Joker Arroyo: Warrior vs naked power; titan among political pygmies

I don’t think we will ever see in our lifetime such a titan among political pygmies as Joker Arroyo.

He did not only have the guts and the integrity, but just as important, the intelligence to discern the lies of three regimes, and to fight the mobs they unleashed.

At the height of his popularity and political power, President Aquino in 2012 mesmerized and bribed Congress, media, even traditionally anti-establishment leftwing groups as Bayan Muna and Akbayan to join his lynch mob against Chief Justice Renato Corona.

That period was as dark for this Republic as when Marcos imposed martial law on September 21 four decades ago. Maybe even worse, since Marcos imposed his will by declaring martial law and closing down the press, while Aquino managed to control people’s minds through his glib talk and with a media that, for some reason, believed his lies.

With Congress under his thumb, Aquino attacked and decapitated the third branch of government, the Supreme Court, in order to control it. This was something that had never happened in our Republic. Not even Marcos dared to touch the Supreme Court.

Aquino managed to fool the nation that Corona had to be removed from office for his anti-graft Daang Matuwid blah-blah, a motive that three years later turned out to be a total lie.

I am sure historians just a few years from now will marvel and study how this depraved President managed to fool the body politic and to conceal that it was merely his and his clan’s desperate attempt to save their family jewel, Hacienda Luisita, or at least to wangle a billion pesos in taxpayers’ money for the Aquinos to give it up.

Only three senators had the strong hearts and clear minds to see through the scheme of this President, whom Joker would later call an “evil genius” for his scheme to hijack the budget called the “Disbursement Acceleration Plan” (DAP).

Arroyo voting “not guilty” in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial
Arroyo voting “not guilty” in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial

Only three of the 24 senators, as it also turned out, could resist the hundreds of millions of pesos not only in pork-barrel funds but also in DAP money Aquino gave them to take out the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court: Joker, the other legendary senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, and, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

Joker even proved to be more intelligent than the man who issued the orders to arrest him in 1972: Juan Ponce Enrile, who not only voted to convict Corona but convinced eight other senators to do so.

Bongbong Marcos

Perhaps, it would be a quirk of fate that with his demonstration of integrity in the impeachment trial and his heroic resistance to Aquino and Malaysia’s scheme to dismember our Republic, called the ‘Bangsamoro Basic Law,’ “Bongbong” Marcos, the son of the strongman against whom Arroyo fought, would be the one to take over his torch of integrity in this land of political pygmies.

Indeed, Marcos also saw through the thick smoke of propaganda Aquino and his subservient media created: “At the expense of the sub judice rule, evidence had been presented to the public on several occasions, even before they were formally offered before this Court. Worse, information was grossly exaggerated with the apparent intention to predispose the public mind against the Chief Justice. Notable examples would be the Land Registration Authority report, with the discredited list of 45 properties and the unauthenticated AMLC report claiming that the Chief Justice allegedly owned 10 million US dollars.”

Ask the senators who voted against Corona: Why did you vote him guilty when all eight counts against him were proven false, even the one which claimed he had not submitted his SALN? Yes, that was the complaint. Not that it was inaccurate, but even if it was, what was required under the “SALN” law was only for the official to correct it within three months. Joker called the impeachment a “Bill of Attainder,” referring to the practice by 14th century British parliaments to create laws punishing certain people they targeted for a new crime it creates and then executing them without judicial trial.

Among those who betrayed the Republic for pieces of silver but still have the gall to run again for the Senate, or – astonishingly – even for thevice presidency next year: Escudero, Cayetano, Trillanes, Drilon, Guingona, Recto, Pangilinan, Sotto, Osmena. Ask Neri Colmenares and Risa Hontiveros why they allowed themselves to become Aquino’s attack dogs against Corona and still have the temerity to run for Senate seats.

Only in the Philippines are there people who have clearly participated in a crime yet continue to walk the streets with their heads held up high, but who also demand to be leaders of the country.

If you think my comparison of Aquino’s impeachment project with martial law is exaggerated, I’ll tell you Joker himself saw it as such:

“This is not justice, political or legal,” he said in a speech to explain his ‘not guilty” vote on May 29, 2012. “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.”

Joke declared; “I have not thought that I would see this 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.”

Considering his valiant stand in the impeachment trial, and Aquino’s petty mind, well-known vindictiveness, and brattishness, I don’t think he will honor Arroyo or even attend his wake. I was told the presidential staff is now frantically looking for an excuse for him to be abroad when the Senate holds a wake for him.

Psychological flaw

I had asked Joker in one of our occasional lunches with a small group of friends, why Aquino would normally not consult him, even as he was one of the closest confidantes, the executive secretary, of his mother Cory. I even badgered him with my leading question that maybe, he knew of some deep psychological flaw in Aquino, and that the President knew that he knew. Joker would pause, and then just smile, but then in the end he’d say that Aquino didn’t consult with anybody who was close to his mother when she was President.

One other reason why Aquino hates Arroyo is that Joker had the intelligence and guts to resist the frenzied mob, which Aquino and her mother – ironically with the convicted President Joseph Estrada as co-conspirator – had instigated against President Gloria Arroyo.

President Arroyo would even call Joker to ask for his advice during the many crises she went through. As Arroyo’s Chief of Staff for a year and a half, I also called Joker several times to sound him off on certain issues, although he gave me an earful in one instance I couldn’t forget.

Joker was an invisible but certainly felt pillar of Gloria Arroyo’s regime, and I know for a fact that not a few key officials would have given up and believed in the many lies against her if Joker had left her. He was, of course, not in the religious sense, but for lack of a better term, our spiritual leader during those days.

There is even one other reason why Aquino – and his candidate Manuel Roxas 2nd – hated Joker. He had steadfastly been a comrade-in-arms – since the martial law era – of presidential candidate Jejomar Binay. Joker’s wife, Felicitas, and her law firm have made up the formidable legal fortress for the Vice President’s wife and his allies against this power-hungry President’s continuous siege.

That points to one of Joker’s admirable traits. He knew a mob when he saw one and refused to buckle under it.

He went against the Marcos mob, very early an when it was still being organized, when he defended the Chinese-Filipino journalists, the Yuyitung brothers whom the budding dictator wanted deported in 1970. He continued to defend human rights victims under Marcos’ rule even in its heyday. He led the prosecution panel against the then very popular Joseph Estrada. He refused to join the lynch mob against Arroyo and then Corona.

One of the things Joker said was quite memorable but sad for me: “It’s still the elites who really control things in this country.”

“Maverick” is too lame a term for Arroyo. More precise would be “hero”, who stood head and shoulders above the political pygmies of this nation. He had been a voice in the howling wilderness that was this unlucky country. He is now even more of a hero than Ninoy Aquino is or will ever be.

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