COLUMN:  A  LETTER  FROM  THE  PAST

MANILA, November 30, 2005 (STAR) By Virginia Benitez Licuanan - The other day with some time on my hands, I decided to do a task that I had long been postponing–i.e. sorting out the old letters and notes I had stored in a cabinet where they had lain for decades waiting to be re-read.

In one folder that was labeled "Letters to FB" I found a letter that made me nostalgic for the Past–both mine and that of our country.

It was a letter from President Sergio Osmeña written on January 31, 1939, when he was still Vice President and on an Independence Mission to Washington D.C., to my father Francisco Benitez who had just been appointed to the Department of Public Education. The letter read as follows: Office of the Vice President of the Philippines The Willard Hotel Washington, D.C. January 31, 1939

Dear Paco,

I was happy to receive your two letters, one dated December 5th and the other January 3rd, and I thank you very deeply for your renewed expressions of goodwill and friendship. I am especially grateful to you and Pacita for keeping Mrs. Osmeña company. I can readily understand Mrs. Osmeña’s anxieties when she feels lonely and nothing will be more helpful than the delightful company that Pacita gives her.

Here, so far away from home, we cannot avoid feeling lonely too. Of course, during working hours one may have his mind occupied; but at night in the long and tedious hours of the winter season there is no consolation except the hope that one may be home soon.

The visit, then, of Virginia to Washington was most opportune. I tried to have here also the Del Mundo sisters but I failed because of the exigencies of their respective work. With Virginia came her schoolmate and friend, Miss Leni Alano. Later, Helen Benitez joined them. Secretary Alas and myself were privileged in having them with us on several occasions for dinner or dance. We have also a nice time with the daughters of Dr. Ubaldo and the Erañas, whose apartment at the Chalfonte serves as a sort of social center for us.

I read with great interest what you wrote me about your activities in connection with the office of Private Education. There will be difficulties and problems, but I have no doubt that you, with your recognized ability and experience, will be able to solve them satisfactorily.

Regarding your desire to retire from active service, this is a very delicate matter that requires mature consideration. To reconcile your personal preferences and plans with the needs of the Government is not an easy task, at this distance, with no knowledge of what is going on in the University or in the Department, it is difficult to express any intelligent opinion. Under the circumstances, my natural reaction would be in the negative; but I think you would do better to put more weight in the combined judgment of your wife and Justice Santos than in mine.

As to the future, I deeply appreciate your attitude and the generous opinion of those who share your belief. As I told you before, the Presidency of the Philippines is a very big job, and I do not seek it; I recognize that, in the Presidency, one can render the greatest service to our country, and if the people choose to give me their confidence, I could not refuse to answer the call to service.

My work has kept me busy since my arrival here. A lot of preparation has to be made, both in administration circles and in Congress. Specially during the last two weeks, we had to work day and night to carefully analyze the draft of the proposed legislation to effectuate the recommendations of the Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs. It took the drafting committee three months to write the bill and the several departments concerned another three months to revise the draft and come to an agreement. Although there are few points that are still the subject of conversations with the Department of State, we have agreed to the introduction of the bill, which was done on January 26th. We are endeavoring to prepare the ground for its approval by Congress. But there are many obstacles in the way, one of them being the spirit already manifested among many members of asserting the independence of the Legislature from Executive direction. It is too early to say at this time what the outcome will be; but I am in hopes that some legislation satisfactory to the Philippines will finally be enacted. This will explain to you my tardiness in answering letters.

I do not know how long I will be here for nobody knows at this moment what Congress will do with our bill and when. If by any chance I am still in Washington when Pacita reaches this country, I will be delighted to meet her. I am so anxious to return to the Philippines that I entertain very little hope of being able to attend the world conference on education at Rio de Janeiro but I think the University of the Philippines will do well in sending you there.

With kindest regards to you and Pacita, I am as always,

Cordially yours,

S. Osmeña

Dean Francisco Benitez
Department of Public Instruction
Manila, Philippines

And that was Don Sergio Osmeña, the first President of an independent Philippines, a man so scrupulously honest and principled that he even insisted on paying for all the personal expenses for himself, his whole family and their personal servants during his whole term in Malacañan.

But those were the good old days when our political leaders were working with quiet dignity in the halls of the United States Congress for the Freedom of our country and not brawling and screaming in the streets or on TV in the name of freedom and democracy.

I was just thinking, that was when I was twenty-one years old and dancing my feet off in the best night spots in Washington D.C.

Here I am now, 69 years older but still dancing! Maybe, although we are both quite a bit worse for wear, there is still some hope for the country and me!


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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