OF TREES AND FOREST
Happy new year to everyone! To all hardworking Filipinos here and abroad, I wish you a better quality of life, more time to spend with loved ones, better work so you can provide for your family, and more importantly, good health and happiness so you can enjoy all these in the company of the people you hold dear. Mas galingan natin sa bagong taon! Mas masigasig nating harapin ang buhay! At mas mahalin natin ang Diyos, bayan, at pamilya! Masaganang Bagong Taon po!
I miss my dear friend Joker. Three days from today, on January 5, he would have celebrated his 91st birthday. Joker Arroyo, former senator, former cabinet member, former member of the House of Representatives, former human rights lawyer, is one of the very few people I truly admire in the realm of politics.
Joker and I had a colorful history. We went from being the bitterest of rivals to the best of friends. Kaming dalawa ang tunay na magkaklase sa pulitika. We both spent 21 years in the legislature. Sabay kaming nanalo. Sabay din kaming nagretire.
We were elected at the same time, as independents, as members of the House of Representatives. Joker was your quintessential legislator. He was intelligent, always prepared and ready to debate. His questions during interpellations were probing and his retort always stinging and funny.
He was a maverick. He served three consecutive terms as Makati representative—the same years I served representing Las Piñas—as a one-man wrecking crew. He had no staff support but he was always prepared for all the hearings and the sessions in the lower chamber.
We both ran for speaker of the House and he was a tenacious competitor. When I became speaker, we had the opportunity to become really close during the impeachment of former President Joseph Estrada. We would have countless meetings strategizing on our next move. Joker had an incomparable legal mind. He would always be our source of guidance as far as making sure that our actions conform to the law.
I guess that was the time when we became close; when our respect grew for one another. This would continue when we both ran for the Senate in 2001. We campaigned together, crisscrossing the country, talking to ordinary folks, and spending time chatting when we had the chance to.
In the Senate, I remember he would call me when the session was over. I would go to his office and just talk about everything under the sun—mostly politics—over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. I was not really a wine person but Joker introduced me to appreciate wines. I remember him joking, “Alam mo Manny, simple lang yan: pag mahal ang presyo, masarap ang wine!” The guy had good taste.
We started the Wednesday Group in the Senate. Initially with the two of us and Senator Ralph Recto, another very good friend. We would meet and just discuss issues and various topics. Joker had a keen sense of Philippine politics. I was always amazed listening to him dissect a political issues. I learned a lot from him.
One of the things he told me after he retired was that—typically Joker—he just wanted to fade away quietly. He never wanted the limelight. He did not care for the hoopla surrounding politics. He just worked very hard at something he is very good at.
Happy Birthday, my friend! Know that a grateful nation will always remember you and your contributions to the country. Know that a friend constantly misses you.