Helena Benitez: Still active at 98
At 98, she has outlived 10 Philippine leaders, starting with President Manuel L. Quezon, and has the distinction of defending the environment long before the cause became fashionable.
Just two years short of becoming a centenarian on Wednesday, former Senator and Ambassador-at-large Helena Z. Benitez continues to attend meetings and conventions as board chair of Philippine Women’s University, is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, chair emeritus of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, adviser to the National Council of Women of the Philippines and founding president of the Philippine Home Economics Association, which she founded in 1948.
But of these, Benitez considers being addressed as an educator and environmentalist the best tribute of all.
The former senator will lead guests and four generations of the Benitez family in a tree-planting ceremony at Orchard Golf and Country Club in Dasmariñas, Cavite province, on Wednesday to celebrate her birthday.
A Mass officiated by the Rev. Rolando Tirona and Fathers Wency Serafica and Paul Marguez, inspirational speeches, as well as musical numbers, will also mark the event.
Among her best memories, Benitez said, was being feted by her colleagues in the Senate led by Senator Loren Legarda.
Legarda had sponsored Resolution No. 786, honoring Benitez for her “service to the Filipino people and acknowledging her contribution as a senator, a pioneer environmentalist, educator, advocate of culture, and civil society leader.”
In her privilege speech on June 4, Legarda noted that during her term in the Senate from 1968 to 1972, Benitez authored laws on the environment and sustainable development even before these became national issues.
Among these laws were the Municipal Forests and Watersheds Act (Republic Act No. 5752), Philippine Eagle Protection Act (RA 6147), Tamaraw Santuaries Act in Mts. Baco and Iglit in Mindoro (RA 6148), National Building Code Act (RA 6541) and Forestry Profession Law (RA 6239).
Welcoming the guests in Benitez’s birthday celebration in Cavite on Wednesday is Conrado Benitez II, president of HZB Heritage Foundation Inc.
The program will also feature song numbers from Jose Antolin Benitez and Alfonso Conrado Benitez, dance numbers from the Bayanihan Alumni Association, music from concert pianist Harold Galang, former dean of the PWU School of Music and speeches from architects Citas Rosales and Encarnacion Raralio and Josie Ramos that would recall Benitez’s days at the Senate and the United Nations Environmental Program in which she served in 1975 as the first Asian, Filipino and woman president.
Closing the program is an inspirational message from the honoree herself and brief remarks from Amelou B. Reyes, president of the Philippine Women’s College of Davao.