Joker Arroyo: He led fight against Marcos
“TO UNDERSTAND Joker is to understand the wind and the mist.”
This was how former Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. described Sen. Joker Arroyo, who helped bring down two Philippine Presidents—the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and the accused plunderer Joseph Estrada in 2001.
Arroyo died on Monday in the United States at the age of 88.
A human rights lawyer, Arroyo rose to national consciousness as the first lawyer who challenged before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of Proclamation No. 1081 imposing martial law by Marcos.
He later joined other lawyers in questioning before the high court the ratification of the Marcos-backed 1973 Constitution; Amendment No. 6, which vested lawmaking powers in Marcos alongside the Batasang Pambansa; and the power of military tribunals to try civilians.
Arroyo also helped defend some opposition leaders during the Marcos regime such as the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino, the late Eugenio Lopez Jr., Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison, Sen. Sergio Osmeña III and former Senators Jovito Salonga, Eva Estrada Kalaw and Nene Pimentel.
As a freedom fighter, Arroyo had his share of physical and mental tortures during martial law. He was incarcerated in a military stockade; he was also gassed, injured and hospitalized during protest rallies.
In 2000, Arroyo led the 11-member prosecution panel of the House of Representatives during the impeachment trial of then President Estrada, who was later ousted in the subsequent Edsa II in January 2001.
Arroyo said the impeachment courtroom drama that was beamed live to Filipinos nationwide from Dec. 7, 2000, to Jan. 16, 2001, showed just a fraction of the actual court work. “From the start, we made a statement that a legal battle is 80-90 percent preparation, and 10-20 percent court trial,” he said.
‘Dear friend, mentor’
Villar said he lost a “dear friend and mentor” and that having served the country well, Arroyo “deserved a big thank you from all of us.”
“He was always the maverick. He would be leaving behind a nation that still suffers from the same problems that he liked to rant against with fierce dedication. And now he left us to face all these. Perhaps, the joke is now on us,” Villar said.
Tributes flowed Wednesday for Arroyo, who suffered a heart attack while in San Francisco, where he had undergone last week a bypass and valve repair operation, according to a highly reliable source.
Fellow senators expressed their sentiments as well as shared their memories of Arroyo, who served two terms in the Senate and retired in 2013. But the Senate could not honor him Wednesday, the last session day before it goes on a monthlong recess on Friday.
Because the Arroyo family has not issued an official announcement on his death, Malacañang has withheld, out of respect, a statement on his passing, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Senate could not observe Wednesday its traditions bestowed on senators who passed away, such as flying the Philippine flag at half-staff as well as just opening and closing the session.
Drilon could only pay homage to Arroyo, whom he worked with in the Cabinet of the late President Corazon Aquino and in the Senate, saying he was a “brilliant lawyer” who took on strong advocacies.
“Joker earned sobriquets in his storied life. The Great Dissenter. The Maverick. The Defender. He was even called The Scrooge for his economical use of office funds,” Sen. Ralph Recto said in a statement.
“But there was one area he didn’t scrimp on. And that was offering his sharp legal mind, for free, to those who need it most but can afford it least,” Recto said.
Recto said Arroyo had a good heart. “His form of exercise was to bend down and pull someone out of the gutter,” the senator said.
When Arroyo was elected to the Senate, Arroyo already had a life’s worth of achievements and great victories won. “This country owes much of its freedom to him as do hundreds whose liberty he secured,” Recto said, referring to Arroyo’s work as a renowned human rights lawyer.
“Joker Arroyo was a patriot first-class. Having walked in his shadows, I will always remember him as a boy in the fable who had the courage and the candor, who never failed and never tired to shout that the emperor was wearing no clothes,” he said.
Opposite sides of fence
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said Arroyo was “one of the best senators to come by in the Senate.”
“I’m sad that a colleague like Joker has passed away and carries with him a part of the history of the land because while we were on opposite sides of the fence on some points, we agreed on some points but nonetheless we discussed issues in a very noble manner and according to our own perceptions,” Enrile said.
