BY JOAN DAIRO
HE was tender, quiet, and down-to-earth. He’d holler and chide. He’d glare then smile. And always, he’d wrap his arms around me, whisper, with traces of a smile breaking and his eyes twinkling, “Nang-iiskup ka na naman! (You are trying to get an exclusive again!),” squeeze my shoulder then walk away giggling to himself.
This is how I will remember my ‘Tatay,’ my father figure since 1998 when I first met and covered him at the Senate.
Yesterday, my Tatay and my mentor, former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., passed away. He lived 85 fruitful, worthy and honorable years.
Pimentel, who served as a senator for 17 years, had been “very ill” and was admitted last week to the intensive care unit of an undisclosed hospital due to pneumonia and lymphoma, according to his son, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
“Our beloved Tatay Nene has joined our Creator at 5 a.m. today, Oct 20, 2019. We thank all those who have been a part of his life,” said Senator Koko in a brief statement. “We ask for prayers for the repose of Tatay Nene’s soul. Thank you to all.”
Senator Koko said his father had “lymphoma,” a cancer of the lymphatic system. “This already spread throughout his body… In the end it was the heart which gave up,” he said.
Pimentel’s daughter, Human Rights Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, told radio station dzBB that the family was “very thankful that he went peacefully.”
“And we know he is with God and we know it is the will of God… We are happy he has joined His Creator,” Gana said.
Gana said that in Pimentel’s last days, he had difficulty breathing so he had to be brought to the hospital. She said her father was still able to talk during confinement but his condition deteriorated quickly.
Pimentel’s wife, Lourdes or “Nanay Bing,” thanked the public for their prayers.
Aside from Lourdes, Koko, and Gwendolyn, Pimentel is survived by four other children — Ma. Petrina, Aquilino, Teresa and Lorraine.
Pimentel’s wake will be at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City until October 22.
His remains will be transferred to the Senate building in Pasay City on the morning of October 23, Wednesday, and will then be brought to the Cagayan de Oro City Hall. His remains will be brought to the Heritage Memorial Park on Friday afternoon.
A CHILD OF POLITICS
Pimentel was a stern critic of the Marcos dictatorship. He came from a family of politicians in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental.
He founded the PDP-Laban. Senator Koko is the current party president while President Duterte is its chairman.
Pimentel served three terms as senator from 1987 to 1992 and from 1998 to 2010. He was the Senate President from Nov. 23, 2000 to June 30, 2001, presiding over the tumultuous and eventually-aborted impeachment trial of former president Joseph Estrada.
He later alternated as minority leader from 2001 to 2002, as majority leader briefly in 2002 and again as minority leader from 2004 to 2010. Even after leaving the Senate, he continued to be a vocal proponent of federalism.
Pimentel was the father of the Local Government Code and the law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Philippine Sports Commission, and the Philippine National Police.
He also served as chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, during whose term the panel recommended the prosecution of officials over the Expo Pilipino centennial scam for misuse of military retirement funds and benefits, and for falsification of land titles.
ACCOLADES FOR A STATESMAN
Senators remembered Pimentel as a fiercely independent and principled statesman.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said: “He was a maverick who could not resist a good fight, many of which by his lonesome, for he believed that one man with courage was enough to make a majority.”
Majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Pimentel’s death was “a great loss for Mindanao and the nation as he is one of those I consider as one of the great pillars of our country’s democracy in the last 50 years.”
Minority leader Franklin Drilon called Pimentel “a true patriot, a freedom fighter, and a champion of democracy, human rights and local governance.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan expressed his gratitude. “I am thankful for the life he shared for human rights, freedom and democracy during the time of dictatorship,” he said.
Sen. Richard Gordon noted Pimentel’s footprint on both the executive and legislative branches of government. Prior to becoming a legislator, Pimentel served as Cagayan de Oro City mayor.
“Through his years as delegate of the Constitutional Convention, mayor, assemblyman, senator, and Senate President, he was a dedicated public servant, and even in retirement, continued to express his views on issues that mattered to him and that he believed were in the public interest,” Gordon said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson recalled Pimentel’s impact on him as a newly-elected senator, when he faced accusations of being a narco-politician and money launderer.
“I will always remember Senator Nene as my first Senate minority leader who called my attention to respond to the massive vitriolic attacks on my honor and dignity as a newly elected senator in 2001,” Lacson said.
“Failing to understand the dirty play of politics then, I can still vividly remember Sen Nene’s advice: ‘Ping, sagutin mo yung mga akusasyon ng administrasyon. Marami nang naniniwala (Ping, address the administration’s allegations. Many are already believing them),” Lacson said.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said members of the 18th Congress are “deeply saddened” by the demise of “a Filipino statesman popularly known as ‘Father of the Local Government Code’ and a stalwart advocate for federalism.”
On a personal note, having personally worked with Pimentel in the Senate, the Speaker said he has witnessed his “professionalism and his commitment to duties.”
“He is one of the inspiring examples to me and all our public servants. It was truly a pleasure and honor to work with you. The 18th Congress pays tribute to former Senate President Pimentel. Thank you for your service to the nation,” Cayetano said.
Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman of Basilan called Pimentel a “statesman” who is “truly a great Mindanaoan and a good mentor to us all.”
Malacañang paid tribute to Pimentel, describing him the “father of the Local Government Code” who not only empowered local governments but also championed democracy in the country.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said it was a sad day for the country following the demise of the late leader.
“Our people thank former Senator Pimentel for his long, fearless and principled track record of public service. He would forever be etched in our history as a giant among his peers who championed democracy and electoral reform and a visionary who espoused devolution of powers and strong local governance. As the acknowledged father of the Local Government Code, former Senator Pimentel gave his wisdom and lent his voice to the need to empower local governments,” Panelo said.
Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the best tribute that the country can give the late senator is to work harder for federalism which is “his last advocacy for a better Philippines.”
Former Vice President Jejomar Binay thanked Pimentel for their long friendship.
“Salamat, Nene sa ilang taon ng pagkakaibigan,” Binay said in a statement, adding: “We started PDP-Laban together, and have fought alongside each other on issues that will protect our people and promote progress.”
Vice President Leni Robredo said the country “is diminished” with Pimentel’s passing.
“Standing up to the dictator Marcos during Martial Law, asserting Philippine sovereignty during the debates for the renewal of the US bases treaty, running as VP to an eminently qualified but underfunded Jovito Salonga in 1992, taking the principled position as Senate President during the Estrada impeachment trial — these are the moments that will forever define his place in our people’s history,” she said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) family mourns the passing of Pimentel.
“He was, together with the President, the country’s foremost advocate of a federal system of government. Even if he is no longer with us, this department will continue his advocacy for change and political reform through our program for constitutional reform (CORE),” Año said.
“In this trying time, we ask the Filipino people to offer prayers for the soul of former Sen. Nene Pimentel. We also ask all Local Government Units nationwide to remember him in your activities as we commemorate Local Government month and urge them to place your flags at half-mast as a sign of respect to this great advocate of local autonomy and empowerment,” he added. – With Vince Nonato, Jocelyn Montemayor and Rod Lagusad