By Ray Roquero
Former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. slipped silently in his last few days in intensive care, but he will forever be remembered as a voice of freedom in a time of oppression, and a warrior for civil liberties who defied a strongman and was clapped in prison for it.
Ka Nene Pimentel passed away Sunday at the age of 85, one of the last luminaries of a generation that refused to compromise with former President Ferdinand Marcos and founded a party, Partido Demokratikong Pilipino that carried the fight of the opposition uncowed by Marcos’ martial law powers.
In the long night that Filipinos spent under martial law, Nene Pimentel never slept.
He was mayor of Cagayan de Oro City when Marcos jailed him, and the political fighter of a virtually unknown city in northern Mindanao caught the attention of the Western press, casting Pimentel into the role of a national stalwart of the opposition that was looking for a few good men to lead the fight for freedom and justice.
Nene shunned violence advocated by the more extreme and increasingly politicized segment that went underground.
He chose instead to lead the battle in the parliament of the streets and in national and international forums, believing that the power of ideas, not the force of arms, would defeat Marcos.
An eloquent speaker who spoke with a sharp, splendid language and moral rigor, Nene will be remembered as a crusader not only for freedom but also for truth, decency and integrity in public office.
He was a deeply moral man, pure of thought and habit who never lost his bearings after Marcos had been overthrown and the once-fragmented opposition from the moderates to the extremists took on the reins of government.
He was Interior secretary of President Corazon Aquino, but his greatest contribution in a post-Marcos era was a landmark legislation he introduced during his first term as senator in the restored Philippine Congress.
His efforts, true to his deep roots in local governance, resulted in the enactment of the Local Government Code of 1991, a gem of a law that has led to the flowering of local autonomy, unleashing the forces of countryside development that freed up rural potentials for sustained growth.
That legislation has rewritten local and national politics and continues to shape and reshape the economic and political forces that are at play in the regions.
He personally worked on his bills, speeches and even news releases when he was senator. He had the intelligence, integrity and work habit that might have made him president.
Looking back on my friendship with Ka Nene, I had the opportunity, rare I now remember, of working with the senator as his media officer when Congress was restored in 1987.
We stayed in a hole of an office near a cul-de-sac in old Malate. But the significant volumes of bills he skillfully chiseled alone in that tenement more than made up for its blighted appearance.
We will miss a giant of a man who has embedded his impeccable reputation into our consciousness with deep resonance.
We will miss his wit and grace, his hoarse and authoritative voice, his sharp mind an engaging sense of humor.
And we will sorely miss the rhythm and lyrics of the song he loved best to belt, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”
To say that he was an exceptional human being and a visionary statesman would not do justice to this quintessential citizen of the country.
Goodbye, Ka Nene. Rest in peace.
Ray Roquero is currently special assistant to the CEZA administrator and CEO for investment and promotion. A former journalist and town mayor, he served as the media officer of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. after the EDSA Revolution.