My Joker Arroyo

posted October 14, 2015 at 12:01 am
by Tony Lopez

On May 29, 2012, Senator Joker Arroyo stood on the floor of the Senate, then assembled as an impeachment court trying the sitting chief justice, Renato Corona.

“Impeachment is a political process, not a political assassination,” Arroyo began his 450-word speech.   “An impeachment aspires to be a judicial proceeding that makes imperative that it stick to  judicial rules. An impeachment must ever uphold the due process that no citizen, high or low, can be denied. That is why we wear judicial robes as you see them, to listen, to ponder and decide like judges according to law.”

“The Senate is being asked to remove the Chief Justice from office all because he submitted an allegedly erroneous SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth). The Senate trial could be as close to a criminal proceeding in a court of law as non-lawyers can approximate thus far, as all the great authorities agreed. What has happened is the passage of that to which the Senate President once warned—that we were veering close to a bill of attainder,” Joker lectured his Senate colleagues.

“A bill of attainder is a law passed by one house and approved by the other creating an offense where there was none, inventing a crime out of actions, willful or not, that were innocent when they were performed. It is a legislative act of convicting an accused of acts that were not offenses in the very measure by which he is condemned through a vote instead of a trial on the basis of accusations taken as proof,” Joker explained.  

He fumed: “We are one step from violating the Constitution and passing a bill of attainder. No one can stop us if we do not stop ourselves. This is not justice, political or legal. This is certainly not law. For sure, this is certainly not the law and the Constitution; this is only naked power as it was in 1972.”

Joker voted to acquit Rene Corona. “I have not thought that I would see it (naked power) again so brazenly performed, but for whatever it is worth, I cast my vote, if not for innocence falsely accused of offenses yet to exist and if not for the law and the Constitution that we were privileged to restore under Cory Aquino then because it is dangerous not to do what is right when soon we shall stand before the Lord,” Joker explained.

Joker was one of only three senators who voted to acquit Corona; the two others were Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.   

Later, it would be discovered that most of the 20 senators who voted to oust the chief justice were given bribe money, P50 million each, by President BS Aquino III, mastermind of the ouster move. In September 2010, Joker dismissed BS Aquino’s 81-day administration as “a student government” because of its mistakes and incompetence.   The monicker stuck like a leech and an awful augury.

Joker Arroyo died on  Oct. 5, 2015 in San Francisco, California following a failed heart surgery.     He was 88.   He was a man who always tried to do the right thing, despite the odds, because he knew he would have to acquit himself before the Lord later on.   That date came last Oct. 5, Monday in the USA.

As a foreign correspondent during the martial law years, I covered Joker Arroyo.   

Together with legendary lawyers Lorenzo Tañada and Jose W. Diokno,   Joker questioned Ferdinand Marcos’s 1972 martial law before the Supreme Court.   They lost, of course, because the high court considered martial law a political question beyond its reach and also because Marcos imposed a 1973 Constitution that legitimized his every action and allowed him to continue legislating by decree.   

The SC’s political question ruling would later be reversed in the 1987 Constitution which created the concept of “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.”     Today, anything can be questioned before the Supreme Court, including perhaps the price, size and composition of the lowly pandesal. 

And to stop a powerful but venal president, the 1987 charter has a “the armed forces is protector of the people” provision that allows the military to overthrow a sitting president.   It was used seven times, unsuccessfully, against Cory Aquino and once, successfully, against Joseph Estrada.

Joker also defended opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. before the military tribunal.   Ninoy was charged with rebellion, illegal possession of firearms, and murder.   In November 1977, the tribunal convicted him to die by musketry.   The Supreme Court affirmed   the conviction—an act that signaled the military to do whatever it pleased with the charismatic leader. Ninoy was murdered in 1983, by the military.

In 1986, I visited Joker in his first few weeks at the Malacañang Guest House, where President Cory Aquino and he, as her executive secretary, were holding office.   

He was amused with the pink color of the Imelda-era bathtub in one of the guest rooms.   He converted the bathtub into a horizontal open filing cabinet where he threw precious presidential papers willy nilly.   Other papers were fed into a shredder, without Joker taking a look at them.   He saved Cory from the tedious minutiae of paperwork, even before many of the papers could be read by the President. “She wouldn’t understand them, anyway,” Joker grinned.

When I won the TOYM for international journalism in August 1986, Joker was one of the first to call and congratulate me. He flattered me by saying that of that batch of eight awardees, “you are probably the only one qualified to get the award.”     He was amazed and aghast that: a lawyer from the south won the award for human rights “when I never even encountered him in my work [as a human rights lawyer].” A rebellious army colonel was awarded for military science.  A corporate lawyer got the plum for another profession.

I always invited Joker to attend the annual anniversary events of my BizNewsAsia magazine.   Each time he would fax a congratulatory note, in his handwriting, and place a call to express amusement for my having monopolized all the important positions in my magazine—founder, chairman, president and editor-in-chief.

Joker really hated naked power.


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Topics: Tony Lopez , Joker Arroyo
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