By Macon Araneta
FilAm Star Correspondent
The nation mourned the death of former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. on October 20, hailing him as a true patriot, a freedom fighter and a champion of democracy, human rights and local governance. He was 85.
“Our beloved Tatay Nene has joined his Creator at 5 a.m. today, October 20. We thank all those who have been a part of his life. We ask for prayers for the repose of Tatay Nene’s soul. Thank you to all,” posted his son, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III on his Twitter account.
Pimentel, author of the Local Code of the Philippines that granted greater powers to local governments, had been in intensive care since October 14. He succumbed to lymphoma, a form of cancer.
As this developed, former and current senators paid tribute to the late Senate President.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, together with current and former senators, Senate Secretary Myra Villarica, Sergeant-At-Arms Rene Samonte, secretariat officials and employees received the remains of Pimentel at the foyer of the main entrance of the Senate building and escorted him to the Senate Session hall.
Sotto presented a resolution to Pimentel’s family, expressing the Senate’s sympathy and condolence over the former Senate President’s passing.
Sotto, Sen. Pia Cayetano and former Senators Heherson Alvarez, Anna Dominique Coseteng, Jose Lina Jr., among others, delivered the eulogies.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III accepted the resolution and gave his response to the eulogy.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he lost not just a colleague with whom he shared nine colorful years in the Senate but a true friend whom he respected and admired for his service to the nation and his countrymen.
“I consider it an honor and a distinct privilege to have been succeeded by Ka Nene as Senate President in 2000.”
“Ka Nene fought for our country with honor and pride. His name will forever be remembered in the halls of Congress and by our grateful nation,” he said.
Aside from his stint as Senate President, Pimentel also served as majority leader and minority leader.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said while others sought comfort in numbers, Pimentel drew strength from his convictions.
He described the late senator as a maverick who could not resist a good fight, many of which waged on his own, in the belief that one man with courage was enough to make a majority.
“And he paid dearly for being true to his principles and to his people. He spent years in prison for fighting for the freedoms which were taken from the people he loved,” Recto said.
Later in his career, he said, Pimentel’s “incurable independent streak” lost him the chance to acquire greater power, for he refused to compromise the values. He never sold out.
“But it is wrong to paint the man solely as a great dissenter,” Recto said, noting that Pimentel was also a great builder — of local autonomy, of just peace among a people fatigued by war, of grassroots democracy, of Mindanao development, and of ethics in public service.
Recto said the county’s many laws have been enriched by the wisdom of Pimentel, which he selflessly shared.
He said Pimentel acted as the people’s watchman in the Senate who guarded their interests, often as a one-man checkpoint who shone a lantern on the bills before they were passed.
“He was able to notch an impressive scorecard of laws because he had the courage to speak and the wisdom to listen. Nene was a sensei to many legislators in that bygone era when true grit was measured by hard work and not by likes, shares, and followers,” said Recto.
“The republic is diminished by the death of this great patriot,” he added.
Sen. Richard Gordon said Pimentel was an elder statesman with a wide breadth of experience in the executive and legislative branches of government.
“He was committed to whatever causes he chose to advocate in his lifetime and persevered in pursuing them,” he said.
Through his years as delegate of the constitutional convention, mayor, assemblyman, senator, and Senate president, Gordon said Pimentel 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.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said Pimentel was a Filipino who did not go gently into the night—whether it was during martial law or after he retired from the Senate.
“Whether it was a cry for freedom or a call for brave new laws, his was an influential voice in the public space which contributed immensely in making our country better,” he said.
“Never the bullhorn of the powerful, he instead lent his big voice to the small people. That has been the story of his life — an advocate for the down and out, a champion of the powerless and the persecuted,” he added.
Angara also acknowledged Pimentel as good in opposing abuses as he was in proposing solutions to the problems of the state.
He authored many laws which became disruptors for the greater good, like giving powers to the local government, land to the tiller, and military bases to their rightful owner.
Sen. Grace Poe said Pimentel was a principled leader, patriot, statesman.
“Senator Nene always kept watch and put himself on the line for the sake of the Filipino people,” she said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros recognized Pimentel as the lawmaker’s lawmaker, both in intelligence to craft or critique laws and the discipline to consistently do it.
“He was also a gentleman of the old school, where political differences are not allowed to get in the way of real friendship. Today, our country lost a truly great man,” she said.
She said Pimentel was not only one of the most experienced and accomplished civil servants, he was also one of the greatest defenders of freedom and democracy in the history of the country.
“And his greatness was only eclipsed by his love for this nation and its people,” Hontiveros said.
“This is a void that will probably never be filled. But I know he would want us to continue the struggle for freedom, democracy, the defense of human rights and the rule of law, and so we shall,” she added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he always remembers the late Senator as the first Senate minority leader who called his attention to respond to the massive vitriolic attacks on his honor and dignity as a newly elected senator in 2001.
Sen. Leila de Lima said Pimentel will be remembered for how he fought the martial law dictatorship, at the expense of his own freedom.
“Even after the People Power Revolution, Sen. Nene remained a fighter for good governance, letting go of the Senate presidency when the Senate refused to examine evidence in the impeachment of President [Joseph] Estrada,” she said.
As the country got back on its feet after the second People Power, she said Pimentel wasted no time in crafting meaningful legislation and led the minority as a constructive force that provided the checks and balances to the Arroyo Administration.
“He may be gone but his legacy of wisdom in defending democracy will live forever in the hearts of the people,” she added.
Malacañang on Sunday expressed its condolences.
In a statement, the Palace thanked 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,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Panelo also said the administration is grateful to Pimentel for joining the 25-member Consultative Committee tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 to review the 1987 Constitution in a bid to draft a new charter that would pave the way for a federal form of government.
The committee’s “best tribute” to Pimentel would be to “work harder for federalism, his last advocacy for a better Philippines,” said its chairman, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno.