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REMEMBERING NENE PIMENTEL: For love of God, love of country, and love for his fellowman

An Indian writer once said that “A life of service is a life well and greatly lived,” and that “Death is a joyous journey for the purposeful life.”

These words best describe the life and death of Nene Pimentel, whose mission of service made a difference in the political life of our nation. 

I admired him, as I did our beloved Maning Pelaez, for becoming a national leader of consequence. Their careers followed the same paths. After both became cabinet members and senators, Maning rose to Vice President and Nene to Senate President. 

During the Marcos dictatorship, they both suffered the same fate. Maning was ambushed by hitmen of a Marcos crony, while Nene spent years in jail for allegedly giving aid and comfort to the Communist Party. Maning died at age 87, and Nene at age 85.

As legislators, they were game-changers. Maning is remembered as the “Father of Rural Electrification”, while Nene is known as the “Father of Local Government.” I hold them in high esteem, because no one from Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro had ever attained the same distinction that they did in government, although now his son, Senator Koko Pimentel is continuing his father’s legacy. For this, they all make us proud.
In the first Batasang Pambansa election held in 1978 at the height of martial law, Nene and I were associated in the Mindanao Alliance organized by former Misamis Oriental Gov. Bono Adaza. As a triumvirate, we dared to challenge the powerful Marcos dictatorship — but Nene subsequently went on to fight the dictatorship in Manila with the Lakas ng Bayan, the party founded by the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. 

Despite our political differences, Nene and I remained good friends through the years that he gained political ascendancy. He loomed as Mindanao’s best bet for the presidency. But instead of running in the 2016 elections, he chose to support a mutual friend of ours — Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte — who shared his advocacy of the need to change our unitary system of government to the federal. It was, as the saying goes, a marriage made in heaven.

Nene and I were able to work together when President Duterte named us to the Constitutional Consultative Committee. This Sunday, October 27, 2019, at the instance of former House Speaker Congressman Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez of Davao del Norte, we are scheduled to meet here in Cagayan de Oro with our Chairman, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Cong. Alvarez convened a group of governors and congressmen on his proposal to launch a People’s Initiative for a Federal Constitution. Nene should have been part of this important meeting.

His death is considered by some as a setback to our efforts. But God has a purpose for all of us, and every event has a meaning. Instead of weakening the federal movement, Nene’s passing has aroused public sentiment and strengthened our resolve to carry out the historic political change that must be made now — or the Philippines will remain forever mired in systemic problems that none of our leaders have been able to solve since we became a republic 73 years ago.

In Nene’s view, empowering the local governments through federalism would enable the regions to develop themselves, and the nation’s economy to prosper by leaps and bounds — to the point of eradicating poverty, the root cause of drugs, lawlessness, corruption and rebellion. When this happens, our country will have entered a golden age of peace and progress. In gratitude, many will look back and ask the names of those who made it possible.
There is a poem about a Muslim saint, Abou Ben Adhem, who encounters an angel writing a record of those who love God the most. Learning his name is not on this list, Ben Adhem instructs the angel to mark him down as one who loves his “fellow man.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night, it came again with a great wakening light, and showed the names whom love of God had blest. And lo and behold! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

For love of God, love of country, and love for his fellowman, Nene Pimentel surpasses Abou Ben Adhem, and I feel that in the Book of Life his name also leads all the rest. 

Wherever you are, my friend — Good night, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! 

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