Legarda Honors Centenarian Helena Benitez

June 27, 2014

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Senator Loren Legarda honored Dr. Helena Z. Benitez and highlighted her notable contributions to the country, as the former senator, pioneer environmentalist, educator, advocate of culture and civil society leader celebrates her 100th birthday today, June 27.

“Dr. Helena Benitez is a Filipina whose character inspires people. She has established a place in our history with her vision, intelligence, resilience and innovative spirit. Dr. Benitez is a catalyst of change who played many roles and conquered many frontiers,” said Legarda.

Dr. Benitez was a member of the Philippine Senate from 1968 to 1972. She was the first Filipina to have chaired the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the first Filipina member of the Board of the International Association of Universities, and the first Filipina conferred the Presidential Award of the Order of Sikatuna, with a Rank of Datu.

She established the Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company in 1957, was co-founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, served as chair of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, and was multi-term president of the Civic Assembly of Women of the Philippines.

“Dr. Benitez is a trailblazer and a positive force towards nation building. She is a woman leader I look up to and among her many achievements, I wish to highlight her role in environmental protection,” said Legarda, who is also a known environmentalist.

“She is famous for initiating the first comprehensive report on the State of the Philippine Environment in 1971 and authoring several pieces of legislation that allowed environmental issues to come to the forefront of national concern,” Legarda said.

Dr. Benitez is the author of Republic Act 5752, the Municipal Forests and Watersheds Act, which mandated every city and municipality in the country to establish, develop and maintain a permanent forest, tree park, or watershed that covered at least two percent of its territory. She also authored the Philippine Eagle Protection Act (R.A. 6147), the Tamaraw Sanctuaries Act (R.A. 6148), and the Forestry Profession Law (R.A. 6239), among other legislative accomplishments.

Her commitment to saving the environment extends beyond national borders. She headed the first Philippine Delegation on the UN Conference of the Human Environment (UNCHE) in 1972, became the first Filipina and first woman president of the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme, and became the special adviser to Secretary General Maurice F. Strong in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Sustainable Development (UNCED), more popularly known as the Rio Summit, in 1992.

“Dr. Benitez has worn many hats and achieved so much not only for herself but also for the Filipino nation. She continues to live a very fruitful life because at 100 years old, she still serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Women’s University. I wish all Filipinos would strive to replicate her fearlessness, vision, resilience and innovative spirit to nurture a better, greener and more sustainable future,” said Legarda.

On June 4, 2012, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 786, sponsored by Legarda, to honor Dr. Benitez for her service to the Filipino people and to acknowledge her contributions to the nation.