DIABETEASE February - March 2007

Senator Edgardo Angara:
A Champion of Public Health Laws
By Sheila R. Jambalos
Photos by Ruben Dela Cruz

Senator Angara
Senator Angara on the
cover of diabetEASE

It was a gloomy December morning, with a slight drizzle and a possible storm brewing, when the DiabetEASE team arrived at the location of the shoot.

It was a Sunday and we had an 8am appointment for an interview and photo shoot with one of the country's most prominent politicians - Senator Edgardo J. Angara.

Much has been written and heard about Senator Angara's various interests - be it personal or political - his love for the arts, his being a farmer at heart, his zeal for education, and the various significant legislations he has authored.

But on that morning, storm brewing or not, we were determined to probe the man whose generous mind and heart were able to conceive some of the most noteworthy health legislations of our time.

Senator Edong's health advocacies

Senator Angara
Of all the many roles that Senator
Angara plays, his latest role as a
doting grandfather was what we saw
him do best on the day we caught up
with him.

Senator Angara, more popularly known as Edong to his political supporters, has gained recognition for legislations that he authored including important laws on education, the arts, culture social welfare, agriculture and health. To mention a few, Senator Angara is the author of the Free High School Act, granting free high school education to the Filipino youth; he was responsible for the creation of the new National Museum and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts; and he is the mind behind the Senior Citizens Act, now known as the Angara Law.

With all other significant legislations Senator Angara ushered in Congress, it would be worth noting that some of the most basic health benefits we Filipinos enjoy are a brainchild of this man. Indeed, we should all be thankful to the Senator for creating bills that protect and care for our health and millions of other Filipinos.

Asked about health legislations he has authored, the senator's face lit up as he ticked off each piece of legislation's importance to public health.

Senator Angara
Senator Angara with granddaughter
Ines, 1 year old.

The Magna Carta for Public Health Workers has granted additional benefits to public health workers, including an increase in their salaries. The law also stipulates important measures for the welfare of public health workers such as security of tenure, regulations concerning the normal hours of work, overtime work, work during rest days and night-shift, and leave benefits.

Breastfeeding Act, which capitalized on the importance and health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and infants, was also Senator Angara's idea. He says the breastfeeding law was important because of its preventive implications for the mothers' and babies' health.

The Generic Drugs Law, meanwhile, was created to lower the prices of medicines and to make medicines accessible for more Filipinos; while the Senior Citizens Act, benefits the country's senior citizens with discounts in transportation, restaurants and drugstores, among others.

Senator Angara
Senator Angara with grandson
Manolo, 2 years old.

But what the senator considers his most important piece of health legislation is the law that created PHILHEALTH, the national healthcare program for Filipinos. According to the senator, PHILHEALTH in terms of utility and scope, with 57 percent of the 85 million Filipinos benefiting from it, "can really provide genuine health assistance to people, especially indigents."

With all these important health laws, we couldn't help but ask why the senator had huge interest in health. "I grew up in a health-conscious family, both my parents were health-conscious," he says. He relates that as children, he and his siblings were trained to eat vegetables, having brought up in the small town of Baler in the province of Aurora. Exposure to a healthy lifestyle is what he attributes as the possible reason why all ten of them in the family, with him being child number six, are still alive.

Watching his health

Senator Angara
Senator Angara with
grandson Manolo.

For someone in hi early 70s, Senator Angara is a picture of health. The secret to looking and feeling young he attributes to his being active "mentally and physically." "I'm healthy because I can sleep anytime I want," he says. "I think I can fight off stress and strain because I can sleep anytime I want. And I don't have a restless sleep. So I think that erases and removes all the marks of stress in my mind if I had a good sleep," he adds.

Aside from getting good sleep, the senator also watches what he eats and chooses his food well. For example, he sometimes only has oatmeal or a piece of fish or pandesal for breakfast. He says he also eats less during lunch and has a light dinner as well.

During the interview, he paused for a coffee break and snack but asked his media aide first whether the empanada that was served contained pork or chicken, saying "Ayoko ng baboy eh," (I don't like pork). He says that although he still eats pork once in a while, he chooses what part he eats and says that he does not eat the fat.

Senator Angara
Senator Angara with grandchildren
Manolo and Ines.

For exercise, he considers walking around his farm as his genuine exercise routine. He says that walking around the farm's undulating terrain is like a 10-kilometer walk on flat ground. Though he hasn't been able to exercise much lately, the senator relates that he used to play tennis every morning and does the treadmill every once in a while.

The senator sys he does not drink alcoholic drinks because of allergies, but admits he used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and decided to quit immediately several years ago as advised by his doctor. He also goes through a thorough medical and physical exam at least once a year.

Advocating diabetes awareness

Senator Angara
Senator Angara:
A Champion of Public
Health Laws

Last year, Senator Angara generously donated half a million pesos to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) - Philippine Chapter for their diabetes awareness and information campaign.

His decision to give money for diabetes awareness stems from his desire to increase people's awareness of diabetes. He says that during his meeting with AACE - Philippine Chapter, he was told that only 40 percent of diabetics know they have diabetes, and the other 60 percent walk around without them knowing they have it.

He hopes that more and more people would be informed and be made aware of what the symptoms of diabetes are and how they could prevent it.

Senator is no stranger how diabetes affects people and families dealing with it, as his mother struggled with diabetes. But he was proud to say that his mother, although diabetic, still managed to live up to 89 years old. Some of the senator's sisters are also diabetics.

Health advice

Senator Angara
"Take measures that will prevent
the occurrence of diseases."
- Senator Angara

Having been raised in a family where prevention is hailed as always better than cure, Senator Angara picks preventive medicine as one of his favorite health advocacies. He believes that it is important to "take measures that will prevent the occurrence of diseases."

"You've got to start young. The mom must already teach the children the right nutrition and the right eating habits," he says. He adds that it would be difficult to change bad habits when one gets old, especially bad vices like smoking or alcohol drinking.

He also believes in the importance of massive information campaigns to help increase awareness among people on the causes of preventable diseases and how such diseases could be avoided.

For Senator Angara, living healthy is indeed the secret to living long. And for someone who has guarded the health of Filipinos with laws that have benefited millions and will surely benefit more through the years, Senator Angara can definitely be considered a champion of public health laws and a genuine wellness advocate.

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