Masonic Year 1936
One of the seven wise men
Conrado Benitez, the great statesman, eminent educator, constitutionalist, journalist, historian, civic leader and outstanding mason was the twenty-third Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines and the second Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the Philippines.
He worked in the quarries of Masonry for more than half a century. He was only 25 years of age when he was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in Bagumbayan Lodge No. 4 on the eleventh of November, 1914 – the Lodge’s first candidate. Due to his proficiency and active participation in Lodge affairs, he was elected Junior Warden that same year; Senior Warden in 1917 and Worshipful Master in 1918. In 1936, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. His contemporaries at that time were some of the great names in Masonry – Jose Abad Santos, Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, Manuel L. Quezon, Francisco A. Delgado, Frederic H. Stevens, Teodoro M. Kalaw, Manuel Camus and scores of others.
In 1916 he joined the Philippine Bodies. By 1919 he was a Master of the Royal Secret. In 1937, the Mother Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, USA, honored him with his investiture as Knight Commander of the Court of Honor. Twelve years later he joined others in organizing the Luzon Bodies and was elected as the first Venerable Master of its Harmony Lodge of Perfection. That same year (1949) the Mother Supreme Council invested him with the rank and dignity of Inspector General Honorary, 33°. When the Supreme Council of the Republic of the Philippines was formed in 1950, he was one of those created a Sovereign Grand Inspector General and Active Member, serving as the first Grand Treasurer General of the Supreme Council. He later also served as Grand Chancellor and then as Ven. Grand Prior. In 1961 Sovereign Grand Commander Frederic H. Stevens resigned his position because of failing health. At the session of the Supreme Council held that year Benitez was duly elected as the second Sovereign Grand Commander of the Philippine Supreme Council.
Benitez was also an Honorary Member of one foreign Supreme Council and the Grand Representative of four others. Aside from these he was a Shriner and a member of Lodge Perla del Oriente No. 1054, Scottish Constitution.
The Masonic education, tenets and ideals of service of Benitez fitted well in his role as one of the country’s leading statesmen. Up to his late years, Dean Benitez, as he was fondly called by all, was actively involved in civic affairs and in his principal lifelong obsession – the promotion of higher education.
Born on November 26, 1889 in Pagsanjan, Laguna he studied at the Philippine Normal School and graduated valedictorian. In 1911 he was sent to the United States as a government pensionado and enrolled at the University of Chicago where he acquired his M.A, and his Ph. D. Back in the Philippines he studied law at the University of the Philippines.
He started his public career as a teacher of history and economics at the Philippine Normal College. Later, he founded the College of Business Administration of the University of the Philippines, and became its first Dean. He was also one of the founding trustees of the Philippine Women’s University, the first university for women in Asia.
He was, too, the moving spirit behind the world-famous Bayanihan Folk Arts Center, which gave identity to Philippine culture and brought from abroad honor and prestige to the nation.
Dean Benitez was chairman and co-founder of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and trustee of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) - both of which were dedicated to the upliftment of the masses of our people who lived in the rural areas.
In the 1920′s there were no Filipino newspapers in English; all the English papers were owned and edited by Americans. In those difficult years, therefore, the Filipinos saw the imperative need of publishing a Filipino paper in English, owned, edited and managed by Filipinos. Thus the Philippines Herald was founded, and Benitez was chosen as its first editor. The editorials of the Herald, nationalistic in tone and purpose, effectively gave the Filipino side and they were so well written, with a restraint and sobriety that are the hallmarks of good writing, that they commanded the attention and respect of nationalists and foreigners alike. The Philippine independence movement at last had its voice in the language of the colonial master. It was a voice without venom which eloquently articulated the Filipino aspirations addressed to the sovereign power; it was a voice that when the occasion demanded could sound like a thousand trumpets to compel respectful hearing from even as far as Washington, D.C.
In 1934 Dean Benitez was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Assembly and became a member of the committee of “Seven Wise Men” charged with the task of framing the draft of the proposed Charter. In 1937, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt made him member of the Filipino-American joint committee charged with formulating economic plans in preparation for the country’s independence. In 1938, he was appointed assistant executive secretary to the President of the Philippine Commonwealth.
A firm believer in the potentialities of the youth, he co-founded the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), of which he served as President and chairman of the Board from 1949 up to the time of his demise. He had also been a staunch advocate of “free primary instruction in public schools and of citizenship training to adult citizens” and fought to have them enshrined in the Constitution as national policies.
Dean Benitez received quite a number of awards and medals for his outstanding public service, among which were the President Award of Merit for Community Service in 1956; the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Chicago in 1957; the Diploma of Merit for faithful service to higher education from the University of the Philippines in 1962; the “Man of the Golden Year” award from the Philippine Women’s University in 1968; and the Pro-Patria Award conferred on him by President Marcos in 1969 in recognition of his distinguished achievements in the fields of education, economics, and social reform.
On January 4, 1971 Dean Benitez dropped his working tools. His passing left a deep void that is hard to fill, but he left a rich heritage of shinning examples in public service worthy of the emulation of present day Masonic leaders. Thus the Balustre issued by the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite announcing his death said -
Our Supreme Council has been very fortunate and proud to have had him as our Sovereign Grand Commander for a decade; and the Masonic fraternity has been more than fortunate to have counted him as one of its leading members and staunch supporters for over half a century. He shared his time and strength with his Brethren in accordance with the high ideals and character-building philosophy of Freemasonry, and left us with a record of good deeds which will forever be a living voice to remind us of his greatness.