REMEMBERING NENE PIMENTEL: The quest to be a person for others and why we need to be bridge builders today

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 20 October ) — On February 6, 1982, I was a 13-year-old student at Xavier University High School who cut classes to be with my father to witness the Founding Convention of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) in Cebu City.

Together with a few political leaders from Cagayan de Oro, we took the slow overnight Trans-Asia boat the night before from Cagayan de Oro and arrived in Cebu at dawn. It was an adventure of a lifetime.

I never realized what a watershed political event that fateful day would become or how it would affect the trajectory of Philippine politics, but I do remember my 13-year-old heart on fire as I listened to this young, larger-than-life leader from Mindanao – all of 48 years old – open his speech with a grand vision of building a bridge borrowing these lines from Will Allen Dromgoole’s The Bridge Builder:

“An old man going a lone highway, Came at the evening, cold and gray, To a chasm, vast, and deep and wide, Through which was flowing a sullen tide. The old man crossed in the twilight dim; The sullen stream had no fear for him; But he turned, when safe on the other side, And built a bridge to span the tide. “Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near, “You are wasting strength with building here; Your journey will end with the ending day; You never again will pass this way; You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide- Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?” The builder lifted his old gray head: “Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said, “There followeth after me today, A youth, whose feet must pass this way. This chasm, that has been naught to me, To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be. He, too, must cross in the twilight dim; Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

I have to admit that, in my mind, when I heard Nene Pimentel spoke of a “youth whose feet must pass this way,” he was speaking directly to me – a 13-year-old boy who was interested in being part of whatever he was doing.

But what makes Nene Pimentel great? He was a hero on a quest. He was willing to lay down his life and liberty for his friends. He was the personification of the ideal XU (Xavier University) graduate: he was person-for-others, not a person-for-himself. He fought the Marcos dictatorship when it was dangerous to do so.

People remember his external achievements – Mayor, DILG Secretary, Senate President, Father of the Local Government Code, etc. But I would say Nene Pimentel was greatest when he was in prison – alone, wrongfully accused, weak and without any power – in a dark cell in Camp Cabahug in Cebu and looking at the distant stars.

That was Nene Pimentel’s most significant moment. I would bet that, on those nights when everything seemed lost and hope was running on empty – he was singing to himself that song which is etched in stone and in the hearts of many activists in 70s and 80s from his alma mater – Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest To follow that star
No matter how hopeless No matter how far
To fight for the right Without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell For a heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage To reach the unreachable star

Pahulay sa Kalinaw Sir AQP.

May your heart lie peaceful and calm. You have been faithful to the glorious quest – freedom, equality, and solidarity for all.

While the social chasm in our country remains deep and wide, we promise to carry on the quest and become bridge builders like you.

Pray for us that we may continue to reach the unreachable star, to be men-and-women for others in the present time.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Lawyer Camilo ‘Bong’ Montesa is an alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees of the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, a law professor at the Ateneo de Manila Law School and youngest charter member of the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino in 1982)

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