A last song for Nene
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - October 24, 2019 - 12:00am

Today, the remains of former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. are in Cagayan de Oro City to enable his kababayans to pay their last respect to their beloved hometown hero.

Yesterday, a necrological service held at the Senate hall in Pasay City, was adorned with eulogies expressing praise and appreciation for a life well lived.

The image of the senator will not be erased in the country’s political history as well as for his being a model of a public servant living a simple, unassailable personal life.

The published press statements  (notably those of rappler.com reporters) describe him as “a courageous defender of freedom,” “a fighter for the powerless,” a “staunch oppositor to the Marcos dictatorship.”

He was called “Father of the Local Government Code,” and during the last few years, he actively  espoused federalism as the Philippines’ ideal form of government.

He was a senator for three terms, from 1987 to 1992, then from 1998 to 2010. He was Senate president from November 2000 to June 2001.

He was born on Dec. 11, 1933 in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, a town near CDO. His aspiration to  become a lawyer was inspired by his father, Aquilino Pimentel Sr., who practised law in CDO. His penchant for frugality must have stemmed from his Ilocano heritage, his mother, Petra Quilingling, being  a public school teacher in Batac, Ilocos Norte.  In his book, “Martial Law in the Philippines: My Story”, Nene wrote that his parents’  “simple lives of honest toil helped charter the course of my own.”

His ascension to greater things began in CDO, where he studied at Ateneo de Cagayan (now Xavier University) and obtained the law degree in 1959, the same year that he passed the bar. He would become dean of Xavier’s College of Law from 1962 to 1967.

It was while he was at Xavier that he met and was star-struck by a statuesque, comely school teacher, Lourdes “Bing” de la Llana, whom he took to the altar in April 1960. They had six children, among them future Senator Koko Pimentel, and future Human Rights Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana. Their  other children are Ma. Petrina, Aquilino, Teresa and Lorraine.

Nene’s and Bing’s adoration of each other is a long and lasting love story in these days when love melts in the warmth of the sun, as the song goes. Nene would say Bing was acting as “father and mother,” as she raised their children singlehandedly while he was away fighting men and bests. Bing composed songs to keep from being just lonely;  she wrote and staged plays. The most notable  of recent ones is about the life of former President Corazon Aquino.

And what is most important is Bing’s dependence on her Lord, and she evidenced this by holding prayer meetings with her friends, and distributing spiritual publications. For Bing lives by faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

Nene sure needed Bing’s support, for he was daring and bold, fighting the Marcos dictatorship and being hauled off to detention camps several times. Early in their marriage Nene  co-organized a lawyer’s group in CDO as a form of defense against “oppressive judges”.

The lawyer was elected to the 1971 Constitutional Convention (Concom), representing CDO and Misamis Oriental. The intent to amend the Philippine Constitution evaporated when Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972. He and other delegates got together and formed the opposition. Marcos committed “the ultimate sin” as Martial Law “clashed violently with my deeply-held belief …that it is democracy, not one-man rule, which enhances the value of human life and assured the equal protection of the rights of the people,” Pimentel wrote in his book.

His criticisms of the dictatorship caused his arrest four times, through cooked-up charges. But he did not stay long in detention. It was during his first detention in 1973 in Camp Crame that his wife Bing composed a song called “Only a Moment”, which spoke of the pain from  her separation from her activist husband.

In 1978, Pimentel and his Lakas ng Bayan (Laban) party mates lost their bids to become members of the Interim Batasang Pambansa because of a “sham” election.

He was not to give up his fight for democracy. CDO voters elected him mayor of CDO, besting the candidate of Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party. Marcos ousted him from office in 1981 allegedly for “political turncoatism”. But CDO residents staged massive demonstrations, forcing the tyrant to reinstate him as mayor.

In 1982, Pimentel and other politicians in the Visayas and Mindanao formed the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) party.

In 1983, amid the anger and turmoil ensuing after the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in August 1983, Pimentel ran and won as assemblyman for CDO at the regular Batasang Pambansa. Again Marcos had him ousted him on charges of cheating, but the Supreme Court ruled in Pimentel’s favor and reinstated him.

The 1986 snap elections – Marcos’ fatal nemesis – saw the merger of the Laban party with PDP to form PDP-Laban, which chose as its bet for the presidential position  Ninoy Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino. To some people’s surprise, Cory who had said Pimentel was her original choice for running mate, chose Salvador Laurel instead.

Pimentel, according to Cory, accepted her decision “manfully”.

Pimentel, for sure smarting from the development, said his concern was to help unify the opposition, and Laurel as the VP bet “was good for the nation.”

Knowing the calibre of Pimentel, Aquino appointed him local government minister (later secretary), a powerful position that authorized him to appoint local government heads  as officers in  charge (for which he was nicknamed “Oh, I see,” or OIC), then the government’s chief negotiator with Muslim separatists in 1987.

Pimentel was elected as senator in 1987, and 1998 (during which stint he became Senate president in 2000), and 2004   (during which term he was chair of he Senate Blue Ribbon Committee during which he recommended the  prosecution of top government officials involved in the Expo Pilipino scam and in the misuse of the Retirement and Separation Benefit of the Armed Forces.

In 1992, he was tapped by then Senate President Jovito Salonga to be his running mate in the  presidential elections, but both lost.

As legislator, Pimentel tucked under his belt landmark laws, such as the Local Government Code, which decentralised governance and provides for the autonomy of all government units, the Cooperative Code, the Philippine Sports Commission Act, and  People’s Small-Scale Mining Act, the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Generic Drugs Act.

A nationalist to the core, he voted against the extension of United States Bases, ending the Americans’ military presence in the country, and eight years later, rejected the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States.

Pimentel figured prominently during the President Joseph Estrada impeachment trial. Senators were locked in debate about whether to open a second envelope containing incriminating   evidence against Estrada. Pimentel and nine others voted to open the envelope, but 11 senators opted to keep it closed.   Disgusted, Pimentel announced his resignation as Senate President, and stepped down in June 2001 after the election of his replacement,  Franklin Drilon.

He was appointed by President Duterte as one of the members of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) to review the 1987 Constitution and draft a new one who pave the way for a federal form of government.

He had long retired, but when provoked, he was still a warrior. In December 2018, he chastised the House of Representatives for not adopting ConCom’s proposal of a new Constitution which explicitly bans political dynasties.

Pimentel passed away on Oct. 20, after a bout with cancer, but particularly succumbed to pneumonia. He was 85.

Nene and Bing would have been celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary next year.

At his death bed, his wife, Bing, whom Nene had asked not to cry when he was incarcerated during the Marcos years, told him to allow her to sing her last song for him, called “Let Me Cry”.

The country cries with you, Bing.

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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