Edgardo Angara was born in Baler, Aurora. He earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the Philippines in 1958. While in university, he joined the Sigma Rho Fraternity. Upon graduation, he was elected to the Pi Gamma Mu and Phi Kappa Phi international honor societies. He earned his LL.M. from the University of Michigan Law School in the United States in 1964.
In May 1972, Angara together with classmates (and fraternity brothers from Sigma Rho) from the UP College of Law and Juan Ponce Enrile, founded the ACCRA Law Offices, which became the country's most recognized and prestigious law firm in less than a decade. From 1981 to 1987, Angara became president of the University of the Philippines. He rallied alumni in the country and abroad to pool their resources for various projects to mark UP's diamond jubilee in 1983, including the creation of additional professorial chairs and faculty grants. Through his efforts, the liberal arts curriculum was strengthened, a seven-year honors medical curriculum installed, humanities and science were energized, and a multi-campus university organization was instituted.
He defended the state university's tradition of dissent and fiscal autonomy, while maintaining its reputation for academic excellence. He established stronger links with the business community and alumni organizations, raising the biggest faculty endowment in the university.
Angara's achievements brought him into politics. He first served as senator from 1987 until 1992. By this time, he had established a reputation as a resolute reformer and firm leader, winning praise for his non-confrontational stance on contentious domestic and international issues, while building consensus at the same time.
He was Senate President from 1993 to 1995. As a Senate Chief, Angara, with his aggressive and consensus-building approach leadership style, rallied the Upper Chamber to pass bills and resolutions for an Executive-Legislative cooperation in economic reforms, which resulted in the Economic Summit of August 1993. It was likewise during his term that the Senate adopted a policy to reimpose the death penalty for heinous crimes and saw the ratification of the " Earth Summit " treaty, along with five pro-environment treaties, many of which have already been enacted into law. He made a difference in the lives of millions of Filipinos by pushing for the passage of laws on arts and culture, agriculture, education, good governance, health and social welfare.
In August, 1995, he resigned from the Senate Presidency and was elected as the new Minority Leader of the Senate.
As chairman of the Congressional Commission on Education, Angara sponsored laws that resulted in the creation of the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skill Development Authority, both of which enabled the Department of Education to focus on its main concern - basic education.
He authored the Free High School Act that ensured secondary education even for the poorest; the Senior Citizens Act (or The Angara Law) that allowed the elderly to avail of substantial discounts when buying medicine or riding public transport; the National Health Insurance Act, or PHILHEALTH, that provided insurance to every citizen; and the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE), the biggest scholarship program.
Under his Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA), farmers and fisher folk benefited from improved seeds and plant materials, better irrigation, better financing and market access.
He authored the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers and was the principal author of the laws that created the new National Museum and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.
Angara prepared to run for president in the 1998 Philippine election, but decided against it when it became clear that he could not win over the popular vice president Joseph Estrada. He accepted a deal offered by Estrada to run as his vice presidential candidate. Although Estrada overwhelmingly won the presidential race, Angara placed second in a field of 9 candidates, losing to Senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino. Macapagal-Arroyo won 12.6 million votes compared to Angara's 5.6 million.
Upon the inauguration of Estrada as President on June 30, 1998, Angara was named by him to be the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Philippine National Bank, then a wholly government-owned bank. During his tenure, major policy reforms as well as innovations were introduced by him at the said bank.
In 1999, Angara was appointed Secretary of the Department of Agriculture by Estrada. During his term as Secretary of Agriculture (1999–2001), he had the opportunity to implement his own creation, AFMA. He oversaw an improvement of food production programs and support services that led to a bigger harvest of rice, a development that underscored the drive to attain food security. Overall, the agricultural sector saw a growth rate of 3.6 percent a year since 2000, compared with a 1.2 percent growth over the past two decades.
On January 6, 2001, as Estrada's presidency was crippled by an impeachment trial and widespread allegations of corruption, Angara was appointed Executive Secretary following the resignation of Ronaldo Zamora, who was running for Congress. He only served for 14 days, as Estrada was toppled by the EDSA II Revolution on January 20. Angara remained loyal to Estrada until the end of his presidency, though he later asserted that his support for Estrada was contingent on the latter's undertaking to pass reforms.
Angara successfully ran for senator in the 2001 Philippine election.
He was re-elected to a fourth term in 2007, making him the longest-serving senator in the post-EDSA revolution legislature. Angara authored or sponsored many laws including the Free High School Education Act, the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education or GASTPE Law, the Generics Act, the law which created Philhealth, the original Senior Citizens Act, Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Act, Government Procurement Act, the Renewable Energy Act, among several others.
In 2007, Senator Edgardo Angara and Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara (Lone District of Aurora) authored Republic Act No. 9490 which created the Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), the body tasked to administer the economic zone in Brgy. Motiong, Casiguran, Aurora. Later on, Republic Act No. 10083 was enacted which amended the name to Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority or better known as APECO. The APECO was created to generate jobs and livelihood not only for Aurora but its neighboring provinces. As a logistics hub, it is a very timely and strategic infrastructure investment for the Philippines catering to Trans-Pacific ocean traffic.
In the Senate, Angara currently chairs the Committee on Education, Arts and Culture Committee on Science and Technology, and the COMSTE (Congressional Commission on Science and Technology and Engineering).
From January 16 to May 29, 2012, Angara acted as one of the Senator-Judges in the impeachment trial of the Senate of then Chief Justice Renato Corona and was one of the 23 Senator-Judges that voted to convict him of the impeachment charges exhibited by the House of Representatives and remove him from public office.
On October 3, 2012, he announced his run for governor of Aurora (province) in the 2013 Philippine election, but he withdrew and was replaced by his younger brother, Baler Mayor Arturo Angara.
On June 30, 2013, Angara's fourth term as Senator ended.
On May 17, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Angara as the special envoy of the Philippines to the European Union.