Joker Arroyo, Who Challenged Martial Law in the Philippines, Dies at 88

(Posted at The New York Times)

Joker Arroyo, a politician and lawyer who counseled, bedeviled and helped topple Philippine presidents for more than three decades, died this week in the United States. He was 88.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, a friend of Mr. Arroyo’s, confirmed the death on Wednesday. No other details were provided.

Mr. Arroyo, who reportedly got his first name from his father’s love of card games, came to prominence in the 1980s, when he helped file a series of legal challenges against the martial law decrees of the former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.

“He did courageous work during the dark days of martial law,” said Teofisto Guingona Jr., a former Philippine vice president and fellow human-rights lawyer who had attended college with Mr. Arroyo.

“We were targeted from the very beginning, and both of us were put in confinement for our work,” he added.
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President Benigno S. Aquino III of Philippines, left, announced his endorsement of his interior secretary, Mar Roxas, right, on Friday at the historic Club Filipino in metro Manila.

When Corazon C. Aquino led a bloodless revolution in 1986 that ousted Mr. Marcos, she appointed Mr. Arroyo her executive secretary. She came to consider him one of her most trusted advisers.

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But a year into her administration she reluctantly fired Mr. Arroyo, who was disliked by the Philippine military for what some officers perceived as his pro-Communist views.

After leaving the Aquino cabinet, he served in the Philippine House of Representatives for more than a decade. He was the lead congressional prosecutor in the December 2000 impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada on multiple corruption allegations.

Mr. Estrada escaped impeachment and a Senate trial but was forced from office after street protesters called for his ouster.

Mr. Arroyo was elected to the Senate in 2001 and retired in 2013.

In recent years he made it clear that his affection for the president he served did not extend to her son, Benigno S. Aquino III, the country’s current president.

Mr. Arroyo had accused Mr. Aquino of consolidating power and behaving like a dictator when, in 2011, he led a successful effort to impeach Renato Corona, the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Corona was accused of bias in his rulings and hiding assets. Mr. Arroyo was one of only a handful of senators who voted against impeachment.

The Aquino administration called the impeachment a significant victory in its anticorruption efforts.

Mr. Arroyo loved to “tussle with the powerful,” Senator Ralph G. Recto said.

“He was a solitary gunfighter,” he added, “drawing strength from the righteousness of his crusade, never taking comfort in the number of people who share his belief.”

Mr. Arroyo was born on Jan. 5, 1927, in the town of Naga, about 235 miles south of Manila, where he attended public schools. He won a scholarship to the University of the Philippines, where he studied law.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dicator, said he was saddened by the news of Mr. Arroyo’s death.

“Considering where we came from,” he said in a Twitter message, “we often found ourselves in agreement over political questions. I daresay that we eventually became friends.”