My all-weather friend


Joker was a towering figure we idolized from afar when martial law came.

He was up there. We were uhugin – may gatas pa sa labi – gofers 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).

I was not to meet Joker until 1978, in connection with the 1978 Laban campaign.
Uncle Jovy Salonga headed a group of like-minded dissidents in the Resistance Movement meeting regularly.

Our friendship was casual at the 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.” 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 (Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism) chairman, 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).

Last we met was in January this year when we defended Mayor Junjun Binay from a
Senate arrest order. We got Junjun out in hours.

Dating tagapangulo si Joker ng Lupon ng Lasong Bugaw and knew that a resource person is entitled to an advance list of questions, per the Supreme Court. (I told Senators Koko Pimentel and Sonny Trillanes that a resource person has a right not to speak. The praxis in the US was to work out immunity a priori. Non-inquisitorial otherwise.)

Joker handled the most number of human rights cases, more than anyone else. And the thriftiest Senator who refused to accept pork barrel.

But no superlatives can reduce the pain of a great unsayable irreplaceable loss.
Fely, we share your pain. We 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 him (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, and he took bullets to shield her as Little Prez.

When 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.

We were more than brothers in a band of human rights brothers and sisters.

When we differed on the unconstitutional ouster of Erap, our respect for each other remained, at a time I was getting hammered, pummeled and pilloried from pillar to post.

Goodbye, my all-weather friend and brother.


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  1. Imagine if Joker Arroyo became President of the Republic of the Philippines. The most frugal senator ever. Such a great loss. R.I.P. Sir.

  2. Oldandcurious on

    A personal experience affirmed in me that the late Sen. Joker Arroyo does take his mantle of being a public servant quite seriously. In the early 90s, Joker Arroyo was a Representative of Makati. When a fax machine was more common at that time, I sent a letter to his office seeking assistance on illegally parked buses and trucks on a residential street in Makati where I used to live. It was a pleasant surprise to receive a handwritten note, a reply from the late Senator.

    This is similar to receiving a signed copy of the speech you delivered on the debate on removing the US military bases from our soil. Or, for being invited for a chat and lunch by the former Senate President Nene Pimentel just after President Estrada stepped out of Malacanang. When I asked him what law was used to swear in former President Gloria Arroyo, his candid reply was, “the law of necessity.” This was to avert a mob rule.

    The point is, looking back proves to be quite depressing when one observes the kind of Senators and Congressmen we now elect. Reading through the comment sections of online news portals, the remarks are just as depressing. Name-calling has replaced debate on ideas. The substance of democracy nowadays – the elected and the electorate – has been reduced to the gutter exchange of inanities.

    I used to think we as a country is slipping down the slope of a dysfunctional political and cultural system. Now? I am convinced. Even a Student Council is better than the one we have in the Palace.

    Rest in peace Joker.

  3. You did not touch on his stand against Corona impeachment. This was what I admired most about him. I thought that he would have followed what Aquino wants and for that he deserved my utmost respect.