Clad in dark jeans and a blue camisa chino bearing his name, reelectionist Sen. Sonny Angara faced the crowd on a scorching Saturday morning for a campaign rally mounted by local officials at a covered court in the coastal town of Gumaca, Quezon province.
As he took the stage, Angara waved at the crowd and flashed a smile with his boyish good looks.
Hours before the rally, the emcee hyped up the crowd for Angara's appearance, describing him as "artistahin" or with looks akin to that of a celebrity.
Not one to be coy, the 46-year-old Angara, in an interview with ABS-CBN News minutes before he went onstage, admitted that his looks count as a factor in what makes him appealing to the people but said his work also matters.
“Maybe that helps a little bit, but I think it’s also the work we do,” he said.
Angara is seeking his second Senate term in the May 13 elections with the campaign slogan “Alagang Angara,” anchored on education and health care — advocacies he shared with his late father, former Senate President Edgardo Angara.
During his campaign speech, Angara cited laws his father enacted alongside similar legislation he pushed for.
Among these were his father's Free High School Act and the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which the younger Angara co-authored; and his father's Senior Citizens Act and his Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.
“All of us have aspirations for our family... We want our kids to graduate from college, we want our children to be healthy. So ganoon din (likewise), we want to take care of Filipino families the same way,” said Angara, explaining the slogan.
“All of these important major laws, I think, help people. Nararamdaman pa (It is felt) up to this day. So reminder lang na (So it's just a reminder that), 'Uy si Senator [Edgardo] Angara 'yan,' so we're creating that continuity,” he said.
Before he was elected senator in 2013, Angara served 3 terms in the lower House as representative of Aurora province, his family’s bailiwick. He was first elected in 2004, succeeding his aunt Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, and was reelected in 2007 and in 2010.
The younger Angara pushed for the Unified Student Financial Assistance System Act, which provides financial aid to poor but qualified students. He is also one of the authors of the Universal Kindergarten Law, the Ladderized Education Act, the Open Learning and Distance Education Act, and the Youth Entrepreneurship Act.
Angara was one of the main proponents of the Universal Health Care Act, a measure that would provide health care coverage for all Filipinos.
He also pushed for laws that exempt persons with disabilities from value-added tax on certain goods and services, and increased financial incentives and benefits for national athletes and coaches, among others.
Angara was also part of the House panel that prosecuted the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was ousted in 2012. This instance, according to political analyst Dennis Coronacion, boosted his media mileage prior to his first Senate bid.
'NO NEED TO STEP OUT OF DAD'S SHADOWS'
For Coronacion, it was a “good strategy” for Angara to leverage the family name as his father had built a good reputation.
“If you’re going attach yourself to a well-known legislator o kaya (or) someone who has a good legacy, it can boost your chances of winning,” said Coronacion, who heads the political science department at the University of Santo Tomas.
Coronacion added that there was no need for the younger Angara to “separate himself or to create a distinct identity” from his father.
"Kung mayroon mang dapat gumawa niyan, ‘yong mga (If anyone has to do that, it should be) scions ng families whose patriarchs or matriarchs... have a very bad reputation," he said.
This is the first time Angara is campaigning without his father, who passed away last May 13, 2018, exactly a year before the mid-term elections, following a heart attack.
Angara admitted to missing his father, who guided him in previous campaigns.
“We're always either on the phone or laging nasa field, minsan nire-represent pa niya ako dati so nakaka-miss talaga kasi he gives direction and leadership sa campaign,” he recalled of his father who passed away at age 83.
(We're always either on the phone or always out in the field, he used to represent me before so I really miss him because he gave direction and leadership in the campaign.)
Aside from good looks and a well-known family name, another one of Angara’s advantages is his being a lawyer, Coronacion said.
“Being a legislator would require you to have a working knowledge on the law,” he said.
Before he entered politics, Angara engaged in private law practice and teaching. He is a graduate of Xavier School, the London School of Economics, the University of the Philippines College of Law, and Harvard Law School.
TAX REFORM LAW
In the Senate, Angara sponsored the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, being chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
This earned him the moniker “Father of the TRAIN Law,” a tag which his campaign has been trying to shake off this election season.
Angara said the moniker would continue to have a “negative connotation” as long as fuel prices remain high.
Higher duties on fuel under the law have been blamed for quickening inflation, which reached nearly 10-year highs in 2018. Critics said this greatly affected the poor.
But not much attention has been given to the tax reform law’s positive effects, such as the increase in the take-home pay of most Filipinos, Angara said.
“Hindi na-emphasize ‘yong benefits (The benefits were not emphasized),” he said. “You have millions of wage earners, salary earners not paying as much tax as before.”
Despite the criticism, Angara has been faring well in pre-election surveys.
In the latest Pulse Asia survey released April 30, Angara placed in the upper half of preferred senatorial candidates, ranking 4-9.
Coronacion said Angara has kept a good showing in pre-election polls as he distances himself from the TRAIN Law, only mentioning the measure’s good points.
Angara did not mention the TRAIN Law in his campaign speech in Gumaca.
DUTERTE, HUGPONG ENDORSEMENT
Angara is running under Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the party founded by his father. He is also among the candidates backed by President Rodrigo Duterte and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago.
Angara said the endorsements from the President and his daughter would be “a very big help” as “the President is very popular” while Duterte-Carpio is “popular” and “a bit of a cult figure.”
For Coronacion, the endorsements would “bring substantial amount of votes” for Angara in the bailiwicks of the Dutertes and other Hugpong candidates such as Imee Marcos.
“Lalo na sa (Especially in) Mindanao, if you are a Hugpong candidate, you are going to get almost all of the Mindanao votes. Sa (in the) north, posible (it's possible) because of Imee Marcos,” said Coronacion.
When he first ran for the Senate, Angara was part of the senatorial lineup backed by former President Benigno Aquino III, whose leadership is often criticized by the current administration.
Coronacion said it is common among politicians from political families to align with the administration party or coalition, shifting alliances “to improve their chances of winning.”
Should he be reelected, Angara said he would pursue a “Made in the Philippines” campaign that would strengthen the services and manufacturing sector, and dissuade Filipinos from working abroad.
"We don’t take pride in anything that we make anymore, we don’t take pride in any service that we perform," he said. “We’re not producing enough jobs for our population.”
The proposal would be a potential addition to the “Alagang Angara” legacy, which the senator said seeks to create institutions where people can benefit even when his family is “long gone” from public service.