How Nene Pimentel, freedom advocate, defended the ‘V’ in a libel case

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“One of the most fundamental freedoms accorded to citizens like us who live in a democratic country is the freedom of speech and of the press.”

This was the closing paragraph drafted by the late former Senate president Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. for the counter-affidavit of two former Varsitarian staffers in a 2011 libel case.

The libel complaint was filed by businessman Edgardo Angeles, head of Selegna Holdings, the company that operates UST’s multi-deck carpark, after the Varsitarian published a story on a legal dispute between the University and Angeles’s firm.

In a Facebook post, Varsitarian assistant publications adviser Felipe Salvosa II said “odds were stacked mightily” against the staff members, Rommel Rio and Cliff Venzon, as the complainant Angeles was backed up by the law firm of a former cabinet official.

The Varsitarian reached out to Pimentel, who had served three Senate terms and investigated Angeles’s firm as head of the Blue Ribbon Committee. The former lawmaker and PDP-Laban founder agreed to represent the two staffers, without hesitation, Salvosa said.

“I was once the adviser of Xavier University’s [law school journal],” Pimentel said. “[I understand] the situation.”

The complaint was eventually dismissed by the Makati prosecutor’s office.

“If no law can abridge our freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, we submit that no whimsical complaint [s]hould be allowed to trample upon the freedom of the press [w]hich we exercised in our student publication with due care and without malice even if the attempt is made by wealthy and presumably powerful individuals,” Pimentel wrote in conclusion of the counter-affidavit.

Pimentel was a stalwart of freedom and became a democracy icon for his fervent opposition to the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

A civil rights lawyer and 1971 Constitutional Convention delegate, he began his political career in 1980 as mayor of Cagayan de Oro City, and was elected senator in 1987 upon the restoration of democracy. He ran for vice president in 1992 in a ticket with Senate colleague Jovito Salonga, but lost.

Pimentel returned to the Senate in 1998 and served two more terms until 2010. He became Senate president from 2000-2001, during the aborted Estrada impeachment trial.

Pimentel died Sunday morning due to complications from lymphoma, the cancer of the immune system. He was 85.

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