CHICAGO – Joker Arroyo was one of the hundreds of lawyers appearing three decades ago at the Regional Trial Courts of Makati City housed in what is now the imposing, if not controversial, Makati City Hall Building II.
But what caught my attention to Arroyo was that he was the only lawyer who appeared in court without notes.
Arroyo was always seen in the company of the two other human rights lawyers Rene Saguisag and Jojo Binay, whom I called “Three Musketeers” fighting the well-entrenched Marcos dictatorship.
I came to know that Joker was from my home region of Bikol when he tapped my shoulder, “Noy (a term of endearment for teenaged males in Bikol), Madya na mag-kakan kita (Let’s have lunch).”
Surprised, I told him, “Why me? My stories about your prowess in court had no place in the Manila Bulletin?”
During martial law, no matter how good a story I submitted to the Bulletin desk was, it never saw print. The Bulletin was one of the three daily newspapers that had the imprimatur of the martial law government to be published. The others were the Philippines Daily Express and the Times Journal. Under the circumstances, the Bulletin could not come out with stories critical of the Marcos martial-law regime.
“It’s fine, let’s have lunch anyway,” Joker said as we walked to a turo-turo restaurant, where customers pointed to delicacies of their choice placed inside glass-encased panels. It was being patronized by lowly paid workers.
That was the first and only time I had a close-up look and personal conversation with Arroyo, who died last Monday (Oct. 6) of heart attack. He was 88. That conversation was memorable because Arroyo was able to predict the end of the Marcos martial law regime. He predicted it less than four years before the Marcos martial law government came crashing down.
I was having some misgivings about his prediction though at the time because there was no compelling reason to cause the fall. Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was still in jail in the heavily guarded stockade in Fort Bonifacio, which is now part of the glitzy Global City.
I apologized to Joker that although I always wrote about his court exploits when he won human rights cases one after the other, the Bulletin had not carried them. “I understand,” he told me, “your newspaper just wants to survive. But what is important is that we remain friends.”
Most of the cases Arroyo handled, along with Saguisag and Binay, were filed by the Marcos government against alleged violators of the now outlawed Anti-Subversion Laws, mostly suspected members and sympathizers of Maoist’s New People’s Army (NPA).
Because of the numerous cases he handled, Arroyo must have already memorized all the laws and arguments pro and against his clients, and he did not find a need to carry any notes or an attaché case.
Among the cases I covered in the Makati Regional Trial Court were the graft cases filed against Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, who was accused of corruption for the questionable acquisition of Sikorsky helicopters, and the annulment of the marriage of Ms. Imee Marcos to popular golfer Tommy Manotoc. The judges hearing the cases were so intimidated by the Marcos government that the clerks of court gave me every reason in the book to deny me access to the records.
I don’t know but I had a feeling that even if the clerks of court had given me access to the files of Enrile and Manotoc cases, my stories would have ended up in the trash. Even if I was denied access to the records, I still considered it part of my job because I got paid even without submitting a story.
Although, I was the only reporter covering the cases because my colleagues from the Express and the Journal did not give a damn to cover them, I ended up cheering up and bonding with Arroyo, Saguisag and Binay.
At one time I saw Mr. Binay wandering in the Makati Justice Hall holding a tattered attaché case. I approached him from behind and hit his butt with my open palm so hard it caused him to turn around. And I shouted at him, “Mayor.” I was probably the first one to anoint him the next mayor of Makati at the time. And a surprised but very pleased Binay could only mutter, “Bagay ba? Bagay ba?” (Do I measure up?)
Before I came to America, I tried to seek audience with Binay, who was later appointed by President Cory Aquino as officer-in-charge of the Makati government. But for some reason, Binay never got the chance to notice me as he was animatedly talking to an award-winning journalist, the late Joe Burgos of Manila Times.
I would have wanted to tell Binay “I told you so” that he would become mayor of Makati someday.
Arroyo later became Executive Secretary to President Cory. He was a fellow Bikolano, a freedom fighter and civil rights advocate. When he was a senator, he never touched his pork barrel with a 10-foot pole that snared three other senators to jail.
I can only say, Goodbye, Joker. Thank you for fighting and helping end martial law! ([email protected])