Sonny Angara: Corona conviction a public service telling me to do moreBy Cathy C. Yamsuan, Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As the first anniversary of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s removal from office draws near, Aurora Rep. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara maintains that ousting the former top magistrate was a “public service” and played down the criticism that it was not the prosecutors but the defense that secured Corona’s conviction.
“Whether [people] believed we did our job… the point is, I think we did a public service… I’m so happy that we won. That’s the political process,” Angara said at a recent meeting with Inquirer editors and reporters.
“We won a conviction and we believe we removed someone who was unfit for the position,” he said.
Angara was one of the three spokespersons for the prosecution panel composed of 11 members of the House of Representatives, assisted by private lawyers.
There was speculation at the time that Angara, Marikina Rep. Romero “Miro” Quimbo and Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada were angling, if not being groomed, for the Senate.
Tañada indicated interest in running for the Senate but stepped back and is now campaigning for a local position in his province. Quimbo is running for reelection.
Only Angara, 40, has remained to run for the Senate and he is one of the candidates of the administration’s Team PNoy coalition who is frequently seen on national television.
In Top 12
Angara is also one of the heirs of veteran politicians who are in the Top 12 rankings in preelection polls.
A wry smile crossed Angara’s face when he was asked what he felt about observations that it was not the prosecution panel but the errors of the defense that secured Corona’s conviction.
Many observers agreed that the defense’s calling Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales as a witness backfired on them because the senators became more interested in the information she gave about Corona’s $2.4-million unreported stash in several banks and ordered her to elaborate on it.
And there was the walkout by Corona.
Angara conceded that presenting Morales as a witness eventually worked in the prosecution’s favor.
“For the defense to call her as a witness was to shoot themselves in the foot. We were very curious. Why did they call her? [Perhaps they] did not know what she had. But if they didn’t call her, we would have called her,” he said.
Reminded that the prosecution had already rested its case when Morales was called to testify, Angara said: “We would have tried.”
On May 29, 2012, 20 of the 23 senators voted to convict Corona and the Senate fired him for concealing the bulk of his wealth.
Corona is now facing a P120-million tax evasion charge, which stemmed from his undeclared cash and properties.
Angara said his experience from the impeachment trial made him realize that he had to sustain his career in public service.
No family pressure
Like most second-generation politicians, he is asked whether the urge to serve is heartfelt or more of a family tradition.
In Angara’s case, his father, Edgardo Sr., has been a senator for more than half of his son’s life. Dad’s senatorial candidacy was endorsed by former President Corazon Aquino and he has been serving in the Senate since 1987, with only a three-year break from 1998 to 2001.
The elder Angara will complete his fourth six-year term in June. The Constitution bars a senator from pursuing a third consecutive term.
“There was no pressure [from my father] to run for senator. It’s something I want to do,” the son said.
How much of his decision could be attributed to his father?
“I guess [his position was] an influence but it’s not the deciding factor. You can’t force yourself to run for public office. It is the case for some people but not for me,” he replied.
“In sociology, [you reach a state where there is] this confluence of altruism and personal ambition. I think everyone goes through life looking for that, what he’s willing to do day in and day out. I found mine in public service,” he said.
Dad is not seen stumping with Angara. His mother, Gloria, and wife, Tootsie, join his campaign, along with a slew of celebrity endorsers, who also appear in his television ads.
But there is no conscious effort to distance himself from his father during the campaign, he said.
His father, he said, has a good legacy. He wants to build on that legacy, he said, and show people that he has something more to offer.
“I really enjoy lawmaking. The thing I found fulfilling in my nine years in the House was doing something that affects so many people in a good way,” he added.
Those present at the Inquirer meeting warned him that he would have to take the cudgels for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco), a government project that his father zealously defended every time budget season rolled around.
Critics, specifically Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, insist Casiguran, Aurora, where the free port is located, is not commercially viable. It is far from the manufacturing center of Metro Manila and the Pacific side of Luzon is not exactly friendly to commercial ships.
Angara seemed used to questions about Apeco.
There is a law that specifies which areas in the country can have special economic zones, he said. Apeco exists because of this law. Casiguran needs to comply with it, he said.
“I’m ready to defend Apeco,” he added.
Bridging the divide
Angara said that campaigning for the Senate has shown him a whole new aspect of the Philippines and taught him how crucial it is to take on a less myopic view of the country’s problems.
He has learned that national government policies should be more responsive to the particular problems that the people face in the different areas of the country and not just in the capital, closest to the seat of power, he said.
“Less of one-size-fits-all solutions because we’re such a diverse country. You need to have more regional solutions,” Angara said.
“The charge of Imperial Manila, I can feel it in the provinces. There’s a disconnect, I think, between a lot of policymakers and people on the ground,” he added.
“That’s why I think there’s an important role for senators. They can bridge that divide, somehow, because they’re some of the few national officials that constantly or have that chance to interact with people on the ground,” he said.
Being from the House, Angara said he believed he had an “edge” should he make it to the Senate.
As a member of the House, he said, he pursued legislation that was in sync with the urgent needs of the people.
He cited the passage of the law expanding the discounts given to senior citizens, who are now exempt from paying the expanded 12-percent value-added tax.
Angara said that if elected, he would insist on a policy of job creation to sustain economic growth.
“The most urgent task really is to create jobs. Congress has not set any jobs policy for the last 10, 20 years. There’s no jobs policy. As soon as Congress convenes, you have to call on all the experts and ask, ‘How do we create jobs, especially in the countryside?’” he said.
Low hanging fruit
Angara observed that past administrations were focused on developing the economy.
“We congratulate ourselves when we have more than five-percent economic growth. But it could mean that only the top 10 percent [of the population] is benefiting,” he said.
Angara said he would urge the Aquino administration to take a harder look at tourism.
“It’s easy. It’s low hanging fruit. I was in Bohol and I talked to hotel owners. They had to turn away people because the area was still incapable of absorbing big tour groups from China and (South) Korea,” he said.
“It’s sad to hear about lost opportunities because those mean jobs and this situation is repeated in many parts of the country, [like] there is a limited number of visitors because so many airports have no night flying capacity,” he said.
That is one illustration of the disconnect between policymakers and people on the ground, he said. People are complaining that development projects are taking a long time to get off the ground.
The policymakers need to take more chances and start looking to the “farther future,” he said
“I think there’s a need for a certain boldness and foresight in public policy. We think in the short term. Our idea of economic planning is the medium-term development plan. That’s only six years. We should be planning for the next 50 years,” he said.
The Senate is an important component of long-term planning because its role is to provide continuity in the face of the constant, regular changes at the administration level, he said.
“You set policies that are supposed to outlast your term. Your horizon should be beyond six years,” he said.