When Dr. Bienvenido Sioco Gonzalez assumed the presidency of our esteemed state university in 1939, he accomplished many firsts---the youngest head to be so named at just 46 years old, and the very first alumnus to do so. He made history again in 1945, when he was reappointed, making him the only president to hold two terms.
Gonzalez was born on 22 November 1893 in Apalit, Pampanga, the son of Don Joaquin Gonzalez and Dña. Florencia Sioco. His father had been the rector of the Universidad Literaria de Filipinas, a school of higher learning founded by Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo in Malolos. He was one of the earliest graduates of agriculture at the University of the Philippines in 1913.
After his collegiate studies, he earned a scholarship at the Wisconsin State University, as one of the first batch of Filipino pensionados. There, he obtained his Master of Science in Agriculture in 1915. Gonzalez further took doctoral courses at the John Hopkins University, before returning home to the Philippines. He was immediately recruited as an Assistant Professor of Animal Husbandry at his alma mater, a post he held for 6 years. He quickly rose in rank, first promoted as a department head and later, Dean of the College of Agriculture in 1928.
Back home in Pampanga, he put his agricultural expertise to good use, becoming a sugar planter like his father before him and a businessman. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Pampanga Sugar Development Co., (PASUDECO).
In 1939, he broke barriers by being installed as the sixth president of the University of the Philippines, amidst opposition due to his “non-intellectual” animal husbandry background. But he rose above all these, lobbying for the opening of a College of Nursing, the founding of the UP Carillon and the use of Tagalog as a national language.
The war disrupted 6-year term and, rather than serving under the Japanese rule, he stepped down from his post, to be replaced by Antonio Sison, until the Liberation. He reassumed the Presidency in 1945 amidst the ruins and reconstruction following the War. But he forged ahead, making a very crucial decision to move major school operations from the damages Padre Faura campus to the new, but distant and empty Diliman area, a vast 493 hectare property donated by the Tuason family. He successfully obtained Php 13 million from the U.S. War damage Commission which he used to rebuild a new University of the Philippines campus.
The very vocal Gonzalez persevered and succeeded in concretizing his vision for the University despite media criticisms and differences with then Pres. Elpidio Quirino. For instance, he disapproved an honorary degree that the government want conferred on Indonesian President Sukarno. He openly welcomed Quirino’s staunchiest critic, Claro M. Recto, as a speaker at one commencement exercise. He also spurned an offer to become a Cabinet Secretary under Quirino’s administration.
As a final straw, he resigned from his post in 1951, to be succeeded by another Kapampangan, Vidal A. Tan. Gonzales was married to the former Concepcion Rafols. A daughter, Eva, followed in his footsteps by also becoming a professor at the U.P. He died on 30 December 1953.