HIGINIO O. BENITEZ
Higinio Benitez, a lawyer, judge and delegate to the Malolos Congress, was born in Intramuros, Manila on january 11, 1851, to Francisco Benitez, an expert organ builder and Antonia Ortega, both of Spanish ancestry.
Unexpected adversity was no stranger to Higinio Benitez. When his father was summoned by Father Ramon Rodriguez to be with him in Cagayan, his mother died. Fate seemed to smile on the Benitez family, however, when Father Rodriguez was transferred to Manila as Rector of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. Benitez was employed by Father Rodriguez and given work as reader to the school interns at mealtime and to do odd jobs for the Rector. He was so trusted by Father Rodriguez that his schoolmates called him Rector Chiquito or "Little Rector." During this period, he dedicated more time to his studies and learned and read Latin so proficiently that his father was very much elated by his performance.
When his father died, Benitez was taken in by Father Rodriguez who, however, also died soon after. With the loss of his benefactor, Benitez and the other boys of Spanish blood were kept in the orphanage section of the school. There he met another boy, Cayetano Arellano, who later became his life long friend. In this asylum for orphans, he learned to take care of himself. He and the other boys would fetch water from the well and bathe in pairs.
Undaunted by these circumstances, he finished his lementary and secondary education and received a Bachelor of Arts degree. He enrolled later at the University of Santo Tomas where he obtained his Licentiate in Jurisprudence in 1881. He practised law until 1886 when he was appointed registrcidor mercantil for the province of Laguna.
Although Benitez did not join the revolutionary forces in 1896, he contributed valuable services to the cause of the Revolution by giving advice to General Severino Taiño, the leader of the Katipuneros in Pagsanjan: to Santiago Crisostomo, the president of the local Katipunan council; and, also, to Colonel Pedro Caballes. In many instances he interceded for the release of Pagsanjeños who were arrested and jailed by the civil authorities or by the friars.
In 1898, he and Don Graciano Cordero were named delegates to the Malolos Congress as representatives of the province of Laguna. Before the end of 1898, Benitez was back in Manila.
At the advent of American rule, his legal services were availed of by the Insular government on January 7, 1899 when he was appointed secretary of the Supreme Court then presided over by Justice Cayetano Arellano. On June 7 of the same year, he filled the position of Associate Judge of the Court of Land Registration headed by Charles H. Smith. Shortly thereafter, he was named clerk of Court of the Supreme Court. He, however, gave this up to become fiscal of Laguna from July 20, 1901 to July 18, 1907.
On November 20, 1907 he accepted appointment as fiscal of Rizal. Two years later, on December 10, 1909, he was again Associated Judge of the Court of Land Registration which was then presided over by Judge Simplicio del Rosario.
Benitez's last positions in the government were Judge-at-Large of the Court of First Instance from September 30, 1911 to July i, 1914 and as Judge of the 17th judicial district until his retirement on October 1, 1916. As provided for by Act No. 2589, he was awarded a gratuity amounting to P16,000.00 which he collected under Act. No. 3304.
As a private citizen, Benitez resided in Pagsanjan, Laguna, where, in no time at all, he became one of its most respected and most prestigious citizens. There he reared his family. Two of his sons, Francisco and Conrado, later became foremost educators and professors in the University of the Philippines.
The impact of adversity on the formative years of Benitez must have affected his deep love for his family many years later. In his memories, he wrote:
" I was then a very young child possibly three or four... When
my father was gone and my mother died ...
My father was summon ed home,
but of course, he could not get back until after many days.
I expect quietly the hour that God calls me to his bosom.
My older children are my glorious crown, they will know how to educate and guide their younger brothers and sisters along the path of righteousness which they have trodden and are still following, being the great satisfaction I have experienced in this world.
They are good children as much as they will be good parents”.
Nobility of his character, invaluable services to the country and the memories of his children of their loving father are monuments to Judge Benitez as one of the eminent Filipinos in Philippine history.
On May 8, 1928, Benitez passed away at the age of 77.