Enrile recalled he was in government during the martial law years while Arroyo was very active in the opposition, and yet they remained good friends.
The two men eventually ended up as members of the Cabinet of the late President Corazon Aquino.
In a statement later, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he valued his time with Arroyo in the Senate.
“Considering where we came from, we often found ourselves in agreement over political questions. I think because of this, I dare say we eventually became friends,” said Marcos, whose father declared martial law in 1972 that resulted in widespread human rights violations.
Equally sad was Vice President Jejomar Binay who said Arroyo was a very good friend and a mentor. “I miss him,” Binay told reporters.
Arroyo will leave a “lasting imprint on Philippine politics” because of his colorful personality, wit and deep analyses of issues, according to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
“His words never failed to capture the attention of media and of the general public,” he said. “In his many years in public service, Joker led a life of courage and humility that inspired many,” Belmonte said.
“We thank Joker for his deep dedication to the Philippines and our people. He has left a legacy of staunchness and bravery, which we know shall be emulated by our young lawyers and public servants,” he added.
“Although we were not really related, it was always a source of immense pride for us to share the name of this gallant human rights lawyer, overseer of the restoration of Philippine democracy, and exemplary legislator and public figure,” said former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “In today’s world of smaller and meaner leaders, this giant of a man will be deeply missed.”
Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe described Arroyo as a “a great Bicolano.”
“He had served as an inspiration to us, martial law babies, to be brave, to fight for our rights and uphold what was right and just during the Marcos regime,” Batocabe said.
“I did not agree with many of the positions he took, when he was Executive Secretary to Cory and when he was in Congress. But one thing you cannot take away from Joker: He did his part for people and country, and at a time when it was unfashionable and even extremely dangerous to do so,” said Theodore Te, the Supreme Court spokesperson who first met Arroyo when he joined the Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag) immediately after law school.
He recalled Arroyo as “sharp” and “intimidating,” one who by instinct knew which legal arguments would fly or fizzle.
“He was intimidating. He had a way of asking questions that probed, and probed deeply. And so there was no bluffing your way out,” wrote Te.
He also remembered Arroyo’s hearty laughter: “And if you heard him laugh (hopefully, not at you), it was infectious. It was a belly laugh—a guffaw—one that emerged slowly and then later on continued through several sentences, often fading into chuckles, and many times, even after the joke.”
“Sen. Joker Arroyo is best remembered as a beacon of light and hope for many political detainees and persecuted journalists during martial law. Together with other eloquent legal gladiators of his time, he inspired a generation to be voices in the wilderness amidst repression and to take up the lonely but fulfilling road of standing by those against whom the bad side of the law was used,” said Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
Case of Yuyitungs
As a young lawyer, Arroyo defended the brothers Quintin and Rizal Yuyitung, publishers of the Chinese Commercial News, who were summarily deported to Taiwan in 1970 by the Marcos administration after they were accused of using their newspaper for alleged procommunist and anti-Filipino activities.
In 1980, Arroyo cofounded the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism Inc. (Mabini) and Flag.
During the snap presidential election in 1986, Arroyo served as counsel of Corazon Aquino.
After the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, Arroyo became the executive secretary of the Aquino administration from 1986 to 1987, chair of state-owned Philippine National Bank and executive director for the Philippines of Asian Development Bank from 1986 to 1990.
Arroyo served three consecutive terms as representative of the first district of Makati City from 1992 to 1998 as an independent.
In 2012, Arroyo was one of the three senators (the other two were Senators Bongbong Marcos and Miriam Defensor-Santiago) who voted not guilty during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Arroyo was born in Naga City on Jan. 5, 1927. He studied pre-law at Ateneo de Manila University and earned his law degree at the University of the Philippines. With reports from Inquirer Research, Nikko Dizon, DJ Yap, Gil Cabacungan, Tarra Quismundo and Niña Calleja
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.