GREGORIO S. ARANETA
Don Gregorio Araneta y Soriano, legal luminary, businessman, nationalist and patriot, served his country and people under three regimes. The fifth son and sixth of the seventeen children of Don Felix and Pat Soriano y Dytching, he was born in Mole, Iloilo on April 19, 1869. His brothers and sisters were Leopoldo, Angel, Isabel, Pablo, Marciano, Anastacio, Maria, Filomena, Rosario, Lina, Jose, Concha, Candelaria, Encarnacion, Felicito and Remedies.
In 1880, at the age of 11, Gregorio was sent to study at the Ateneo Municipal. In 1884, he completed his studies at the Ateneo not only with excellent grades but also with high honors. Thereafter, he enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas where, in the language of Justice Villamor, "he gave evidence of outstanding intellect and unusual application to the study of metaphysics." He won prizes in private and public debates. While still a pre-law student, his entry entitled "Darwinian Transformation" won first prize in a contest held on the occasion of the elevation of Father Ceferino Gonzales to the Cardinalate.
In 1891, he graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with the degree of Licenciado en Derecho. He also managed to finish a course in surveying, passing the bar, he joined the law office of Don Jose Ycaza, appointed Registrar of Deeds of the South District of Manila prior to his appointment as prosecuting attorney of the city. He was later prmoted to Justice of the Royal Audiencia in mid 1899.
The young lawyer was awakened to the injustices and abuses of the Spaniards when, in 1891, he was beaten up by the guardia civil for discourtesy. Bloodied in the face and body, he was accompanied by Attorney Ycaza to Malacañang to file a complaint. Araneta's prominence in legal circles earned for him an apology which led the Governor-General to immediately disband the guardin civil detachment.
Goyo, as he was fondly called by his friends and classmates, besides being the most eligible bachelor in Manila, was much sought after by clients. He took up the defense of Don Francisco Roxas who was accused of giving financial support to the Katipunan. But since only military lawyers could defend an accused according to the Council of War rules, he could not appear on behalf of Don Francisco. However, he presented a well-reasoned brief to the military tribunal. He also defended the Salvadors, one of whiom was found guilty of rebellion and executed with Don Francisco at Bagumbayan in January, 1897. In the case of Don Ambrosio, Salvador's father, Araneta was able to persuade the court to exile him to Bontoc in lieu of a heavier sentence.
As Spanish sovereignty in the philippines was drawing to a close, General Basilio Agustin formed the Consultative Council to rally the Filipinos against the Americans in 1898. Araneta was appointed a member of this 27-man assembly.
Aguinaldo, having heard of the prestige of Araneta, appointed him a member of the mission headed by Felipe Buencamino whose task was to negotiate the entry of Filipino troops to the city in August 1898. The mission failed because General Thomas Anderson had already occupied Manila.
To strengthen his revolutionary forces, Aguinaldo invited all segments of society to join him in the war against the Americans. Araneta was called to Malolos and made a member of the Malolos Congress. He became its secretary and participated in the drafting of the Constitution. In November, he was made a member of the Committee on Diplomacy which was charged with the organization of missions to foreign` countries for the recognition of the Philippine Republic. On the advice of Mabini, he was also made member of the group tasked to negotiate with the American troops under the command of General Wesley Merritt. He however resigned from all these positions to concentrate on his work as Secretary of Justice, a new position to which he was appointed.
Sometime in January 1899, after the Treaty of Paris had been concluded, he left for Manila. He clearly foresaw that a bloody struggle was not the best means to gain Philippine freedom and independence in the face of a much more superior foe.
In Manila, the Americans revived the Royal Audiencia. General Elwell Otis appointed Araneta to that tribunal, together with Cayetano Arellano, Florentino Torres, Manuel Araullo, Julio Llorente, And Dionisio Chanco.
Araneta was appointed Solicitor General, to replace Attorney Libbeus Wifley, an American who retired from the service. On July 1, 1908, Araneta was appointed Secretary of Justice and Finance, the first Filipino to hold that executive portfolio. As a high-ranking justice official he issued many legal opinions which later became part of administrative law. They were written so concisely and clearly that many American lawyers held him in high respect.
Though he was already receiving a substantial salary estimated at P32,000 per annum, he chose to retire from government service in 1913. He went into private practice with Salvador Zaragosa. In 1916, he ran For senator for the fourth district but lost to Rafael Palma.
Twice he prevailed on the Supreme Court to reverse its decisions. Twice too, he was offered the bench but refused it. He taught civil law in the University of Santo Tomas in the 1920’s, in keeping with his concern for the education of the youth. Typical of this concern were the thoughts he expressed at a commencement address he delivered in 1924: "A man is like a tree. If the tree starts to grow crooked, it will always be crooked. But a tree that starts straight remains straight throughout its life." In 1923, his son Salvador joined his law office. His prestige grew so much that some American lawyers were moved to comment that "the judiciary in the Philippines during his time was better than that in the United States."
In private life Don Gregorio was a quiet and reserved man. He loved music. He would visit his relatives, to whom he was deeply atteched, and his friends or invite them to his residence along Calle Sebastian. His house was a gathering place for prominent persons and government circles, both local and foreign.
As a businessman, he was astute but also kind and accommodating. Once, to settle the debt of a friend, he paid from his own pocket 600 as a guarantee.
A loving and thoughtful father, he would fetch his children from school whenever his office hours allowed. He would take them to the beach for their relaxation and health and he would rent houses in the suburbs for their safety and well-being. Those responsibilities were shared by his wife Carmen Zaragosa, faithful, religious and dutiful, whom he married on March 7, 1896. His children were Carmita, Jose, Salvador, Consuelo, Pat, Rosa, Antonio, Teresa, Ramon, Vicente, Conchita, Margarita, Luis and Francisco.
Don Gregorio was also a devout Catholic. A holder of the Pro Ecelesia et Pontifice cross awarded by Pope Plus XI, he seldom missed the observance of holy days of obligation with his family. He reared his children in the Christian virtues. Often, he would sit in his lounging chair and read a significant passage from the Bible to his children. Though wealthy, he did not spoil them. When any of his children did wrong, he would not hesitate to use the slippers to discipline them.
After his retirement from active law practice, he would take long walks along Dewey Boulevard with his son Salvador to burn the excess sugar in his blood since he was a diabetic. Then he built a summer home for his family in Baguio and acquired a considerable farm area in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.
On May 8, 1930, while inspecting his farm with his son Antonio, he was seized with a massive heart attack. Rushed to the Singian Clinic, then the best in Manila, he never recovered. He passed away the next day. On May 10, his remains were interred at La Loma Cemetery.