Press Release
July 19, 2016

Senators pay tribute to late Senator Helena Benitez

Current and former senators today took turns in paying tribute to the life and legacy of former Senator Helena Z. Benitez during a necrological service at the Senate, and recalled her many achievements as a pioneering Filipina public servant, educator, environmentalist and civic leader.

Senate President Franklin M. Drilon led the chamber in presenting Benitez's family with a Senate Resolution which expressed the profound sympathy and sincere condolence of the Senate on the death of the late senator.

"The members of this august chamber join her family, the country, and the world in grieving over the death of a dedicated lawmaker, public servant and global leader," the Senate resolution said.

Benitez, the 7th Filipino woman who was elected as senator in Philippine history, passed away due to natural causes last July 14, 2016. She was 102.

Drilon remembered Benitez as "a great Filipino whose life exemplified brilliance and inspired emulation."

"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.

"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," he added.

Former Senator Wigberto Tañada, whose father, the late Senator Lorenzo Tañada was a contemporary and friend of Benitez, said her 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."

"It has been a great honor and privilege to have come to know you, to have worked with you. Your ideas and your kind of leadership continue to inspire us as we carry on with our mission to help build a strong, prosperous, progressive and peaceful Philippines," he said.

Former Senator Leticia Shahani-Ramos recalled that Benitez always tried to discover the good qualities of the Filipino, hence her lifelong advocacy for Philippine culture and the arts.

"For Tita Helen, culture was a way of life - how we ate, how we cooked. Culture was about the value of tolerance, understanding, helping each other - in other words the Bayanihan spirit," she said. For Senator Risa Hontiveros, who offered a poem to Benitez, the late senator "shattered glass ceilings and paved the way for more women to participate in charting the destiny of our nation."

She said that Benitez was the first Filipino chairperson of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which worked on the landmark Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1992.

She also pointed out Benitez's contributions to promoting education for Filipinos, especially women, through her role as Chairman Emeritus of the Philippine Women's University, "the first university in Asia founded by Asians."

"As an educator, she knew how important it was for Filipino women to be educated and to find our way in institutions of higher learning," Hontiveros said.

Senator Loren Legarda, for her part, highlighted Benitez's role as 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."

Legarda said that it was Benitez who initiated the first comprehensive report on the state of the 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," she said.

Also present during the event were Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senators Tito Sotto III and Leila de Lima, Former Senate President Edgardo Angara, Senate Secretary Oscar G. Yabes, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan, and friends and members of the Benitez family.

Born to a family of respected educators in 1914, Benitez received bachelor's degrees from the Philippine Women's University, a master's degree from George Washington University, and had her post-graduate studies at Iowa State College.

Benitez first joined the Senate in 1967, and authored significant pieces of legislation, education, manpower and youth development, family, housing and environment, such as the Municipal Forests and Watersheds Act (RA 5752), the Philippine Eagle Protection Act (RA 6147), the Tamaraw Sanctuaries Act (RA 6148), the Forestry Profession Law (RA 6239), and the National Building Code Act (RA 6541).

She was also the principal author of the National Manpower and Youth Development Act, which established the office now known as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA.

Benitez also holds the distinction of being the only senator who lived through the 100 years of the Philippine Senate's existence, as she was two years old when the Senate was first established in 1916.

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