Remembering Joker

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

When I wrote my column “Joker Arroyo, Thank You,” I related a story that begun on the night Marcos was finally deposed by People Power on Feb. 25, 1986. During a gathering of several people, in a house inside Wack Wack where President Cory had been staying, she announced that Joker Arroyo would be her Executive Secretary. Joker later called me to his side and told me to report to him the following day.

Joker was one of a group of extraordinary people working together in the Office of the President under Cory Aquino. Another one  was Rene Saguisag who sent me an e-mail about that same event and  his reaction to my column. Here is his message :

“ On Feb. 26, 1986 between four and five pm, President Cory told Joker and me, in Wack Wack, ‘Joker, you’ll be my Executive Secretary. Rene, you will continue to be my spokesperson [ Rene Saguisag had been the official spokesperson of Corazon Aquino during her presidential campaign against Marcos].

Joker and I had planned to return to and focus on lawyering and had not seen ourselves in government. Silence, I looked down at my shoes a loooong time thinking of the family I had neglected all those years, surviving cuz of Dulce. [ Rene’s wife].

Nakaupo, nagalboroto ang ale. ‘Kayo kasama sa mga nagsabi akong tumakbo, ngayong kailangan ko ang tulong niyo , iiwanan nyo ako.....’ So, thereby we became accidental Public Servants assisting a Providential President. Teddy Boy [ Locsin} was another non-politician.

Joker handed to me my signed Supreme Court appointment in late January 1987 which I quickly turned down. Public service was its own reward, so I quickly turned down other offers, including President Cory’s joke that I’d better tell her what color I would want to repaint  Arlegui [ the residence of Corazon Aquino  during her tenure as President] to, against the day I’d succeed her. A Woman Joker.

I stepped down with Cory in 1992. [ Saguisag served in the Senate from 1987 to 1992] Joker and Teddy Boy continued in Congress for several terms. Non-pols he, ha, ha. But Makati and the nation are the better for their stints in the House and the Senate. Yup. TYTYTYTY, Joker.”

My own association with Joker spanned 29 years. I began as his staff assistant; then as Head of the Presidential Management Staff; and, then as his campaign manager during his two campaigns for the Senate. During that period, I had the chance to meet most of his closest circle of friends. Joker liked private dinners and was especially fond of Chinese cuisine. During one time we had to stay in Malacanang for a week, because of a coup attempt, I had to arrange with friends to send Chinese dinners to us smuggled through the different checkpoints.

Among his closest confidantes was a group of human rights lawyers who had organized during the martial law era, to defend political prisoners and to engage in political movements. This group of then young, idealistic and fearless lawyers included Joker Arroyo, Rene Saguisag, Fulgencio “ Jun” Factoran, Augusto “ Bobit” Sanchez, and Jejomar “ Jojo” Binay.

Eventually, all of them ended up working in the Cory Aquino government. Joker became Executive Secretary and then Senator; Rene became Presidential Spokesman and then Senator; Jun became Deputy Executive Secretary and then Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources; Bobit became Secretary of Labor; and, Jojo became mayor of Makati.

The group was formally incorporated in 1981 and have become well known for their acronym – the MABINI lawyers.  Their name was inspired by Apolinario Mabini, the lawyer of the Philippine Revolution.

Another circle of close friends of Joker were his “brods” in the UPSILON Fraternity of the University of the Philippines. In 1948, a group of six pre-law classmates at the Ateneo transferred to the College of Law at UP-Diliman. Two of them, Joker Arroyo and Augusto “Jake” Almeda-Lopez joined  UPSILON. By a strange twist of fate, I would later work for both of them at different periods of my life.

After graduating from the Asian Institute of Management in 1970, my first job was to work as executive assistant for Jake Almeda-Lopez who was then General Manager of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Company. Many years later I would start my government stint as staff assistant of Joker Arroyo in Malacanang.

Many of the closest friends of Joker, throughout his life, were those UPSILON brods whom I met during some of their dinner gatherings. One of them was Catalino Macaraig who became Deputy Executive Secretary and later Executive Secretary after Joker resigned. Another one always present at all their gatherings was Pons Mathay. By a strange coincidence, the Grand Archon of the UPSILON when Joker was in UP was Gerry Roxas.  During Joker’s Senatorial campaigns I discovered I could always rely on their fraternity network.

He was also very close to the members of the group called WOMEN in MEDIA. These were the female journalists who banded together during the martial law days because they were always being harassed for their views. Under the Marcos martial law, there was no freedom of the press.  The MABINI lawyers became their constant pro bono legal defenders during that period.

Remembering Joker’s life, I am reminded of Longfellow’s poem:

Lives of great men remind us / We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing leave behind us/ Footprints on the sands of time.

Farewell Joker. We will never forget.

Where the Write Things Are’s Class for Kids and Teens

Write Away! Weekend: Flash Fiction Writing with Gabriela Lee on October 24 (1-4pm) at the Canadian American School Alphaland Makati Place. Ms. Lee is a writer who teaches at UP Diliman. For registration and fee details contact 0917-6240196 / [email protected].

Email: [email protected].

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