There were two milestones to celebrate this month—equally important, equally indicative of how this country is blessed.
Former senator Helena Z. Benitez turned 100 last June 27—an amazing event for an amazing woman who has blazed trails here and abroad and who has filled those years with inspiration and achievement. She has done so much, and the list would beggar this space. Suffice it to say that the fields of education, women empowerment, civil society, public service, environment, arts and culture, among others, are richer because of her.
Benitez has served as a senator and as a member of the Batasang Pambansa. Among her pioneering legislative work are laws on women and family life, consumer protection, the law that founded what is today known as Tesda (the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority), and the Philippine Eagle Protection Law.
She is the first Filipino to chair the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Another signal moment was when she was elected president of the UN Environment Program’s governing council in 1975—the first Asian and first woman to fill the post. Indeed, so important has been her work with the UN that its Commission on Sustainable Development sessions in New York now have for a side event the Helena Z. Benitez Global Forum on Women and Sustainable Development.
She has been variously recognized, from seven honorary doctorates and the Order of Sikatuna (rank of datu) to the papal award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and the Mother Teresa Award for humanitarian services, among others.
A child of teachers (her mother cofounded what would become the Philippine Women’s University, her father was the founding dean of the University of the Philippines College of Business), Benitez is the first Filipino elected to the executive board of the Unesco-based International Association of Universities.
She continues to chair the board of trustees of the PWU, the first university for women in Asia founded by Asians. In a speech in 2010, she said “the No. 1 function” of educators is to “take care of the human being” and to “make sure that through education, every boy and girl, every man and woman that comes through [our] hands as an educational institution comes out as close to God as possible.”
Benitez is a living blessing, her life work honoring and benefiting generations of Filipinos.
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