By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
I am still deeply saddened with the passing of former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. because I feel that losing him is like losing a father.
But more than that, my grief comes from the realization that our country has lost a great Filipino and statesman who championed freedom, human rights, and the pursuit of excellence in local governance.
The nation lost a legend, an ideal public servant, fearless defender of democracy, a faithful husband to Bing, a doting father to six children, a prolific speaker and writer, a great teacher, legislator and executive, a loving friend, and most of all, a God-fearing citizen of his beloved Philippines.
Of course Nene – or “Ne” as I used to call him even when we were already in the Senate – was a lot more to many others whose lives he had touched and who look up to him as their hero. But for me, he was my great mentor who really inspired me with his integrity, steadfastness, and patriotism.
I was still in undergraduate school when I happily encountered Nene in Cebu City during the founding congress of the Pilipino Democratic Party (PDP), where he was the main speaker. It was his fiery and moving speech that inspired me to dream of serving our country and people.
I became an active member of PDP, which later on merged with the LABAN party to become PDP-Laban. So inspired was I in being one of his protégées that I felt proud to be Nene’s “errand boy” in his relentless pursuit of his ideals for the party and the country.
It was during the dark times of the Marcos Dictatorship that Nene’s light really shone brightest. Imprisoned several times starting in early 1973 for his defiance of the Marcos regime, Nene’s principled fortitude was kept intact by the perseverance of his devoted wife, and by the outpouring of love and support from the multitude of freedom-loving Filipinos, particularly the Cagayanos when he was mayor of Cagayan de Oro (CDO) in the early ’80s.
Nene’s mayoralty faced a serious challenge in 1981 when, while he was on an official trip to the US, the Comelec decided to oust him in the guise of “political turncoatism.” His ouster triggered massive non-violent demonstrations in CDO, and the ensuing turmoil prompted Marcos to reinstall Nene as mayor, pending a Supreme Court ruling. Upon his subsequent arrival from the US, the frenzied support of people during the welcome rites that I helped organize was overwhelming.
I visited my beloved mentor in Cebu City when he was again detained in 1983 on charges of rebellion, and I saw the same outpouring of love from Filipinos. While being held at Camp Sergio Osmeña and later at Camp Cabahug, Nene’s avid supporters from all over the country trooped to the military detention centers to keep his spirits up.
Amid his national stature and the overwhelming support of people for his leadership, Nene’s unpretentious humility shined. He gave way to prominent opposition figure Salvador Laurel, who was reportedly endorsed by Jaime Cardinal Sin to be Cory Aquino’s running mate in the 1986 snap elections, because Nene’s main concern was to unify the opposition.
Throughout his life, Nene’s sincerity also shined. He would usually lean forward while listening to ordinary folks. And he was often seen holding their hands or putting his arm over a shoulder.
And his unquestionable integrity shined, too. Nene readily announced his resignation as Senate President in 2001 at the height of the impeachment trial of then president Joseph Estrada when he was outvoted by colleagues who decided not to reveal the contents of a second envelope that prompted the massive street protest known as “EDSA II” which led to a change in the national leadership.
Nene’s legislative brilliance was in full display when he crafted the Local Government Code of 1991. I am especially thankful for his trust in me when he designated me to craft Book Three of the landmark law aimed towards the pursuit of genuine local autonomy for development.
For his principled fortitude during trying times, for his moral uprightness, endearing sincerity and humility, legislative brilliance, unquestionable integrity, and a host of other virtues that make him an outstanding Filipino, Nene is truly legendary and shall be deeply missed.
My heartfelt condolences to Bing and his children Koko, Gwendolyn, Maria Petrina, Aquilino Justinian IV, Teresa Lourdes, Lorraine Marie, and grandchildren. May God Almighty welcome our beloved Nene to His Kingdom!
Email: [email protected]