- *MITCH M. LIPA
Being a neophyte in the House of Representatives did not deter Congressman Jose Francisco “Kiko” Bantug Benitez from championing legislations that will greatly help not only his constituents in the 3rd District of Negros Occidental, but in the province and the country, as well.
Elected to the House in 2019, Dr. Kiko, as he is fondly called, has been championing bills to harness science and technological innovation to ensure inclusive and sustainable development.
He has principally authored or co-authored 277 bills, including the proposal to expand the capacity of the Teresita L. Jalandoni Provincial Hospital in Silay City, the establishment of new court salas in Victorias City and Silay City, a marine hatchery in Talisay City, a new branch of the Land Transportation Office in EB Magalona, and schools for sports and arts in the 3rd District.
Dr. Kiko is the Chairperson of the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development, and has shepherded the approval of vital bills to promote the people’s right to the city through affordable in-city housing models.
He has filed several bills for urban and rural development, including a proposal to institutionalize rental housing subsidy, creation of the Visayas Development Authority, and a sustainable cities framework for local government units (LGUs).
As Vice Chairperson of the House Committee of Agriculture and Food, he led technical working groups to strengthen the sugarcane industry and mainstream urban farms, and has filed bills to promote urban agriculture, and the establishment of agricultural information system for yield monitoring and marketing.
As Vice Chairperson of the Special Committee on Creative Industries, Dr. Kiko co-sponsored the bill to support artists, artisans, creative professionals and entrepreneurs in enhancing their craft and broadening their market.
He also led 14 technical working groups on bills to prevent and control marine and plastic pollution, for funding of housing programs, upholding the rights of internally displaced persons, and on anti-discrimination, among others.
Through Dr. Kiko’s determination, the bill banning single-use plastics was approved on third and final reading since it was first filed 20 years ago.
The novice solon has been pushing bills that aim to harness science and technological innovation to ensure inclusive and sustainable development; and uphold human dignity, agency and creativity in development processes.
On digital transformation, Dr. Kiko authored bills on comprehensive framework for digital transformation, digital payment system, digital reskilling, implementing roll-over data, and establishment of digital hubs per LGU.
Growing up, Dr. Kiko spent many summers in his mother’s childhood home in Victorias, Negros Occidental. At an early age, he developed a strong passion for literature, and when he was 11 years old, he co-wrote an adaptation of a Greek mythology which was published by the Children’s Communication Center of the Virgilio Almario, who was named National Artist for Literature later on.
His deep interest in literature led him to pursue a career as a scholar of literary theory. He earned his B.A. summa cum laude from Cornell University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In 2011, he returned permanently to the Philippines to lead the Philippine Women’s University into its Centennial. Under his leadership, PWU strengthened its commitment to a holistic education that cultivates family solidarity, environmental consciousness, and civic participation through progressive pedagogy aided by digital technology.
For his accomplishments as PWU president, Dr. Kiko received the Outstanding Contribution to Education during the Asia’s Education Excellence Awards in 2017.
His passion in education also contributed to his bills on establishing community learning centers for lifelong learning, strengthening teacher education, developing creative industries, and promoting film tourism.
Dr. Kiko’s outstanding performance in Congress is matched, if not exceeded, by his accomplishments in the 3rd District.
He pushed for and sourced out national funding for roads and bridges, including P2.5 billion in road projects like national roads – P1.7B, tourism roads – P320.5 million, farm-to-market/mill roads – P309.7M, and local roads – P191M; bridges worth P403.4M, flood control structures worth P1.2B, irrigation facilities valued at P290.6M, and multi-purpose community centers, worth P210.6 million.
At critical periods throughout this COVID pandemic, Dr. Kiko, together with his brother and former congressman Albee Benitez, mobilized resources to establish a molecular laboratory at the TLJPH and an emergency operations center; and expedite the distribution of vaccines.
He co-authored bills for post-pandemic recovery, including the Bayanihan 2 and 3, and the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy or ARISE bill.
Dr. Kiko also initiated cash assistance to 2,016 students under the CHED Tulong Dunong, supported the construction of school buildings, worth P38.9M, establishment of free Wi-Fi projects in 33 sites in the district, Tech4Ed centers in three LGUs, DigitalJobsPH training program, and the scholarship for 25 students in China universities.
He assisted in the construction of health centers and provision of health equipment, worth P22.5M, medical assistance to indigent patients worth P25.5M, cash assistance to poor families under the DSWD-AICS and DOLE-TUPAD, at P77.6M, and emergency housing assistance to 385 flood-affected families.
Dr. Kiko said he firmly believes in the potential of legislation to promote human development, provide our people quality and relevant education, enable them to adapt to a fast-changing world, and empower them to dream, imagine, and build a future that fulfils the needs of people and the planet.
A very diligent but humble worker, he has dedicated his first term to introducing legislation that balance the imperatives of the economy and ecology amid existential threats to human and natural environments.
And Dr. Kiko is committed to finish what he started in his next term, with your support. | NND