BIENVENIDO MARIA GONZALEZ Y SIOCO[1]

Bienvenido Maria Gonzalez y Sioco was born on March 22, 1893.  He was the eighth of the brood of ten boys born to Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez and Florencia Sioco.  He grew up in Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga.

Bienvenido and Conchita Rafols, marriage picture

CHILDHOOD RECOLLECTIONS

One of the things Bienvenido relished during his childhood was his visits to the house of the Rodriguezes in Bacolor, Pampanga.  There he was the center of attention – what with his Tia Sepa (Josefa Rodriguez) and Tia Onyang (Gorgonia Rodriguez) pampering him with the attention he couldn’t get at home, what with so many brothers around!  His cousin Beatriz Rodriguez remembers that these two aunts would have him taken for a ride on a cart around the Plaza, just so he would eat his lunch.  Because of these fond memories, Bindo, as he was called for short, would visit these two aunts even after he reached adulthood.  Beatriz reported that, when Bindo became UP President, he went to the house of his aunts to inform them of his new appointment.  He even slept overnight in their house and left the next day.  Tia Sepa was later chosen to be Eva’s godmother at baptism.

GUARDIAN FOR THE YOUNGER BROTHERS

Bindo’s daughter, Eva, does not remember hearing her father relate many experiences with his mother and brothers.  But Bindo did tell her that his mother was quite strict, most probably to maintain order in their large family.  His mother, Florencia, asked the older brothers to help take care of the younger ones.  When Bindo went to Los Baños to study, Florencia designated Augusto, the fourth brother whom everyone called Titong, to be his guardian.  This relationship between Bindo and Titong lasted till the latter’s death in 1939.  Eva remembers her father’s making a special trip to Apalit to seek her Tio Titong’s counsel, before accepting the presidency of the University of the Philippines. He would have continued asking for his counsel, had Titong not lost his life to the Timbol brothers.

When his second-to-the-youngest brother, Joaquin, decided to take up agriculture, Bienvenido was made his guardian. This way, Bindo repeated the relationship he had with Titong, but this time, he was the guardian.

Dada Gonzalez Aragon, the daughter of Bindo’s older brother Dr. Jesus Gonzalez, to this day tells the story that, during her graduation ceremony from UP, her Tio Bindo stood up to kiss her to show recognition that she was related to him.  She felt elated over this experience.

Bienvenido was the first president of the UP Phi Kappa Phi international Honor Society in 1933.  When Nena Franco, the daughter of Dr. Fernando Gonzalez, the eldest of the Gonzalez boys, also became a member in 1935, her Tio Bindo went to congratulate her and said,

“So now you are my ‘sister.’”

Nena went home to her father to tell him that she, too, was now a sister of her father’s brother. Nena always looked for her Phi Kappa Phi pin to retell this story to her children, even before she died in 2009.

FAMILY LIFE

Bienvenido married Concepcion Rafols, who, at that time, was an academic supervisor in the City Schools of Manila.  They had five children, three boys and two girls.

Bienvenido’s family grew up in College, Laguna, where he spent 33 years—i.e., four years as a student, and the rest as a member of the faculty starting from instructor and ending as dean and professor.

To Eva, her Dad will always be remembered as a father who instilled discipline with humor.  He would make a joke of their misdemeanor, referring to it in such a manner that they’d vow to themselves, never to do it again.

One distinct story of Eva was when she used to enjoy sharpening her brand new Mongol pencil with the sharpener at school.  One day, she came home showing how small it had become.  Bienvenido didn’t say anything that first time, so she didn’t think she did anything wrong.  She did it again.  Before Bindo handed her a new pencil, he asked Eva to put out her hand and spanked it.  Eva doesn’t remember what he said as he did it.  He didn’t look angry.  But for many times on different occasions, he would humorously allude to his experiences so that Eva resolved never to do it again.

Bienvenido was strict, but he hardly inflicted physical punishment except for that one time when he did.  But he used his belt on his son Gonzalo, his nephews Vladimir and Benjamin, when they came home with report cards showing a grade of “E” for bad conduct at the Maquiling Elementary School. It was his wife Conching who used her leather slipper on the kids. Gonzalo and Eva were the most frequent recipients.  She would make them “sila” – which means, to sit at opposite corners of the room and only release them after they had promised to behave.

