FORMER Senator Joker Arroyo, most remembered as the human rights lawyer who challenged the Martial Law regime in the 1970s, died on Oct. 5 following an unsuccessful heart operation in the United States. He was 88.
Interviewed over radio dzBB, lawyer Rene Saguisag, one of Arroyo’s closest colleagues, confirmed the death of the former senator.
He described Arroyo’s death as “a shocker” because he was still strong and “good looking” and said he did not know he had been taken to the United States.
Saguisag said it was in January when they last talked after Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. was arrested by the Senate sergeant-at-arms for contempt.
The Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee chaired by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III has been investigating the mayor, along with his father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, over alleged corruption charges.
Arroyo and Saguisag were present during the news briefing conducted by the younger Binay in the Senate.
Responding to queries from reporters, Arroyo said he and Saguisag were there to prevent a violation of constitutional rights, human rights and civil liberties and observe the downgrading of governance.
Saguisag said he learned about Arroyo’s death from e-mails he received.
As a pillar of the Free Legal Assistance Group during the Marcos regime, Arroyo defended then opposition Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., father of President Benigno Aquino III, before a military tribunal that sentenced him to death by musketry.
A key figure in the 1986 bloodless Edsa Revolution, he served as Makati congressman for nine years and senator for 12 years.
His term in the Senate ended on June 30, 2013, but before that, he castigated the President for the impeachment and conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Together with Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., he voted for Corona’s acquittal, and dismissed the proceedings as a mere show of “naked power.”
Arroyo was also a lead prosecutor during the impeachment trial of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
“We cannot have a nation run by a thief,” Arroyo said as he signed the endorsement of Estrada’s impeachment for plunder. The impeachment trial in January 2001 was aborted, however, following the walkout of the prosecutors.
Arroyo ran for a second term in the Senate in 2007 with the campaign slogan “Pag bad ka, lagot ka!”
As a legal luminary and a human rights lawyer, he was conferred various awards and commendations for his significant contributions to the law profession and public service.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Arroyo 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,” he said.
During his 21-year stint in Congress, he had never traveled abroad using government money nor got his pork barrel.
“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. “If he had a good heart, it was because his favorite form of exercise was to bend down and pull someone out of the gutter, which he did when he was still Citizen Joker. When he arrived at the Senate, he already had a life’s worth of achievements, great victories he won without wearing the mantle of parliamentary immunity. This country owes much of its freedom to him, as do hundreds whose liberty he secured,” said Recto.
“He loved to tilt at windmills and tussle with the powerful. He was a solitary gunfighter, drawing strength from the righteousness of his crusade, never taking comfort in the number of people who shared his belief,” Recto continued.
“Joker Arroyo was a patriot first class. Having walked in his shadow, I will always remember him as the 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.
Recto said he would raise a toast to Arroyo at the next dinner of the Wednesday Group, the informal gathering of senators that included him, Arroyo, and former Senators Francis Pangilinan and Noli de Castro.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said “for the younger generation who may not be aware of Senator Joker’s contributions to nation-building, they should know that he fought for the restoration of democracy in the Philippines.”
“He fought in the courts and in the streets for the restoration of our civil and political rights which we enjoy today,” he added.
Former Senator Manny Villar also mourned the passing of Arroyo.
“With a nation still suffering from the same problems that former Senator Joker Arroyo liked to rant on, then perhaps, the joke is now on us,” Villar said.
“Others would surely say the country lost a genuine patriot, a fighter, a human rights defender and a great Bicolano. They will say that you would be missed. They will say your contributions to the nation were invaluable. I will simply add that I just lost a dear friend and mentor,” he said.
On his Twitter Account, former Senator Panfilo Lacson also bid farewell to Arroyo, whom he described a “political foe, personal friend, and fellow anti-pork barrel advocate.”
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who was defense minister during Martial Law, also paid tribute to Arroyo.
“I’m sad that a colleague like Joker has passed away and he carries with him a part of the history of the land. We were on opposite sides of the political fence on some points; we agreed on some points. Nonetheless we discussed issues in a very noble manner according to our own perception, and now he’s gone. He’s one of the best senators ever to come by in the Senate,” Enrile said.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., whose father was the architect of the Martial Law regime that Arroyo opposed, said he was saddened by his former colleague’s passing.
“I value greatly my time spent with him 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 that we eventually became friends.”
In the House, lawmakers led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. mourned Arroyo’s death.
“I am very saddened. He was my good friend,” Belmonte said.
Former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo extended her condolences to Arroyo’s family.
“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. In today’s world of smaller and meaner leaders, this giant of a man will be deeply missed.”
House Minority Leader and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said the death of Arroyo was a great loss to the country.
Vice President Jejomar Binay recalled his years with Arroyo during the Martial Law years.
“The death of Joker leaves me with a deep sense of personal loss. The nation has lost a patriot and a true Filipino. I have lost a dear friend, a mentor and a brother,” he said in a statement.
The city government of Makati also expressed grief over Arroyo’s death.
Arroyo was a three-term congressman representing Makati’s first district from 1992 to 2001.
“The city government and the people of Makati will forever be grateful to former senator Joker Arroyo, who was among the pillars of the city’s transformation into the thriving financial center that it is today,” the city government said in a statement.
Arroyo was instrumental in Makati’s becoming a city in 1995, and the subsequent creation of its second district.
A key player in the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution, Arroyo was also one of the founders of the civic group Mabini and the Free Legal Assistance Group. He was known to have handled more human rights cases than any other lawyer from 1972 to 1986.
Arroyo also served as executive secretary to then President Corazon Aquino from 1986 to 1987.
He was the first lawyer to challenge before the Supreme Court the proclamation that then President Marcos used to put the country under Martial Law.
When Mrs. Aquino ran for president in the 1986 snap election, Arroyo served as her legal counsel.
Despite his close relationship with Mrs. Aquino, Arroyo in later years criticized her son’s administration as being like a “student government.” With Maricel V. Cruz and Joel E. Zurbano
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