“IT’S not a good time to be a senator.” Sonny Angara laughs as he blurts this out. And the irony isn’t lost on him. It’s an early Friday afternoon, and The Village Sports Club, situated deep inside BF Homes in Parañaque, feels as far from the Senate building in Pasay as you can possibly get in Manila. In fact, it almost seems like it’s in the province, with a vista of rolling fields, a fine breeze, and a distinctly un-urban quiet, interrupted only by the splashing of kids in the swimming pool. Dressed in light tennis clothes, Senator Angara talks to us in one of the function rooms, looking completely relaxed.
Just the day before, in a marathon five-hour session, whistleblower Benhur Luy dragged the alleged conspiracy behind the pork barrel fund under the harsh fluorescent bulbs of public scrutiny. It was the kind of testimony that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. At the hearing, however, the Senator noticed something else. “Benhur Luy is the happiest whistleblower I’ve seen,” he astutely observed in a tweet, fired off on the same day as the hearing. “Frequently giggling.”
Certainly, sworn testimony is no laughing matter. But laughter often signals something more meaningful than mere comedy. “Plato and Aristotle correctly feared the power of laughter to undermine authority and lead to the overthrow of the state,” writes Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. Whether Luy’s chuckles were just a mask for his nervousness or will truly bring about revolution, the Senator agrees that things are heading for a great change. “There will be a cleansing process,” he says, all serious now.
“There will be a time of cleansing and suffering for the body politic. After that, our democracy will be stronger, as long as we remain vigilant.”
He lets another laugh crack through his ominous prediction. “It’s just like your body, I suppose. If you’re coming from a time when you’re fat and you just ate pork”—he guffaws at his choice of words—“you ate lechon, for example, for seven straight days, you’re gonna have a hard time getting back into shape. But you’ll be better off after suffering.”
Not that the Senator looks like he’s eaten any pork for seven straight days—he is trim, with only a slight hint of public-service paunch. But back in his Senate campaign days, an online news website ran an article that asked, among others, how to make Sonny Angara sexy. He has his own answer: “He has to do more crunches, squats and push-ups!”
Throw tennis into that mix, too. The Senator is more traditionally a basketball man; in his UP College of Law and London School of Economics and Political Science days, he was even made team captain, a fact he now laughs off. “Di naman kami magaling. Mga abogado lang naman yun, mga out of shape lahat. Also, the English don’t play basketball.”
Tennis, though, has dug its root deep in the Senator’s life. It’s the preferred sport of his father, also named Senator Angara. “Our bonding was leisure; we’d go to a bookstore, or travel, or play tennis,” he says about his father. “[Tennis] was really his sport. But [he] stopped already, [and] me, I stopped also.” Now, it’s the preferred sport of his son—a Rafael Nadal fan who is working his way to national level. “Yung anak ko got into it. He’s 9 years old, he’s on the varsity [team]. It really made me interested in tennis again, kasi since I went into politics hindi na. So lately, I’ve been getting into it already.”
Admittedly, his time for sports is very limited, thanks to a killer legislative schedule. The Senator’s day starts around 7 AM, and he hits his treadmill and does some free weights before suiting up for the office, where he usually works until 7 PM. “It’s office work,” he clarifies. “It’s a lot of reading, it’s a lot of studying, it’s a lot of research. It’s attending a lot of socials, functions, speaking engagements. You make laws, you have constituents—but in the case of a Senator, your constituents are all Filipinos: 100 million Filipinos. Talagang ubos ang oras mo.” If he’s lucky, he can usually squeeze in a tennis match or two a week.
Finding hitting partners is also unexpectedly difficult. “Ngayon, yung mga ka-age ko, mga once or twice lang makakalaro,” he says. Even his old pickup game buddies have moved on. “A lot of my contemporaries don’t play basketball na...na-ACL na, di na kaya. O na-ACL na at na-opera, o may ACL pero ayaw magpa-opera.” The majority of his pals have moved on to biking and running, which have a steadier, more individualist pace that’s perhaps more forgiving than the stop-and-start action of tennis or basketball.
