Joker remembered
Joker remembered
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2016 - 9:00am

I was out of the country when Joker Arroyo passed away, so I was not able to write a simple tribute to a man I admired.

Last Tuesday, I was at the Philippine Red Cross Tower in Mandaluyong to witness the turnover of an ambulance donated to the humanitarian organization by Joseph Lederer, president of DB Shenker Germany. The donation had been facilitated by Joker, an Upsilonian belonging to Batch 1948. In recognition and appreciation of his effort, PRC Chair Dick Gordon had the turnover done on the late senator’s birth date. In attendance was his widow, the brilliant lawyer Felicitas Arroyo, and their daughter, gold medalist equestrienne Joker Arroyo Jr.

That evening, Upsilonians who had known Joker, were treated by Dick (Batch 68) at the Tower’s windy penthouse. Some of the Upsilonians who were present during the party were  Upsilon Sigma Phi Alumni Association president Jesse Andres, UPAA chairman Ray Orozco, UPAA president Mon Maronilla, Philippine Red Cross Gov. Saeed Daof, Bill Agustin, Dean Danny Concepcion, Judge Federico Alikpala, Christian Monsod, Dean Tony Abad, Gari Tiongco, Gen. Greg Catapang, Louie Pawid, Dr. Bob Arroyo, Deo de la Cerna and Congressman Felix Fuentebella III. 

When deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1081 which placed the entire Philippines under martial rule, Joker was one of the first lawyers to challenge its legality before the Supreme Court. He handled more human rights cases than any other lawyer from 1972 to 1986. Like Rene Saguisag, Haydee Yorac, Jejomar Binay and Frank Chavez, he defended media people in libel suits filed by Marcos’ minions.

After the EDSA People Power Revolution, Joker was appointed by President Cory Aquino as Executive Secretary, then chair of the Philippine National Bank and executive director for the Philippines in the Asian Development Bank.

Former banker Nitz Robles has a collection of  some of my columns and one of them is on Joker. I’m reprinting portions of it, to show the heady, tempestuous years in Malacanang when some of President Cory’s cabinet members were at odds with one another, and, unfortunately, begot Joker’s falling out with her. The column’s setting is a restaurant sometime in 1987 (sorry, the date has not been kept by Nitz), just after his falling out with the President.

“Joker is in a dark T-shirt, his cheeks a bit fluffy, white and-pepper hair wavy, and looking distracted time and again. It’s difficult, I guess, for a man who has walked in the corridors of power, who has walked with the President, not to let on the deepening despair that envelopes someone who has, or is being reduced, to the status of an ordinary citizen like you and me.

“One of the four columnists invited to the dinner who still believes in Cory’s greatness and cherishes Joker’s friendship, asks what his plans are, and, getting no reply, mutters, over her Hennessey XO (which Joker brought along with a bottle of Dom Perignon), ‘It doesn’t matter what you do; you are already a star, you will always be a star.’ Comforting words. But are they, to a former human rights lawyer who has suddenly been mercilessly stripped of his precious – and envied – connection to the Chief Executive?

“As dinners among intimate friends go, the conversation at the table is made in confidence, for background, for headline stories that need to be checked out. There is talk of developments that make one wonder about the President’s credibility, about the real motives of the people around her, about things that should have been done to keep the government machinery in good working condition.

“Despite those worrisome stories, no one at the table gets the impression that Joker is bitter with the President, or that he is angry, or that he sees in her a weak leader. One columnist, a dyed-in-the wool Cory critic, tries to needle Joker into admitting that all is lost for this nation. Joker cannot be snared in her trap. When for instance another columnist asks him, ‘What should we do?’ he simply replies, eyes unsmiling, ‘Let’s wait and see.’

“But there are lively, printable vignettes out of which blazing stories can be made: Joker believes (as he did two years ago) that Cory will run for re-election; that the winning combination will be Cory-Fidel Ramos. That he has a hot line to Cory is a myth (he didn’t go to Arlegui for private conversations with her), nor have they burned the wires at night. People told her what Joker thought about issues on hand, and she listened.

“There is that long, space-worthy comparison Joker makes between the cause-oriented groups during Marcos’ time and the cause-oriented groups now. The clawing at Joker’s clout more than two years ago, and its complete demolition recently may in fact have been prevented had the cause-oriented groups (of the Marcos period) and who had been placed in the judiciary, legislative and executive branches of government, spoken on his behalf. When Joker was exposing the ‘treasonable’ acts of businessmen, the cause-oriented could very well have come to his support, and cried for the immolation of his detractors, but they didn’t. Joker ceased to be Executive Secretary, and with the Petroscam expose, with only a handful coming to his support, he has been removed as PNB chair and ADB director.

“People he might have helped get jobs could have helped in more ways than saying in private, “Kawawa naman si Joker.” The “other” side did the opposite – the other side being the Council of Trent that stayed together in times of tribulation, in times when one of them needed their support. If, for instance, says Joker, a Trent-placed Cabinet member was at odds with another Trent cabinet member, they criticized each other, but neither one worked to strip one out of his job.

“There is heartwarming reference during the night, to government officials doing their job. That Congressman Junior de Guzman has been meted a 17-year prison term speaks of the efforts of legislators desirous of cleansing their ranks. The Senate inquiry into the Petroscam has shown that some senators have the humility to admit that they know nothing about foreign investments, and others are determined to nail down people in the executive branch showing signs of deceiving the government.

“The small party breaks up soon after midnight. All run to our cars, Joker to his, which whisks him off in the wink of an eye, followed by another car full of body guards. The columnist riding with me says, ‘General Lim must have told Joker to have bodyguards. He’s making a lot of people angry because of his exposes.’

‘’We drive into the night without stars, our one shining star having disappeared in the dark.”

 (Joker went into private practice, and continued to handle human rights cases for free. He was elected congressman of Makati for the 1992-2001 term, and senator in 2001-2013. In Congress he never used his pork barrel funds, and worked in his own private office. Born Jan. 5, 1927, he died on Oct. 5, 2015 in a hospital in the United States.)

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