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Locals remember Nene’s life, legacy in final homecoming

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—Every morning for seven months in 1983, then City Mayor Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., walked with his wife Lourdes “Bing” dela Llana from their home along Archbishop Hayes Street to the Immaculate Conception chapel of Xavier University to hear holy Mass.

It was a rather ordinary walk, except that the couple is escorted by fully armed soldiers.

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Pimentel was under house arrest then, for trumped-up charges aimed to silence him for being recalcitrant with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

That unusual morning walk was the image of Pimentel, whom many called “Tatay Nene,” that stuck to residents here.

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To the people, the guarded morning walk was a literal embodiment of the repressive force that Pimentel had been noisily protesting.

Earlier, in 1981, when Marcos attempted to unseat him as city mayor, the people rallied behind Pimentel.

Beyond pity, the Kagay-anons developed further sympathy for his cause, solidifying the city as staunch opposition territory.

 Last respects

On Wednesday, before sunset, a Philippine Air Force twin-prop plane bearing Pimentel’s white flag-draped casket touched down at the Laguindingan Airport tarmac.

It was his final homecoming, a journey that retraced his political beginnings and gave the people whose lives he touched an opportunity to pay their last respects.

Pimentel’s remarkable political career began in Misamis Oriental in 1971, as the province’s elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In this capacity, he was one of the few who rejected, in 1973, a draft Charter engineered by the strongman Marcos, a stand that would later cost him four arrests.

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In 1980, he won over a Marcos ally to become city mayor until 1984 when he was elected member of the unicameral Batasang Pambansa.

By then, he gained renown, more than notoriety, for his staunch opposition to strongman rule, which would lead to his rise to national prominence.

The mood was somber as an Army honor battalion performed the arrival honors and the casket bearing the remains of the revered freedom fighter was lowered from the plane.

Local officials led by Mayor Oscar Moreno followed the Army detail carrying the casket to the waiting black hearse that carried his remains in an hour-long slow convoy to Cagayan de Oro City Hall.

Hundreds of residents lined the highway between Laguindingan and Cagayan de Oro City and used their cell phones to light the road where the convoy passed.

The casket was then brought to the tourism hall of the City Hall building, where thousands of the city’s residents were waiting for their turn to pay their last respects to a beloved son of Cagayan de Oro.

 ‘His spirit lives on’

“Senator Nene’s heart lies here. He has a special connection here. You could feel his electricity whenever he comes here,” Moreno said.

“The philosophies and principles of Nene Pimentel did not die with him. His spirit lives on,” added the mayor.

Councilor Edgar Cabanlas said Pimentel was a leader “who had his ears for everyone.” He recalled that when residents of Cagayan de Oro gathered the courage to hold street demonstrations, Pimentel was always there.

“He was there to give us more courage as well as be concerned for our lives,” Cabanlas said.

“You are no longer a politician but a statesman,” said retired Court of Appeals Associate Justice Romulo Borja, in his eulogy during Pimentel’s wake on Wednesday night.

The freedom fighter in Pimentel was instrumental to institutionalizing the observance of Press Freedom Week in this city where he served as mayor from 1980 to 1984.

According to records of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC), it was Pimentel who signed in 1982 an executive order declaring every fourth week of May as Press Freedom Week.

“That defines the foundation of liberty in our city. We always speak what is in our minds without fear of reprisal,” city administrator Teddy Sabugaa said.

“As a fighter of press freedom and himself a lifetime member of the COPC, we take pride in Senator Pimentel as the son of Cagayan de Oro and the icon of Mindanao leaders,” COPC president Ritchie Salloman said.

Bangsamoro Transition Authority member Zia Alonto Adiong remembered Pimentel for standing up for Maranaos who moved to the city in the 1980s in search of new opportunities.

Adiong, who graduated from Xavier University, said that, as city mayor, Pimentel welcomed the influx of Maranaos who fled Lanao del Sur due to military atrocities there.

To date, the city hosts more than 1,000 Maranao families, the new ones relocating here soon after the Marawi siege in 2017.

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