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Remembering Joker

The last few weeks have been a sentimental one for me.

First, a good friend of mine, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, passed away last September 29, 2016.

And last October 5, 2016, we commemorated the first year death anniversary of another dear friend, Senator Joker P. Arroyo. I cannot believe that it has been a year since we lost Joker. And I continue to miss my friend.

Miriam and Joker are two of my closest friends, not just in politics, but in my life. Miriam and Joker are two of the members of the Senate that make me proud to have been part of that august chamber.

They, together with another great legislator, Sen. Nene Pimentel, Jr., stood by my side defending against the politically-motivated C5 issue. It is true what they say that loyal friends are the ones that help you through hard times, and laugh with you after the hard times pass.

Joker and I started out as the bitterest of enemies and ended up the best of friends.

We clashed for the speakership of the House of Representatives in1998. I eventually won that fight. Little did I know that I will also win a great friend towards the end of my term as speaker and during an historic moment in my political career.

During the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada, Joker and I found ourselves in the same corner. We would frequently meet to discuss strategies on how to handle the impeachment complaint. With his political acumen, Joker is the very definition of a political animal.

Joker’s political acuity is unparalleled. That’s what I miss the most. We would sit down over coffee, wine, or whisky and he would impress with his sharp political analysis. He has the ability to reduce a political problem to its barest elements without the pretensions that often come with it.

Later on he would tell me that he was surprised at my abilities to strategize. In both business and politics, he said he admired what he would call my “strategic mind”. His sharp political analysis and my strategic sense made for interesting partnership which would prove useful in future battles we fought side by side.

After the impeachment, we both ran for the Senate in 2001. Come to think of it, Joker is truly a political batchmate.

We were together in the House of Representatives from 1992 to 2001. And we both served in the Senate from 2001-2013.

There was this picture taken during the campaign of 2001 where Joker and I were walking by the shoreline in Iloilo City. If memory serves me right, we had a campaign sortie there and we had dinner at Breakthrough restaurant.

As the sun was giving way to night, Joker and I walked along the beach facing the Iloilo Strait. It was a very memorable event in our friendship. We were probably talking about campaign strategy or analyzing a current political issue, but I am glad our media friends who were with us took photos of us that time to memorialize what was the start of a beautiful friendship.

In the Senate, we started the Wednesday group together with Senator Ralph Recto, another dear friend, who was also a batchmate in the lower house and in 9 out of the 12 years I spent in the Senate. The three of us were the original members of the Wednesday group. Later on, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Noli de Castro would join us.

The Wednesday group was not a voting bloc or solely a political group. In fact, in some issues, we had a divergence of views. Rather, it was an opportunity for the meeting of the minds among colleagues and friends. There we talked about everything, politics and all.

I know that Joker would be happy if he was reading this article. With his signature vexed look, he would be telling me not to publish this column. He always wanted to keep things quiet. He never enjoyed the glamour and publicity of politics. He shunned public adulation. That is another side of Joker I admired.

He also knew how to enjoy the best things in life. Our conversations would happen over bottles of some of the best wines, or liquor. He has fine tastes for food, coffee and the good life.

When he died, I was glad people recognized his contributions to the nation. He was extolled for his human rights work and his patriotism, his brilliance as a lawyer, his prowess and eloquence as a legislator.

“The fear of death,” Mark Twain once wrote, “follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” If I may add, a man who lived a great life never really pass on, for he continues to live in the hearts of those whose lives he made better.

I am one of the grateful ones, my friend. (Senator Manny Villar)