MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senators, both incumbent and former, were among the first to pay tribute to former Senator Joker Arroyo, who died on Monday, October 5, in the United States. He was 88.
A human rights lawyer during the Marcos dictatorship, Arroyo served as executive secretary of President Corazon Aquino from 1986 to 1987 before becoming Makati congressman for 9 years, and then senator for 12 years.
Senate Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto promised that the next time their Wednesday Club holds dinner, “We we will raise a glass to you,” referring to Arroyo.
The Wednesday Club was formed by Arroyo, Recto, Manuel Villar, Francis Pangilinan, and Noli de Castro as a support group of sorts when they were all elected for the first time as senators in 2001.
“Joker Arroyo was a patriot first class. Having walked in his shadows, 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,” Recto said.
Former Senate President Villar said: “He would be leaving behind a nation that still suffers from the same problems that he liked to rant about with fierce dedication. And now he left us to face all these. Perhaps, the joke is now on us.
“My Wednesdays would never be the same again. Paalam, mahal kong kaibigan (Goodbye, my beloved friend).”
Below are the tributes from Arroyo’s colleagues:
Senate Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto
Fellow member of the Senate’s Wednesday Club
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.
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. 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.
Joker was an incorrigible fiscalizer. He loved to tilt the 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 share his belief.
Fellow member of the Senate’s Wednesday Club
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.
Joker Arroyo loved a good fight – and never runs away from it. He served his country right. And he deserved a big “Thank You” from all of us.
He rose to the occasion when standing up to what is right and just was becoming a hazardous job. He always chose his country over friendship and personal ties. But sometimes, Joker Arroyo could be a loyal friend to a fault.
But this is where the magnificence of the man lies. He will stick by your side no matter what.
Joker stood by his beliefs with the tenacity of a wild bear. To understand Joker is to understand the wind and the mist.
He was always the maverick.
Former Senator Francis Pangilinan
Fellow member of the Senate’s Wednesday Club
We were together in the Senate for 12 years. As the second youngest senator in 2001, I looked to Senator Joker our mentor, our Yoda. For over a decade we were known as and part of the Wednesday Club with Senator Joker as our wise, thoughtful leader. He was very protective of us younger senators and watched over us with eagle eyes.
Truly a worthy ally. Matindi na kakampi, mahirap na kaaway. It was a privilege to have fought a number of political battles by his side. I remember his words when I was a neophyte senator which I have kept to heart until this day, “Brod, never lose the moral high ground.”
I will also never forget how truly a joker he was on the senate floor. His sense of humor and his sharp wit were legendary and I was truly privileged to have seen him in action.
Looked to Senator Joker as our mentor, our Yoda.
Senate President Franklin Drilon
His fellow Cabinet member during the Corazon Aquino administration
I have worked with Senator Joker Arroyo both in the Cabinet and in the Senate and I have always known him to be a brilliant lawyer, as somebody who takes strong advocacies. Here in the Senate, he was one of the most frugal. He was very conscious that he was in public service and he was very careful with the way he projected himself. So it’s a loss for the country.
Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile
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.
During our stint in the Senate...every part of our working together has been memorable to me. He has been on the other side of the fence. We were both, during the Marcos years. I was in government and he was very active in the opposition. He was lawyering for many of those that were opposing the martial law regime. Nevertheless, we remained good friends.
Deputy Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III
We'll be missing a very good public servant and a very good debater. He will now debate with a far greater august body.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada
I will forever cherish fond memories of him, including his banters and witty remarks before the start of the plenary sessions and even during legislative deliberations on the floor. I am truly fortunate to have worked with a brilliant mind like Senator Arroyo, a seasoned legislator, topnotch human rights lawyer, in the Senate. The entire nation is deeply honored and thankful for his honest and principled service to the Filipino people.
Senator Pia Cayetano
More than a colleague, he was a mentor to me for 9 years, and my seat mate for 3 years in the 15th Congress (2010-2013). I looked up to him for his wisdom as a seasoned lawyer and legislator, who always spoke with eloquence and humor. On the side, he would share his observations and political analysis of events with me, reminding me to always observe people and events closely to get a better understanding of a political issue.
He truly lived up to his name. He would often make jokes about us, his colleagues, and was one of the few who could get away with his catty, on-the-spot remarks directed at his colleagues.
When I entered the session hall today, I could almost feel his presence. His contributions to the richness of Philippine legislation will be carried in the journals and records of Congress, and will influence policies for future generations.
I was privileged to know him and to learn from one of the best. I will treasure his friendship and memory forever.
Senator Francis Escudero
Fellow Bicolano lawmaker
Senator Joker Arroyo will always be known as among the pioneers and champion of human rights advocacy and a freedom fighter. He defended and handled human rights cases.
Together with the freedom-loving Filipinos, we express the gratitude of the Filipino nation for his sacrifices and those of his family members offered to make a better Philippines.
We cannot repay his sincerity, courage, and fortitude and strength amid challenges he had encountered while serving the parliament of the streets and the halls of Congress and Senate.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr
Son of the dictator whom Arroyo fought as a lawyer
I am deeply saddened by the tragic news of Joker Arroyo’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. My prayers and thoughts are with his family as they suffer through this great loss.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara
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."
