'Greatest president we never had': Friends, supporters pay tribute to Nene Pimentel

MANILA, Philippines – "He is the greatest president we never had."

House Deputy Speaker and CIBAC Representative Eddie Villanueva made the statement at the wake of former Senate president Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr organized by the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

The wake on Tuesday, October 23, was packed  with friends and supporters of the senator, some coming from distant parts of the country, to pay their final respects to the Pimentel patriarch known as a courageous stalwart of democracy.

Pimentel fought for the powerless and promoted the rule of law, going up against the Martial Law regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. He was among those imprisoned for being a critic when the country was until martial rule.

Villanueva, who also fought the Marcos dictatorship and was himself jailed twice during the dark chapter of Philippine history, said that Pimentel wielded political power not for himself, but to serve the country.

"It's very rare that we find somebody like him," he said in mix of English and Filipino.

'Role model'

Former Eastern Samar governor Lutgardo Barbo, who served as the Senate secretary when Pimentel was Senate president, shared on Tuesday his fondest memory of the late senator.

"Senator Nene has showed all the way for members of PDP-Laban to be brave and true because he was a teacher. He was teaching via his behavior, via his actions, via his moral courage," Barbo said.

Barbo was jailed at the same time as Pimentel during Martial Law. He said during their detention, Pimentel gave strength to others who were jailed for their political beliefs.

"He was our role model, that's why we never feared. He served some kind of example for us. That's why sometimes I remember Jose Rizal in him," Barbo said.

'ROLE MODEL.' Lutz Barbo gives his eulogy at the wake of the late Senator Aquilino u0022Neneu0022 Pimentel Jr on October 22, 2019. Photo by Angie de Silva/ Rappler

'ROLE MODEL.' Lutz Barbo gives his eulogy at the wake of the late Senator Aquilino u0022Neneu0022 Pimentel Jr on October 22, 2019.

Photo by Angie de Silva/ Rappler

Barbo recounted another story of their time in prison during the dictatorship. Barbo said that a man, who was not able to finish school at that time, shared with them a few words he put in writing.

"Asahan mong 'di mapipigilan ng gabi ang pagsikat ng araw. May isang bukang-liwayliway na nagbabadya ng isang magandang kinabukasan (Night can never stop the sunrise. There'sa new dawn promising a better future)," Barbo said, quoting an excerpt of what the unnamed man wrote.

The former governer then called on PDP-Laban members at the wake to "not sleep on our rights," just like what the late senator had done. Pimentel founded PDP-Laban to fight the Marcos dictatorship.

Interior Undersecretary Martin Diño, Commission on Higher Education chairperson Prospero de Vera III, Senator Pia Cayetano, House Minority Leader Benny Abante, Parañaque  Representative Joy Tambunting, former senator Heherson Alvarez, former senator JV Ejercito, and former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo were among the personalities who went to Pimentel's wake on Tuesday night.

President Rodrigo Duterte was also at the wake that night, straight from his trip to Japan which he had to cut short because of an "unbearable" back pain.

Malacañang hailed Pimentel as a "giant among his peers."

Pimentel passed away early morning Sunday, October 20. He suffered from lymphoma, cancer of the lympathic system. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.