On Benham Rise – and a son rising
By: Patricia Jenny A. Moises-Afuang
Aurora is a province on the country’s Eastern Seaboard. It was, not too long ago, integrated into the regional grouping of Central Luzon. Some claimed that the move was designed to give the central plains an access to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, whose grand, sweeping waves batter Aurora’s coastal town with preternatural force – water communing with sandy shores shadowed by the formidable Sierra Madre mountain range. Much of the plains’ link to the calmer West Philippine Sea (except for Bataan and Zambales) on the western side is via intermediaries or connecting rivers. With Aurora as the sixth province, the Plains can now claim a territory that hugs the vast Pacific.
But the fact that Aurora is now a part of the Great Plains is not the only great geographical story that makes Aurora so diverse and unique, location-wise.
The 13-million hectare Benham Rise – an underwater land mass that is rich in fishery and mineral resources that is now considered the country’s Last Frontier – is just 250 kilometers off Aurora. The United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) declared the Rise as an area that can be exploited, developed and explored by only one country – the Philippines. It was declared part of the country’s continental shelf in a landmark ruling in 2012.
Of course, there is freedom of navigation and safe passage at the Rise. But only the Philippines can truly explore its marine and commercial resources.
Aurora’s Sea and Sierra – the title of photo book edited by the late former Senator Edgardo J. Angara, a national leader, statesman, and prolific author who recently passed away – was a paean to the natural grandeur of his province. At the same time, it was a de facto mini-thesis on why, physically, Aurora does not seamlessly blend with the inexhaustible flatness of the Central Plains. But the divergence is essentially a matter of geography.
Despite the physical incongruity, Aurora blends with Central Luzon in many other spheres, mostly political and cultural. For one, Aurora despite its remoteness, has been preparing and nurturing native sons for national leadership.
Manuel Luis Quezon, a native of Baler, the capital town of Aurora, was the first president of the Commonwealth Republic. His fierce devotion to an independent country is a stuff of legends and the source of many iconic quotes. Strong leadership, a volcanic temper, an unwavering sense of social justice, and many other leadership traits made Quezon the epitome of what some Filipinos have been hoping for in a leader: a forceful but kind-hearted president-king.
Next to emerge into the national political limelight was the late Senator Angara, whose record in legislation is yet to be matched in the post Martial Law Congress. Right after the Senate of the 8th Congress started work at the old, pre-Martial Law chambers, Angara wrote the trinity of the country’s most important social safety nets: the PhilHealth, the Senior Citizen Law, and the Free High School Law.
Angara’s reform-oriented legislation had the prescience to pass the law creating the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) long before skills training was recognized as a major cog in the development process, and long before the recognition that the 21st century would crown trained baristas and welders as niche roles in the ever changing job market.
In fact, there was hardly an area of reform legislation that did not get the attention and commitment of Angara’s mission to change public institutions for the better. His academic grounding, gained from six impressive years as president of the University of the Philippines, was put to good use. He helped create congressional commissions that took deep dives into education, labor, agriculture, and technology. The Commissions produced a treasure trove of data and research materials that shaped and influenced remedial legislation for each sector studied.
The current phase of Aurora’s political narrative is called “The Son also Rises.” I am referring to the current Senator, Juan Edgardo M. Angara or “Sonny” as he is fondly called. Juan is a name taken from Edgardo Senior’s dad, the first lieutenant governor of the sub-province of Aurora.
Sonny Angara – who has a 97% national recognition by that name – is at this early stage a legislator as prodigious and as prolific as his dad. He has authored and co-authored more than 180 laws, mostly of national significance. His privileged upbringing is nowhere to be seen in the thrusts of his major legislation. They serve and empower President Quezon’s and his dad’s constituencies: those who have less in life.
Enriching human capital through education and health initiatives, caring for senior citizens, and uplifting OFWs are the central themes and thrusts of the laws authored and co-authored by Sonny Angara. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, he is at the forefront of reforming and harmonizing the country’s tax code.
This issue covers the great Baler political tradition, with focus on Sonny Angara, and the place itself. Of course, what is a magazine about Baler without its awesome tourist spots and its surfing. You’ll find all these in this issue.