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Monday, August 11, 2008

Francisco F. Benitez


Francisco F. Benitez, one of the country's foremost educators, was born in Pagsanjan, Laguna on June 4, 1887 to Don Higinio Benitez, a signer of Malolos Constitution, and Soledad Francia. He had four brothers: Ceferino, Teofilo, Conrado, and Eulogio, and a sister, Antonia. His brother Conrado was an economist, historian, and a business leader, while Eulogio was a congressman of Laguna and the first to use English in the sessions of the Philippine House of Representatives.

After his graduation from the Philippine Normal School in 1904, he started his educational career. He served as principal of a school in Pakil, Laguna, before being sent as a government pensionado to the United States in 1905. He graduated three years later from the Western Illinois State Normal School. Back in the Philippines, he was appointed assistant supervising teacher in Bacoor, Cavite.

On July i, 1918, the U.P. Board of Regents passed a resolution transforming the School of Education into the College of Education Francisco Benitez was appointed its dean and thus started his strong influence on education.

Preparatory to the establishment of the commonwealth government, Quezon appointed in 1935 a committee, called the Quezon Educational Survey Committee, to study and recommend changes in the educational system. As a member of the committee, Dean Benitez was appointed chairman of the subcommittee on teacher training.

On August 13, 1945, President Sergio Osmeña revived the National Council of Education created by Quezon shortly before the war. Dean Benitez was made chairman of this council.

After the war, in January, 1946, Osmeña apointed Benitez Secretary of Public Instruction until May, 1946, with Florentino Cayco as his undersecretary.

A patriot at heart, Dean Benitez served his countrymen and the government in different capacities. He worked as honorary correspondent for the Philippines in the International Bureau of Education at Geneva, president of the National Federation of Teachers in the Philippines, and chairman of the educational sector in the First Independence Congress in 1930. He was also the director of the World Federation of Education Associations and of the Institute of the Pacific Relations, and president and director of the Philippine China Society and of the Japan Philippine Society, respectively.

As an educator, Benitez believed that education could make the country stable and progressive and that every Filipino child should have the right to an education in order to develop his potentials to the full. He also strongly advocated the development of the spirit of nationalism, particularly in the youth, the development of internationalism, and of the national language. As director of the Office of Private Education, he advocated the idea of having social studies taught exclusively by Filipino teachers.

A liberal and a democrat, he fought against any method of instruction which would give rise to any form of intellectual or social aristocracy. A strong advocate of democratic ideas in classroom management and supervision, he batted for an educational system geared toward the needs of the people.

A staunch champion of teachers, Francisco Benitez, contributed much towards the function of teachers' associations in the country. In 1940, he advocated salary increases for teachers in order to build up their morale and give them an incentive to remain in the service.

He also distinguished himself as a writer and editor when he published "Educational Progress in the Philippines," "Stories of Great Filipinos," and several other essays and articles here and abroad. He was editor of the Philippine Journal of Education. He conducted courses in education: "The Social and Economic Status of Our Teachers" and "A Study in Individual Differences."

his kind, amiable, and courteous dean whose favorite aphorism was "work and study in the spirit of play," was also known for his sense of humor and satire on people, institutions, and other elements of life and society.

Once, somebody tried to convince him of the danger of smoking which he did immoderately by saying, "Dean, a drop of nicotine is enough to kill a fish." The dean replied: "But, my dear, I'm not a fish."

He was a humble fellow. In his classes before the examination, he used to thumb the pages of the textbook saying: "Know this, know that. I require you to know these details, even if I myself don't know them now." Humorously, he would add, "Anyway, you are the ones to take the exam, not I."

Dean Benitez had an enormous love for the people, a deep affection for the unpretentious, lowly masses unaffected by the sophistication of society. He enjoyed talking to them, holding them by the sleeves, patting them on the shoulders, and greeting them by their first names.

Dean Benitez was accorded honors for his distinguished service to education by Columbia University which awarded him its University Medal in 1929. That same year, he was honored with two Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by the University of Manila. For being an outstanding school executive, a progressive educational statesman and a staunch champion of teachers and the teaching profession, he was voted Teacher of the Year in December, 1950 by the alumni of the College of Education, University of the Philippines. In 1951, the National University conferred on him a doctorate degree, honoris causa. Finally, a citation of merit was given him by President Quirino for his service in the field of education in the Philippines.

He died on June 30, 1951 at the age of 64 at the Singian Clinic after suffering a heart attack while walking along Carriedo, Quiapo, Manila. He was survived by his wife, Pat Marquez Benitez, and children Ana Virginia, Francisco Jr., Roberto, and Rafael.

His death was deeply mourned by his countrymen; he truly deserved their respect and veneration, for he was one of the pillars of Philippine education.