy to his grandchildren.
“It was not so much in the material sense,” she said, “but from the reputation he built up, so they would have nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, they have something to be proud of. And the fact that they have strong national roots coming from their provincial roots.
“And, of course, he also passed on to them his respect for knowledge and his commitment to acquiring knowledge by reading.”
Love for knowledge, a good reputation and pride of one’s roots were among the legacies that the late Sen. Edgardo J. Angara had intended to pass on to his grandchildren.
It speaks well of the man, as much as it tells us what to expect of his progeny.