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A Gentle Warrior

In my 21 years in politics, I have met a lot of public servants who have dedicated their lives to the service of our people. I admired quite a number of politicians for their abilities, their passion, and their vision for the country. But there are three giants of Philippine politics who stand out even when compared to the best and the brightest — Joker Arroyo, Miriam Santiago, and, the subject of this column today, Nene Pimentel.


Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. had a deceptively adorable nickname. I cannot recall exactly how he got that monicker but “Nene” is generally an endearing term for a sweet little child. I am not sure that endearing would be the adjective used by those who were at the receiving end of his passionate defense of our freedoms and democracy.


What I admired about Nene was the strength of his character. There was absolute clarity in what he viewed was right and wrong. And he would do everything, he would sacrifice everything to defend what was right. He often found himself swimming against the current when it came to issues about human rights and democracy. He never sacrificed the truth for opulence nor freedom for convenience.


His warrior-like courage was in full display at many points in our history — the 1973 Constitutional Convention, martial law, as interior minister, the impeachment trial, his federalism advocacy, among others.


He was not interested in popularity, he cared about what was right. He did not care about the trappings of power, he cared about the future of our country. Nene could have made deals with the powers-that-be and landed himself a fortune but he understood where his loyalties lay — to the people whom he served.


I got a front-row seat observing Nene’s uncompromising stand for what is right when I got lynched in the Senate by political ambitions under the guise of an ethics investigation. He told me to hold my ground because we stood on the side of the truth. Looking back, it was probably one of the proudest moments of my political career seeing Nene, Joker, and Miriam in my corner as I fought for my reputation and the truth.


I will not repeat here the many accomplishments of Nene. Many more eloquent eulogies have already praised him for his legacy. He was a bulwark of our democracy during its dark days. He will be remembered for a lot of the good things he did for the country — the landmark law on local autonomy, his ardent advocacy of federalism, among others.


For me, Nene was a dear friend who was always there to provide counsel and who stood by my side against the odds. I will miss the times in the Senate when we would huddle, often just the two of us, to discuss issues and strategy. I will miss the times when we would just banter and he would laugh with his trademark raspy voice.


I was looking at some of the photos of the necrological services in the Senate and while the tributes by current and former senators were moving, I was touched by the sight of Senate employees paying their last respects to the former Senate president. I am sure that Nene smiled when he saw ordinary folks—the people he spent his entire life defending—lining up to get the last glimpse of their hero.


Nene was a statesman with a gentle soul and a fiery spirit. His death was a great loss for the country. But the heavens are rejoicing as their son, who has done his job well, has returned. I can only imagine Nene with my two good friends, Joker and Miriam, debating and sharing a good laugh.


My deepest condolences to his wife Bing, his children, and all his loved ones.