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Remembering Joker Arroyo

12:08 AM January 05, 2016

TODAY IS the 89th birthday of the late Sen. Joker Arroyo. He died on Oct. 5, 2015, in the United States from post-operation complications.

Following his wishes, no necrological ceremonies in his honor were held in the Senate where he served as senator from 2001 to 2013, or in the House of Representatives where he represented the first district of Makati City from 1992 to 2001.

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His remains were quietly brought back to the country and buried without fanfare. That was vintage Arroyo. He worked unobtrusively and shunned publicity. He went to the media only when he felt there were issues that the public should know or be made aware of.

He was the most frugal congressman and senator. Unlike his colleagues who surrounded themselves with assistants, he was his own receptionist, secretary and media relations officer. He wrote his press releases and personally called the reporters to give them copies or to dictate them over the phone.

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His only concession to the perks of his office was a driver who doubled as messenger. Despite these self-induced “limitations,” however, he ably performed his duties and responsibilities as lawmaker.

As congressman, he drew public attention for his skillful handling, as lead congressman-prosecutor, of the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada in 2000.

Although the trial was overtaken by events that led to Estrada’s ouster, the manner and timing of the presentation of evidence against him were Arroyo’s handiwork.

In a media interview, Arroyo said his performance in the Estrada trial was his ticket to the Senate. With its proceedings aired on nationwide radio and television, he became a household name that resulted in his election (and later reelection) to the Senate.

In the Senate, Arroyo was not beholden to any political party, including the party he was aligned with during the elections. He criticized President Benigno Aquino, son of the late President Cory Aquino whom Arroyo served as executive secretary, when he felt the younger Aquino’s actions were ill-advised or unlawful.

When then Chief Justice Renato Corona was undergoing impeachment trial in the Senate in 2011, Arroyo did not mince words in taking the congressmen-prosecutors to task for their inept and sloppy handling of the case. Defying pressure from Malacañang, Arroyo voted against Corona’s removal and described the proceedings as a mockery of the Constitution.

Although Arroyo’s legislative record is exemplary, it is his service to the nation during the dark days of authoritarian rule that he will be best remembered.

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When then President Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and arrogated to himself all the powers of government, Arroyo, together with, among others, former senator Rene Saguisag and former labor secretary Augusto Sanchez, defended the people the administration accused of and arrested for subversive activities.

Arroyo and his fellow human rights lawyers fought an uphill battle. Ranged against the resources of government, they were in a no-win situation—the president laid down the law, the Metrocom (then the chief law enforcement arm of the regime) executed it, and the Supreme Court assented without complaint.

Before martial law, Arroyo had a flourishing law practice. He could have, like what many other similarly situated lawyers did, adjusted to the situation and played ball with the administration.

There would have been no shame in doing that because even the so-called national organization of lawyers, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, unashamedly allowed itself to be an instrument of the martial law government. And it paid well for its officers.

No, he chose to stand by his principles and fight the martial law regime in the courtroom whenever the opportunity presented itself even if the judiciary had already been co-opted by Malacañang, and in the streets to denounce the abuses of the conjugal dictatorship.

For the journalists of the “mosquito” media who earned the ire of the martial law administrators for their honest reporting of events, Arroyo was quick to offer his services to defend them (free of charge) from libel and subversion charges. He was the go-to lawyer for the small band of media practitioners who remained true to their profession.

After the Marcoses were kicked out of power by the People Power Revolution in 1986, there was no going back to private life and law practice for Arroyo. Upon the insistent request of newly installed President Cory Aquino who “chided” him for not wanting to serve in her administration when he was one of those who pushed her into challenging the conjugal dictatorship, Arroyo served as her executive secretary.

He held that office for just over a year as he was forced to resign for political reasons. In the short period, he played a significant role in, among others, the revamp of the Supreme Court, the promulgation of the Freedom Constitution and the convening of the constitutional commission that drafted the present Constitution.

Arroyo was not the typical back-slapping politician of today who tailors his actions depending on what would serve his personal interests or future political plans. He kept faith with the principles he believed in regardless of who held the seat of power.

His accomplishments validate the saying that great men and women are shaped by the times they lived. He served our country with distinction.

Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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