Philippine Daily Inquirer
Nene Pimentel: ‘Speak out’
In former Senate president Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr.’s book, “Martial Law in the Philippines: My Story,” his colleague Sen. Joker Arroyo wrote: “If experience is the best teacher, Nene seemed impervious even to life’s simplest instruction.” He was referring to Pimentel’s four-time detention for standing up to the Marcos dictatorship at various points in his life. Where others would have quit, Pimentel, who passed away on Oct. 20 at 85, simply proved steadfast and unyielding. The defiance started in 1971 when Pimentel, then a young lawyer, was elected as Misamis Oriental representative to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. Not only did Pimentel oppose amendments adverse to the people’s interest, he also denounced Marcos’ declaration of martial law in 1972. As Pimentel explained in his book: Marcos committed “the ultimate sin,” since martial law “clashed violently with my deeplyheld belief… that it is democracy, not one-man rule, which enhances the value of human life and assures the equal protection of the rights of the people.”
The following year, Pimentel and other Marcos critics were rounded up. He spent three months in detention at Camp Crame. His second arrest came a few years later when Pimentel, who ran alongside then Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. under the Laban party, decried the results of the fraudulent 1978 Batasang Pambansa elections. His speaking out resulted in a two-month stay at Camp Bicutan.
In 1980, Pimentel was elected mayor of Cagayan de Oro City, defeating a Marcos candidate. In 1981, he was ousted from office for supposed “political turncoatism.” However, massive demonstrations in his hometown forced Marcos to reinstate him as mayor—an early version of the “people power” that would help topple the dictator years later.
In 1983, he was again arrested, this time on rebellion charges for allegedly giving P100 to a rebel leader. His fourth and last detention was for alleged participation in ambuscades. Although his supporters bailed him out, he spent seven months under house arrest.
Pimentel was Cory Aquino’s original pick as vice president in the 1986 snap election, but when Salvador Laurel eventually became her running mate to help unify the opposition, Pimentel, recalled Aquino, “accepted it manfully.”
Under the Cory Aquino administration, Pimentel’s first job was as interior minister. He also became adviser and chief negotiator with the Muslim rebels. But even under an ally, Pimentel held on to his independent streak. Despite Aquino’s contrary position and persuasion, he joined the group of senators dubbed the “Magnificent 12” in voting against the extension of the US bases. Later, he also rejected the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, but lost the vote to 18 other senators.
Again, personal ties notwithstanding, Pimentel as Senate president in 2001 presided over the impeachment trial of his friend, then President Joseph Estrada, and voted in favor of unsealing an envelope said to contain evidence of Estrada’s corruption.
Pimentel made the most of his Senate stint from 1987 to 1992, and from 1998 to 2010, by authoring groundbreaking laws, among them the Local Government Code of 1991 and the Generic Drugs Act. The Local Government Code was a landmark legislation that empowered leaders at the grassroots level by decentralizing governance and giving autonomy to local government units. Pimentel also sponsored laws that created the Philippine Sports Commission, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Philippine National Police.
In a Facebook post, journalist Felipe Salvosa II recalled how, in 2011, “a well-connected businessman sued two Varsitarian staff members for libel.” With a top law firm behind the official, “the odds were stacked mightily against the V.” They thought of approaching Pimentel who, as blue ribbon chair, had investigated the businessman’s deals. But would he bother with this nuisance of a libel case, since “he had no connections to the V, much less to UST”?
To their surprise, “he agreed without hesitation to represent the V staffers,” helped draft the counteraffidavit and appeared during preliminary investigation. The libel complaint didn’t even reach the courts and was dismissed by the Makati prosecutor.
Why did Pimentel accept the case? He was once the adviser of Xavier University’s school paper and understood their situation, the former senator told them. “Speak out when you see something wrong. We are a democracy, that is the job of the people,” he had said time and again.
And that is Pimentel’s legacy—this seemingly quixotic and increasingly rare and dangerous virtue of speaking out and standing up for the truth.