Sonny Angara is holding the rudder true

Frontier towns are, in theory, the breeding grounds for rugged individualists who distrust institutions. The detachment from government, its edicts and rules, and its pursuit of civil order, are supposedly nurtured by the environment of physical remoteness, by people who live off of the sea, the mountains, and the forests.

Sen. Sonny Angara delivered the keynote speech in the 7th Professional Summit last 2018. Photos by the Senate of the Philippines

Baler in Aurora province, bound by the sea and the sierra, is theoretically in that category: a frontier town with values shaped by its physical remoteness. The seamless route to the urban mainstream through good roads, remember, was only a late 20th century milestone for Baler. You would expect its political leaders to be banner carriers for libertarian, government-is-the-problem school of political thought. 

Sons of Aurora

When you place Baler on the map and then make a full rendering of what the great political leaders of the frontier town have contributed to the serious task of nation-building, you will have to take note of the great paradox. From President Manuel Luis Quezon of the Commonwealth Period, to Senator Edgardo Javier Angara of the last four decades of the 20th century, and up to Juan Edgardo Manalang Angara of the present, the common thread has been the conscious effort to make government the implementer of the grand ideals of the parens patriae, of a government that cares for its citizens. Not a downsized government, not a detached and aloof government, but a government that fulfils the embracing tenets of the Social Contract, and creates lofty interventions tailored to fit the need of a particular epoch.

During the Commonwealth, President Quezon said, “The task of our government is not only to protect the rights of those who have but also to demand that those who have not received the fruits of their labor in its entirety, sufficient for their needs and their dependents. “ 

Edgardo Javier Angara, the recently-deceased senator who authored the foundational laws for modern Philippine society’s social safety nets (Free High School, Senior Citizens Act, and PhilHealth Law), had a shorter version: Give every man a fighting chance.

The current political leader of Baler, Senator Juan Angara Manalang Angara, has a formulation that the late former President Quezon, an exponent of the native language, would have loved – Kalinga or care for those who need caring most. The young senator attached his personal imprint on his legislation and advocacy of caring – Kalingang Angara.

“President Quezon, as the context then demanded, worked on multiple fronts to apply social justice on the issues of agrarian reform, labor fairness, and economic ownership. My dad authored the trinity of laws that defined the modern-day version of the Social Contract. I am continuing that work based, of course, on the urgent needs of the present,” the young Senator Angara told True North.

Sonny Angara engages with overseas Filipino workers during the campaign rally of Hugpong ng Pagbabago in Hong Kong. Photos by the Senate of the Philippines

Legislation, the young Angara acknowledged, even the ones anchored on the loftiest and grandest of traditions, has to be both dynamic and relevant to the times.

“You can say I am holding the rudder true, steering it like President Quezon and my dad before me,  to empower lives of the less fortunate based on strategies and tools that are required by the current times,” the young Angara, fondly called “Sonny” by his colleagues, friends and admirers, said. 

Sonny’s inspired legislative work, if measured by today’s metrics, would surely be ranked in the “exceeded expectations” category. It would make President Quezon and his late senator-dad very proud.

Legislative Genes

In his nine years as Aurora’s lone district congressman and six years as a senator, Sonny Angara has built a niche as a hardworking and productive legislator, who principally authored and co-authored more than 180 laws. 

Sonny Angara takes a photo with overseas Filipino workers during the campaign rally of Hugpong ng Pagbabago in Hong Kong. Photos by the Senate of the Philippines

“The patient and plodding ways of his dad, that focus, zeal, and attention dedicated to crafting the most relevant laws for our times can be found in the laws authored and co-authored by Senator Sonny,” said Rey Regalado, a former staffer of the late Senator Angara and a fraternity brother to both Sonny and his late father. Regalado says good legislation is both boring and uplifting work, and only certified grinds like Sonny have the wonkery and the work ethic to do good and inspired legislation.

“There is no prime time TV exposure for good legislation. The work is quietly and patiently done in the committees, in low-key public hearings, in the silent halls and chambers where true work is done and accomplished. Good legislation is not bloviation for the prime time news hours,” he added.

The wonkery and the work ethic is the sum of many parts. Like genes. The late Senator Angara was not only one of the most productive legislators of his generation. He used his senate perch to initiate an in-depth look at the many great issues of his times – education, labor, agriculture and technology – via bipartisan study committees. Then, he would make those studies and in-depth research the basis for crafting remedial legislation.

Frank Abalos, another former staffer of the late senator, said the work ethic genes of Angara Senior had been passed to Sonny. “Like his dad, Sonny Angara has the capacity to sit through countless hours of hearings and committee work to turn out good and relevant legislation,” said Abalos.

There is one adjective that does not fit Sonny Angara, said Abalos. He is – never was – a slacker.

“Tolstoy said that work is holy. Sonny Angara thinks that work is holy and it makes a difference in a society where the safety nets for the underclass are done via inspired and serious legislation,” adds Abalos.

Committed to improve society

Those who cannot reconcile the privileged background of Sonny Angara with his major legislative initiatives that tend to favor the same sectors that Quezon and his dad served with unfailing commitment seem to miss one point: he is committed to the Baler tradition of using public service as a great social and economic equalizer.

This is because his economics background was honed and shaped at the London School of Economics, whose founders Beatrice and Sydney Webb were so dedicated to the causes of the underprivileged that they spent their honeymoon investigating worker conditions and the state of trade unionism in Glasgow and Dublin.

Though LSE is considered one of the world’s most prestigious universities, the shadows of the Fabian Society, whose early leaders also greatly influenced the policy planks of the Labor Party, still looms large at the university. It was there that Sonny Angara was exposed to the idea that economics does not simply equate to free markets and market efficiencies.

Sonny Angara is running for a second senate term and all the mainstream polls place him high up among the preferences. 

Expect his second term to be a sustenance of the great Baler political tradition: legislating for those who need the care and attention of government most.

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