Long Live the First Filipina

June 4, 2012

Sponsorship Speech
Long Live the First Filipina
Senate Resolution 786
Senate Session Hall
June 04, 2012

Mr. President,

Ours is a world where it takes more than courage to inspire people and establish a place in history. It takes vision, intelligence, resilience, and an innovative spirit to become true pioneers, who are symbols of progress and catalysts of change. One such pioneer is our very own Dr. Helena Benitez.

Dr. Helena Zoila Benitez became a member of the Philippine Senate 44 years ago. She was born in 1914 to Dean Conrado Benitez, once technical adviser to Manuel Quezon, and Dr. Francisca Tirona Benitez, founder of the Philippine Women’s University.

Dr. Benitez played many roles and conquered many frontiers. She is a trailblazer who cannot help but be a positive force towards nation building.

She became the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines in 1940. She showed her appreciation of culture and the Filipino identity by establishing the now internationally-acclaimed Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company in 1957.

Before she became a legislator, she already made her mark as the first Filipina chair of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She successfully paved the way towards the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the UN General Assembly during her term in 1967.

Like her mother, Dr. Benitez’s trust in education as a means towards progress manifested itself in her contributions as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Women’s University, an office she has held since 1980. She also became the first Filipina and first woman member of the Board of the International Association of Universities. And during the term of President Ramos, she was the first Filipina conferred the Presidential Award of the Order of Sikatuna, with a Rank of Datu.

Her list of “firsts” goes on and on, leading some to dub her, unsurprisingly, “The First Filipina.” But among her accomplishments, I wish to highlight her role as a pioneer environmentalist.

Dr. Benitez 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. She 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 R.A. 6147, the Philippine Eagle Protection Act, R.A. 6148, the Tamaraw Sanctuaries Act , and R.A. 6239, the Forestry Profession Law , among other legislative successes.

Her commitment to saving the environment extends beyond our national borders. In 1972, she headed the first Philippine Delegation on the UN Conference of the Human Environment (UNCHE). She became the first Filipina and first woman president of the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme. And in 1992, she 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.

Mr. President,

It is with gratitude and respect that I have filed Senate Resolution 786 honoring the life and dedication of the remarkable Dr. Benitez, who in a few weeks will be celebrating her 98th birthday.
Let us, as a nation, celebrate a life lived in the service of the Filipino people.

Let us strive to replicate her fearlessness, vision, resilience, and innovative spirit that nourishes hope in a better, greener, and more sustainable future.

Let us find inspiration in her words, that we should all strive for “One Earth, in whose life-giving environment peace, justice, respect for human rights and equitable sharing of world’s resources and opportunities will prevail and flourish.”

Long live the First Filipina, Dr. Helena Zoila Benitez!

Thank you, Mr. President.