Tatay Nene

"One look at him, one listen to him, summons up irresistible thoughts of such a grand vision."


I must confess that I missed all those decades, from the twilight years of martial law to his ascendance to the Senate presidency, when the late Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel was at the height of his political career. I was abroad all that time and missed seeing his star rise and rise again in the talent—and principles—starved firmament of Philippine politics.

But I do remember a much younger Nene Pimentel, still a fiery young activist lawyer and feeling all his oats, taking his place alongside other like-minded lawyers—Diokno, Tañada, Voltaire Garcia—to take up the legal cudgels for a generation of student firebrands in the early seventies. It was men and women like him who went on to lead broader and deeper undertakings against the incipient, then actual, Marcos dictatorship.

Many, many years later, I was privileged to resume my acquaintance with Tatay Nene, this time as a recruit to his lifelong struggle to empower local governments and install a federal system in our country. I was flattered that he still remembered me, and I was always impressed by the intellect and ramrod principles contained within his increasingly fragile frame.

He never abandoned his youthful nationalism, one that might be called old-fashioned by comparison to the globalist and markets-based perspective being urged upon us by today’s world. It showed up in the conservative tenor adopted by the proposed new “Bayanihan” constitution he helped to draft last year when it came to matters of economic philosophy and regulatory policy.

But such differences of opinion do not deserve to be quibbled about when it comes to the sweeping vista of the grand vision I like to think we both shared: One where the Philippines stands tall, respected on the world stage, fully capable of feeding and nurturing and looking after her own people, a country where poverty and injustice have become bad memories of the past.

It was in the nature of Tatay Nene that one look at him, one listen to him, should summon up irresistible thoughts of such a grand vision. By his very life, he showed us that it was still possible, and worth fighting for. We will all miss him, and the country will be the poorer for his loss.

* * *

Tatay Nene passed on last Sunday, the same day that I celebrated another birthday, fittingly enough with my shoulder again to the same yoke we both plowed: Campaigning in Lingayen for federalism at the first of several weekly roadshows DILG is again planning to hold all over the country for the rest of the year.

This time around, though, we’ll be pitching, not outright for a draft federal constitution, but for specific constitutional reforms that might be individually passed by Congress and that we think are both important and acceptable to our people (given enough time to explain to them).

We’re calling these stand-alone reforms “equality amendments” because they push political and economic equality against the traditional elites. The language is straightforward:

Anti-dynasty. Anti-turncoatism. Updating and deepening the practice of proportional representation that was abused by trapos under the 1987 version of the party-list system. Empowering local governments (such as through more powerful “regional development authorities”) in the wake of the Mandanas decision by the Supreme Court. Campaign finance reform and repurposing the Comelec. And my own focus: erasing the citizenship restrictions that hobble the entry of foreign investment, trade, and credit into our country.

Might all these piecemeal reforms eventually coalesce into an altogether new and different constitution that can be submitted to a plebiscite? My own view is that it’s inevitable. But that’s something that our people, and their leaders, will have to find out themselves. As with so much else in our country, it’s all about making haste slowly.

* * *

In today’s first reading (Romans 5: 12-21), Paul reflects on the nature of sin: how it was first introduced into the world by Adam, amplifies even as it becomes more accountable under the illumination of moral law, and can be overcome only by the excessive graces made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus, the “new Adam.” We cannot deliver ourselves from sin even by strict compliance alone with the law; it can only be done to and for us by Jesus.

In the Gospel (Luke 12: 35-38), Paul’s frequent traveling company, the physician Luke, takes the lesson even further and counsels us to be ready at any time for the coming of Jesus to us, like a thief, “at an hour you do not expect”. His graces are excessive but also wholly unexpected. We cannot game it, we cannot time it. We can only leave ourselves open to His coming, whenever and however that might be, and count ourselves blessed whenever He does show up.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel , martial law , “Bayanihan” , Supreme Court
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