Incumbents, ex-senators pay tribute to Benitez
Past and incumbent senators paid tribute on Tuesday to former Senator Helena Benitez whom they described as a “trailblazer,” recalling her many achievements as a pioneering Filipina public servant, educator, environmentalist and civic leader.
Benitez, who was senator from 1967 to 1971, died last Thursday at the age of 102. A necrological service for her, attended by family members and friends, former colleagues and incumbent senators and Senate officials, was held at the session hall of the Senate.
In his eulogy, Senate President Franklin Drilon noted that Benitez was the only senator who lived through 100 years of the Philippine Senate’s existence. The late senator was two years old when the Senate was inaugurated in 1916.
“In her lifetime, and that means more than a century, she traversed different paths. She was a trailblazer who left an indelible mark in the fields of education, public service, diplomacy, international relations, arts and culture, environment and women empowerment,” Drilon said.
Although her term as senator was cut short when Martial Law was imposed in 1972, Drilon said Benitez continued her human development advocacies and to contribute substantially to women empowerment, the protection of the environment and the promotion of the Filipino culture.
He said Benitez’s life and work were marked not only by her brilliance “but also by her dedication, strength of character, dignity, sterling achievements, patriotism and loyalty to our country.”
“Senator Helena Benitez was one of the fortunate people who were blessed with a long life. Hers was a life well-lived. She did not only bring honor to her family, community and country, she also opened doors that were previously closed to women,” Drilon said.
“In her lifetime, she paved the way and inspired Filipino women to persevere and prosper in their fields of endeavor,” the Senate leader added.
Senator Loren Legarda described Benitez as a “true pioneer” and “catalyst for change.”
“Vision, intelligence, resilience and an innovative spirit. These are what it takes to become a true pioneer, a catalyst for change. Today, we pay tribute to a Filipina who epitomized these characteristics,” Legarda said in her eulogy.
“Dr. Helena Benitez played many roles and conquered many frontiers. She was a trailblazer, a positive and enriching force towards nation-building,” she said.
Legarda highlighted, among the former senator’s many achievements, the latter’s role as a pioneer environmentalist.
“Her initiatives in the Senate allowed environmental issues to come to the forefront of national concern way back in the sixties and early seventies,” she said.
It was Benitez, she said, who initiated the first comprehensive report on the state of Philippine environment in 1971.
“I could not help but be ever so grateful for her efforts to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Her initiatives paved the way for environmental laws and policies that we have now. We are here to continue the fight that she started,” Legarda added.
Former Senator Wigberto Tañada said Benitez’ achievements “speak volumes on how we can and how we must work together to help build a society free from widespread poverty and high inequality, and free from the violent conflicts, disasters and catastrophic climate change.”
Tañada said he first met Benitez through his father, the late Senator Lorenzo Tañada, as the two were seated next to each other and easily became friends.
“It’s so easy for a new legislator and a woman at that to be intimidated in the Senate dominated by men but Senator Helena Benitez stood tall with her ideas and advocacies, her conviction and flexibility, her decisiveness and grace under fire,” he said.
Among those who attended the necrological services were Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Leila de Lima, former Senate President Edgardo Angara, Senate Secretary Oscar G. Yabes and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) chairperson Patricia Licuanan. RAM/rga
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