Like the founder of Arellano University, Cayetano S. Arellano, after whom the University is named, had very humble beginnings and earned his way to the top through assiduous scholarship and hard work.
Arellano was born in March 1847, in Orion, Bataan, to Don Servando Arellano, an adventurous Spanish peninsular who tried his luck in the Philippines with apparently little success and to a fair damsel of the place, Do?a Cristy Lonzon. Early on, the boy Cayetano was fascinated by language and the study of philosophy. His parents, despite lack of resources, managed to send him to San Juan de Letran in Intramuros, where Cayetano maintained himself as an agraciado or working student. After completing his secondary course, he enrolled at the University of Sto. Tomas, where he studied Philology, Philosophy, Theology, and Civil and Canon Law, in preparation for the priesthood.
In 1862 at the tender age of fifteen years, he received the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy; five years later, the degree of Bachelor of Theology. For some reason, Cayetano did not enter the priesthood but instead took up the study of law, an inclination that manifested itself even when he was pursuing studies for the priesthood. In 1876, he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Laws.
Arellano then proceeded to practice his profession until the year 1898. At the same time, he taught law at his alma mater, the University of Sto. Tomas. Students under him who later distinguished themselves in the profession, such as Francisco Ortigas and Valdomero Arhente, would, in later years admit that it was a great privilege and a blessing to have been under such a master as Arellano. At about the time he began his law practice, he met Rosa Bernal, the daughter of the owners of the boarding house where Arellano was then staying. They were married after a short courtship.
From 1887 to 1889, Arellano served as City Councilor of Manila. Recognizing his competence, the government offered him the position of Civil Governor of the City of Manila, which he refused. This was at a time when the country was gripped with revolutionary fervor and this was the reason, perhaps, for his refusal of the appointment.
When the Philippine revolutionary government was established, he was appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs. After the war against the United States collapsed and with the advent of American government, Arellano decided to cooperate with the new masters for the good of the country. He played a principal role in the organization of the courts and in the codification of the marriage and municipal laws and the rules of criminal procedure.
In 1899, he was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, the first Filipino ever to hold that position, in which he made a name for himself as one of the country's greatest jurists.