Aquilino “Nene” Quilinging Pimentel Jr. was born on December 11, 1933 in Northern Mindanao. A human rights lawyer and federalist, he became a household name in the Philippines as an opposition leader against the Marcos Regime – imprisoned multiple times for his criticisms against the dictator.
Graduating from Xavier University, he would rise to national prominence during the 1971 Constitutional Convention. He and like-minded delegates feared that the Convention would produce a Marcos-scripted Constitution, and consistently vocalized their opposition. Following the proclamation of Martial Law in September 1972, several opposition delegates began to be arrested. Nene remarked to fellow delegate Augusto Cesar Espiritu how he felt he could be next in line. He went to the Supreme Court in the opening weeks of Martial Law, telling the judges point-blank that if they did not do their duties, they would be left only to wail at the illegality of Martial Law and their own inability to release those who had been arrested. The conditions at the time, he said, did not warrant Martial Law. There had been no proof that the New People’s Army had committed the Plaza Miranda Bombings, and other incidents invoked involved Constabulary Uniforms as the primary suspects.
With many from the opposition arrested, exiled or in hiding, the Marcos Constitution was passed with only 14 people, Nene included, voting against it. Pimentel is recalled to have delivered a scathing address against the new constitution even after delegates had been intimidated by armed soldiers returning them to the session hall. Unsurprisingly, he was rounded up for arrest in 1973. After spending three months in Camp Crame, he was released, in time for the passage of Marcos’ new constitution. He refused to sign the document.
He would continue his legal practice for the National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to help marginalized sectors being oppressed during the administration. In April 1978, Pimentel ran in the Interim Batasan elections as a candidate of the Lakas ng Bayan (Laban) party of Metro Manila with Ninoy Aquino. After members of Marcos’ Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan (KBL) party swept the seats, Nene and other opposition leaders protested the results, citing that massive cheating had taken place. The elections were seen as a Marcos bid to legitimize his regime through a rubber-stamp legislature. For taking part in these protests, Nene was thus imprisoned a second time, and detained for two months at Camp Bicutan, Metro Manila.
His second imprisonment however would only strengthen his resolve. Undeterred, he ran for the mayoral post of Cagayan de Oro in 1980. Running under the coalition banner of the National Union for Democracy and Freedom and the Mindanao Alliance, he won a 3-1 majority vote against his KBL rival. He and his entire slate of candidates for vice mayor, governor, vice governor, and seven city councilors also swept the elections in his area.
Marcos’ government however would have none of it. While on a five-week training course in the United States, Nene was ousted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for “political turncoatism” (having switched to his coalition from LABAN). Marcos’ candidate was installed in his place. Local partisans immediately staged peaceful demonstrations to express their displeasure. Six days later, 10,000 of his supporters marched around the city in a nonviolent show of support. Thousands more lined the streets to cheer them on. Meanwhile, Pimentel’s lawyer, headed by opposition leaders Lorenzo Tañada and Soc Rodrigo, along with Abraham Sarmiento, Raul Gonzales and Joker Arroyo, claimed that the Comelec had acted without jurisdiction. They contended that the electorate’s will should be respected. Comelec however, insisted on its decision to remove Pimentel. The conflict made national headlines and photos of demonstrations in Cagayan de Oro appeared in a major daily. To defuse the escalating turmoil, Marcos reinstalled Pimentel as mayor, pending a Supreme Council decision.
In 1983, while in Cebu City, Pimentel would be apprehended once more on charges of rebellion. He was detained at an unknown location, allegedly for having given 100 pesos to a commander of the New People’s Army (NPA). His wife and family managed to trace him to Camp Sergio Osmeña and later to Camp Cabahug in the City of Cebu. Even under captivity, his supporters from Cagayan De Oro and other parts of the country visited him by the hundreds to keep his spirits high. Nene disputed the charges and was later released. Returning home, he was mobbed by thousands of his supporters upon his arrival at the pier of Cagayan De Oro. He was later, once again, arrested for allegedly engaging in ambuscades. His supporters contributed centavos and peso coins in efforts to bail him out. Pimentel was subsequently placed under house arrest for almost seven months.
From the confines of his home, Nene kept abreast of national news, helping to rally the opposition, running his city and launching his bid as assemblyman for the Batasang Pambansa. He protested relentlessly and fearlessly against injustice, fraud, corruption and Marcos’ dictatorial rule. In 1984 he won his seat at the Batasan, but once again was removed by the administration for alleged electoral fraud. Ever the relentless critic, he was often seen with Ninoy’s widow, Cory, as they rallied the opposition. He had agreed at one point to be Cory’s running mate in the Snap Elections, but graciously stepped aside when it was called for Salvador “Doy” Laurel to do so in his place.
After the regime he would serve as senator for more than two decades. Consistently, he would remind the youth that the martial law era was a dark moment in Philippine history that should not be glorified. In 2018, reacting to claims from former Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, that no one was arrested in Martial Law, Pimentel said: “Siguro nakalimutan na niya ako. That’s part of aging… Maliwanag naman siguro na marami ang hinuli.”
His memory and message to future generations remained clear despite the white-washing efforts of perpetrators. “Ang daming namatay, ang daming disappeared na mga kababayan,” he said in a Palace briefing. “You must always remember the ends never justifies the means.”
 Gutierrez, Jason (24 October 2019), “Nene Pimentel, 85, Dies; Filipino Politician Stood Up to Marcos”, The New York Times, retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/24/obituaries/nene-pimentel-aquilino-philippines-dead.html
 Senate of the Philippines (18th Congress), “Aquilino Q. Pimentel. Jr.” profile retrieved online from https://legacy.senate.gov.ph/senators/senpres/pimentel.asp
 Espiritu, A. C. (1993). September 29, 1972. In A. C. Espiritu. How democracy was lost : a political diary of the Constitutional Convention of 1971-1972. Quezon City: New Day Publishers.
 Ibid, October 7. Pimentel is cited to have addressed the Supreme Court about the Martial Law Proclamation. While there had been convicts caught following the bombings, there was no clear evidence connecting it to the NPA.
 Ibid, November 29, 1972.
 Senate of the Philippines (18th Congress), “Aquilino Q. Pimentel. Jr.”
 Ibid. Pimentel’s wife Bing recalled how they launched his campaign with only 2,000 pesos – all the money which the couple could then muster.
 Manglinong, Dan (21 September 2018), “’ He might’ve forgotten about me’: Nene Pimentel counters Enrile’s new video”. Interaksyon, retrieved from https://interaksyon.philstar.com/breaking-news/2018/09/21/134336/aquilino-pimentel-juan-ponce-enrile-bongbong-marcos-martial-law-video/
 Placido, Dharel (21 September 2018), “Pimentel hits Enrile’s martial law ‘revision’: that’s part of aging”. ABS-CBN News, retrieved from https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/09/21/18/pimentel-hits-enriles-martial-law-revision-thats-part-of-aging
 Manglinong (2018), “’ He might’ve forgotten about me’: Nene Pimentel counters Enrile’s new video”.
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