Senator Teofisto Guingona III
I extend my deepest condolences to the family of the late Senator Joker Arroyo for the loss of a loving father. I also condole with the nation for the loss of a staunch advocate for good governance that our country truly deserves.
I share this pain because, more than a colleague, Senator Joker was a comrade in the battle against corruption in public office as we both sat as chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee. Having known and worked alongside Senator Arroyo is truly a privilege and this country will never be the same without a man of honor and integrity such as Senator Joker Arroyo.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago
I am honored to have served alongside Senator Joker Arroyo. May he find well-deserved rest.
Finally, former Senator Rene Saguisag – Arroyo's fellow human rights lawyer and anti-martial activist – have the most beautiful tribute. He said Arroyo's death should be a reminder to voters that here is the "gold standard" by which they should measure the candidates in the coming elections.
Joker P. Arroyo was a towering figure we idolized from afar when martial law came. Gone he was last Monday. At 88, but he could have passed for 68, in his Second Adolescence.
He was up there in 1971 when my Dulce and I came home. We neophytes were uhugin-may-gatas-pa-sa-labigofers of the veteran de campanas and Joker made us see that UP did not stand for Useless People (like Marcos, and that's putting it mildly). Errr, Useful People, I'd tell my UP alum wife.
I was not to meet Joker until 1978, in connection with the Laban campaign, which Sen. Lorenzo Tanada labelled a "mad adventure.” Uncle Jovy Salonga headed a group of like-minded dissidents in the Resistance Movement meeting regularly, raising the foolish questions of the day.
My friendship with Joker was casual at that time. Acquaintanceship, more like.
And then in the 1981 Light-a-Fire trial in Camp Aguinaldo, he was mesmerized on hearing me, a San Beda English Major, use "transmogrify." Hooked, he treated us to late lunch and became a fan, probably not having heard the term in Ateneo and UP, ha, ha.
He and Bobbit Sanchez, MABINI first chair, with the latter's expense account from the Garcias of Chemphil, were the only members who could afford to feed us, struggling pro bono (puro abono) lawyers (abonado, not abogado). Joker resided then in Dasma, a plutocratic enclave of Good Filipinos, reminiscent of the Good Germans of Hitler. A US official supposedly characterized us in the early ‘80s as a nation of 40,000,000 cowards and one SOB. And one B, I'd add.
Last we met was early this year in a coffee shop in Forbes. just before I was to have dinner at the home of Brit Ambassador, to welcome Mark Malloch Brown of Smartmatic, who I trust as a friend of the Filipino people, given his role in 1985-86. Earlier, in January this year. Joker and I defended Makati Mayor Junjun Binay from a Senate arrest order. We got Mayor JunJun out in hours.
Dating tagapangulo si Joker ng Lupon ng Lasong Bugaw and knew, as
such Blue Ribbon panel chair, that a resource person is entitled to an advance list of questions, per the Supreme Court. (For my part, I told Senators Koko Pimentel and Sonny Trillanes that a resource person has a right not to speak. The praxis in the US is to work out immunity a priori. Here it is inquisitorial.)
Joker handled the most number of human rights cases, more than anyone else. And the thriftiest Senator who refused to accept pork barrel (here we differed, pork is not toxic per se. We prudently used ours in our time and pork continues in the US.)
But, no superlatives can reduce the pain of a great unsayable irreplaceable loss. Fely, we share your pain. We, and countless grateful others, legion, loved Joker, and always will.
The Republic owes him. So do the Aquinos. This millennium may have been problematic but, judged by his best, we can see why candidate Cory picked Joker (and me) to accompany her in filing her certificate of candidacy in the Comelec on December 3, 1985, and why Prez Cory picked him as her first Executive Secretary; he, as Little Prez, took bullets to shield her.
Joker and I were accidental public servants serving a providential president.
When Joker and I hesitated on February 25, 1986 to join her Cabinet, we got an earful on how we had asked her to run only for us to leave her when earlier there had been two oath-takings. Two Presidents. A recipe for trouble. We soldiered on for Cory and Country.
When darling Dulce had her breast cancer operation in 1997, Joker was generous with his financial support, and again in 2007, when I lost her. He stood as a sponsor when our eldest son, Atty. Rebo, married Jackie (now a Makati Metropolitan Court Judge).
Joker and I were more than brothers in a band of human rights brothers and sisters.
When we differed on the unconstitutional ouster of Erap, as I perceived it, our respect for each other remained, at a time I was getting hammered, pummelled and pilloried from pillar to post.
Indeed, when you laugh, the whole world laughs with you. But, you weep alone. Joker walked and wept with me.
Goodbye, my all-weather friend and brother.
I feel orphaned. As the song goes, “now the joker has the laugh on me…. I’ll be dealing the time away with solitaire.”
Joker is the gold standard in picking Senators next year. With all due respect, the boxer with humongous tax issues, who competes for Top House Absentee, preaches, hosts TV shows, faces many suits in the U.S.,etc. does not meet the test. He should run for Sarangani guv.
Para sa bayan, di sa sarili.