Helena Benitez at 100: Heart filled with gratitude
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - June 29, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - When you turn 100 years old, the only language your heart speaks is gratitude.

This is the case with former senator Helena Benitez, who turned 100 years old last Friday. She is grateful not only to those who remembered her on her special day, but also to the Lord for giving her a pleasant life filled with opportunities.

“He has given me a long life. I have been able to do many things and He has saved me from accidents… All in all, it has been a pleasant life, filled with many opportunities to do many things,” she said.

Regal in her red terno  with gold trimmings, Benitez came in a wheelchair at the CB Hall of the Philippine Women’s University (PWU) where she was greeted by her relatives and friends.

The Benitez family owns the PWU and the centenarian sits as the chairperson of the school’s board of trustees.

She thanked the crowd for joining her in celebrating her centennial. She told them that when they reach her age, they would not only be twice but even thrice grateful to people for taking the time.

Born on June 27, 1914, Benitez shared her secret for long life: to “live well” and be preoccupied with “doing something good.”

She said that she has been mindful of her diet, eating little food at night and limiting rice intake and eating more vegetables. She eats chicken and hardly partakes of beef and pork.

Throughout most of her life, Benitez had been engaged in worthwhile projects and activities here and abroad.

She was at the forefront of the campaign for equal rights for women such as suffrage, and caring for the environment.

When she served as senator from 1968 to 1972, she authored Republic Act 6147 or the Philippine Eagle Protection Act and RA 5752 or the Municipal Forests and Watershed Act. She was the seventh female senator in the country.

The centenarian also held posts in the United Nations, becoming the first woman president of the governing council of the UN Environment Program in 1975. She was also the first chairperson of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that was instrumental in the ratification of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted by the General Assembly in 1967.

Benitez helped promote the rich culture of the Filipinos by founding the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company in 1956.  In 1998, it was recognized as the national folk dance company and since then they have been performing in different countries, showing off Filipino dance talents.

Benitez urged Filipinos to build a better country. “They should try to work hard for our country because we are a small country, so we have to work hard to survive.”

“But I am happy with its (present state) because there are other countries that are worse than ours…but we should try to improve it,” she added.

As for Filipinas, she said that they are living in challenging but interesting times. Today’s women “can do many things. We are liberated and enjoy equal rights with men.”

During the mass held in honor of her centenary, Fr. Paul Marquez compared Benitez to a diamond.

“She can shine bright like a diamond…(because she has) different angles as an educator, internationalist, environmentalist and academician,” the priest said.

“Birthday is not a matter of numbers. It is really a matter of years. The years that life has given to you and the life you bring back to life. Tita Helen has been given 100 years of life, but I dare say she has given much, much more. She has inspired so many people of different generations, different ages and for this I believe her place in our hearts and in our memory would always be secure,” he added.

Benitez never married. She is adored by her nephews, nieces and their children.


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