Like most Filipino households, it was often Conching who laid out the rules – with Bindo’s consent, of course.  The boys could not go out to play with friends on Saturdays until they mowed the lawn or cleaned the cars.  The all had to say, “Mom, I’m home” upon entering the house, and of course, ask permission if they wanted to go out to play. That was part of their discipline.  Such training served them well as they grew up, even if they didn’t enjoy it at that time.

PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Bienvenido studied at San Juan de Letran in Manila, and then he took up agriculture at the U.P. College of Agriculture, College, Laguna, acquiring a bachelor’s degree in 1913. He then studied at the University of Wisconsin, and received a Master of Science Degree in 1916.  Later, he obtained a Doctor of Science Degree at the Johns Hopkins University, U.S.A in 1924.

On April 21, 1939, The UP Board of Regents elected Bienvenido M. Gonzalez to the UP Presidency.  At the time of his election, Bienvenido was dean of the College of Agriculture at Los Baños.  At the age of 46, he was the first UP alumnus to head his Alma Mater.

Dr. Gonzalez was inaugurated on October 19, 1939 to coincide with the founding of Universidad Cientifico-Literaria de Filipinas of the first Philippine Republic in Malolos.  The UP remembered that Bienvenido’s father, Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez, was the first Rector of the Universidad Cientifico Literaria de Filipinas, to which the University of the Philippines may trace its origin.[2]

Fifty-eight years after his death, Bienvenido is remembered for many things.  Bienvenido became the sixth President of the University of the Philippines before the War broke out.  The most significant thing he did during his tenure as UP President was to relocate the University of the Philippines from congested Manila to Diliman, Quezon City.

The second thing for which Bienvenido is remembered for was his moral fiber.  President Manuel L. Quezon was quoted to say during his Bienvenido’s inauguration, “… he possesses that moral fiber with which educational leaders should be endowed.  Here is a living example which the constituency of the University may well emulate.  It teaches the secondary importance of material wealth and the priceless value of service.”

It was the same moral fiber that caused Bienvenido to be ousted.  Bienvenido refused the recommendation of President Quirino to grant an honorary degree to Indonesian President Sukarno during the latter’s visit to the Philippines.  Bindo classified President Sukarno as a “rebel” and not worthy of an honorary degree at the State University.  Instead, Bindo invited the then ex–Justice Claro M. Recto as the guest speaker at the UP commencement exercise on April 23, 1951.

This act of the replacement of Bienvenido as UP President resulted in the first demonstration of students from the Diliman campus.  The 1951 Philippinensian reported,

“But the University spirit was already full grown and could no longer be cowed by power.  It was this spirit which inspired the UP youth to march to Malacañang to protest to act of Elpidio Quirino and his men in the Board of Regents, in virtually forcing the retirement of President Bienvenido M. Gonzalez. And to this end, the students were willing and ready to defy the heat of the noon-day sun, hunger and even the law itself.

In their manifest, the students declared:  “We stand for the principle that the state university should be free from political interference.  No official in the government, however high or might, should trample upon the independence of this institution”[3]

Even before Bienvenido became UP President, he was already known internationally for developing the Philamin cattle, Benkjale pig, Cantonese chicken and the famous Santa Gertrudes cattle.  As Dean of the College of Agriculture in Los Baños, the College became the acknowledged leader in the scientific field in the Country.  Children of rich families were sent to the College for their education.  Dr. Gonzalez followed his oft-repeated remark to the letter,

“I want every product of this College, whether it be a student, a plant, a domestic animal, or a scientific paper, to bear a mark similar to that of ‘sterling’ on silver.”[4]

Bienvenido was president from April 21, 1939 to October 1943, and from June 28, 1945 to September 23, 1951.  He died on December 30, 1953.  He was conferred posthumously in 1957 by his Alma Mater, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.


[1] Eva Gonzalez, “Memories”, October 13, 2004.  Her thoughts on her father.

[2] “The UP Presidency through the years,” Carillon, January-June 1983, Diliman, Quezon City, p.11.

[3] “The UP Presidency through the years,” ibid., pp.13-15.

[4] Philippine Collegian, Vol. XXI, No. 19, Manila, October 19, 1949.  P.5.