Former senator Joker Arroyo–a key figure in the anti-Marcos movement–has died while reportedly undergoing open heart surgery in the United States. He was 88 years old.
The family is yet to issue an official statement confirming Arroyo’s death but several incumbent and former senators have already issued reactions.
It was former senator and The Manila Times columnist Rene A.V. Saguisag who said Arroyo had an unsuccessful heart surgery in the US.
Saguisag told radio station dzBB that he did not know that Arroyo was brought to the US.
“Nabasa ko sa emails ko, hindi nag-succeed ‘yung heart operation… Medyo mahirap paniwalaan, napakalakas, young-looking. It was a shocker [I read in my email that his heart operation did not succeed. It’s quite unbelievable. He was robust and young-looking. It was a shocker],” Saguisag said.
Saguisag and Arroyo served as legal counsels of suspended Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr. after he was arrested by members of the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms on orders of the Senate blue ribbon sub-committee last January.
Like Saguisag and Arroyo, Mayor Binay’s father–Vice President Jejomar Binay–was a member of the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism (Mabini), a prominent human rights lawyers’ group during the martial law period.
A Times source said Arroyo’s remains would be cremated in the US before they are brought to the Philippines.
“[His ashes] will be brought home this weekend but [his]request [is]not to make it public,” the source said as she referred to Arroyo as lolo (grandfather) as how his friends would call him.
Arroyo was one of the key figures in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
Rumors about Arroyo’s death have been circulating in the media since Monday.
The Times made calls to Arroyo’s former aides and associates but none was willing to neither confirm nor deny the rumors.
Arroyo, a human rights lawyer, served as member of the Philippine Senate for two consecutive terms in 2001 and 2007 before he quit politics in 2013.
He also served as congressman of Makati City (Metro Manila) for nine years and as executive secretary of then-President Corazon Aquino.
Arroyo was born on January 5, 1927 in Naga, Camarines Sur, where he finished his primary and secondary education before getting a scholarship at the University of the Philippines.
A graduate of the UP College of Law and the Ateneo de Manila, he earned public recognition when he challenged before the Supreme Court (SC) the constitutionality of Proclamation 1081 imposing martial law.
Based on his Senate profile, Arroyo handled more human rights cases than any other lawyer from 1972 to 1986.
He defended various political detainees including former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Eugenio Lopez Jr., Sen. Sergio Osmeña 3rd, Communist Party of the Philippines founder and chairman Jose Ma. Sison, former Senate President Jovito Salonga, former senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Eva Estrada Kalaw, Renato Tañada, Eduardo Olaguer and many others.
He was also the lead prosecutor during the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada in December 2000.
Arroyo has been married twice.
His first wife is Gregg Shoes entrepreneur Odelia Gregorio.
Their eldest daughter is Ma. Antonia Odelia “Maoi” Gregorio Arroyo, CEO of Hybridigm Consulting, the first biotechnology commercialization firm in the Philippines.
His second daughter, Ma. Zef Francisca “Baba” Arroyo, is an entrepreneur, artist and pastry chef.
Arroyo’s second wife is lawyer Felicitas Aquino, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.
Their daughter is Joker’s namesake and a champion equestrian, whose career highlights include a team gold medal for the Philippines at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.
Vice President Binay said Arroyo’s death was a “personal loss.”
“The nation has lost a patriot and a true Filipino. I have lost a dear friend, a mentor and a brother,” he noted in a statement.
Former senator Heherson Alvarez, founder of the Ninoy Aquino Movement, said Arroyo “was a giant man in a very challenging era of our history.”
“His death is a great loss but his life remains a great inspiration,” he added.
”In our next Wednesday Group dinner, we will raise a glass to you,” Sen. Ralph Recto said in a statement.
Arroyo and Recto were members of the now defunct Wednesday Group that also included former senators Manuel Villar, Manuel “Noli” de Castro and Francis Pangilinan.
”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,” Recto said.
”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,” he added.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara posted his reaction on Twitter: “RIP ex Senator Joker Arroyo, Dios Mabalos [goodbye].”
”For the younger generation who may not be aware of Sen. 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,” Angara said also in a statement.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said “that’s terrible news” upon learning of Arroyo’s death from the media.
Later, Marcos issued a statement to express his condolences to the bereaved family of Arroyo.
”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,” he said.
Acting Makati Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña acknowledged Arroyo as among the pillars of the city’s transformation into a thriving financial center.
“[Makati City] and its people have lost an outstanding public servant whose invaluable contributions, as a lawmaker and freedom fighter, have earned him their eternal gratitude and respect,” Peña said.
Among Arroyo’s contribution in Makati were its attainment of cityhood in 1995, and the subsequent creation of its second district. With MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO and PNA