Angara sympathizes with them; after all, he’s feeling his age, too. “I’m watching [my] back and knees. Cholesterol is a concern,” he admits. “I want to eat better. I cut down on sugar, because diabetes runs in the family. You watch the alcohol intake.” When he hit 40 years old just last year, he set a personal goal to get active at least four times a week: “Once or twice strength training, then you have cardio once or twice also, and then one [last session] for flexibility. Yun ang ideal ko.”
While his legislative work has taken time away from his physical workouts, Angara does credit it with keeping his mental game sharp. “As a senator, the life of the mind is important, because you’re [part of a] policy-setting body,” he points out. “You meet so many new people, you come across so many new ideas. Yung mga advice sa iyo on how to keep your brain sharp, how not to get old? I do it in my job.”
Angara tackles his continuing education like you would your own workout. “It’s the same approach in fitness. ‘Mahina ba ako sa legs?’ I ask myself, ‘Mahina ba ako sa taxes? Mahina ba ako sa banking?’ I try to brush up on stuff, improve my weaknesses,” he explains.
To keep alert, he swears by three things, especially when he needs to stave off his so-called “senior moments”: adequate rest, a daily cup of coffee, and most important, good work-life balance. Unlike his father, who apparently used to his staff already up at 5 AM, the Younger Angara is less of a workaholic, cherishing the times he can take his mind off work. “Of course, it’s impossible to have that kind of balance 100 percent of the time, but it’s a focusing exercise,” he shares. “When I say balance, you should not always be concentrating on that [one] thing.”
All this is part of Angara’s overarching philosophy of being a complete man, in work and recreation, in body and mind. “You’ll find that a lot of athletes become successful in their careers, [because] it’s the same principles: concentration, discipline, focus, and learning to work within a larger group,” he says. It’s this awareness that also permeates through his legislative advocacies, especially as chairman of the Senate Committee on Games, Amusements and Sports. For him, sport is vital to a country’s well-being. “It’s a unifying factor,” he reasons. “You saw how we were [in support of] Gilas, you see how we are when Donaire or Pacquiao wins. We want more of that going forward.”
This way of thinking extends to his other advocacy, too—the Freedom of Information Bill, a law that would put transparency back into governance, and, in Angara’s belief, vigilance back into the citizenry. It is this vigilance that will be the ultimate exercise for the body politic. “With the Napoles thing and with what’s happening now, it becomes more and more important that you have to know what your government is doing. That’s the role of citizens in a democracy,” he stresses.
No, sir, it’s not exactly the best time to be a Senator, but Angara is sticking it out and sticking to his guns, whether on the tennis court or the far more dangerous court of public opinion. “I wouldn’t trade places,” he states. “I’m happy where I am.”
Where Sonny Angara stands, in issues big and small
On working out: “Sports and going to the gym...I consider those two different. Sport is the most effective way to get into shape. For me, fallback lang yung [gym].”
On running: “Running for me was just a way to get fit. It was never a sport for me. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a great sport, pero di ako endurance guy. I like sprinting. I don’t like running long distances.”
On coping with stress: “Rest is very important. I try to get at least six hours. Variety is more important. Flexibility is important as you get older.”
On proper time management: “You have to have a good staff. You always have to manage your staff, do a lot of delegation.”
On the state of our national sports: “We should be able to do better. Our performance is declining.”
On the right to information: “If you ask, ‘Why is our sports program bulok?’ you should know what we’re spending on. If you ask, ‘Why are our schools like this?’ you have to know what the Department of Education is spending on. You want to know why our infrastructure is like this? Kasi andaming corruption. [But] rather than just leaving it to the politicians, you [should] also be helping the team. You [should] also be watching them.”
STOP THE WORSHIP
Public figures, like politicians and celebrities, can “tap into the public’s primal fantasies and basic emotions”, according to media psychologist Dr. John Lucas. But Angara cautions against this. “They shouldn’t be put up in pedestals,” says the senator. “They have normal lives.”
THE SWEET SPOT
Don’t rush through your reps. You need at least 40 seconds under load per set for upper-back growth. Try squeezing your shoulder blades together for 2 seconds at the end of each rep. It’s like hitting the ‘on’ button for your back muscles.