From Writer to Scoutmaster: The Multifaceted Career of Arsenio Katigbak Luz

Don Arsenio Luz’s life was marked by his many accomplishments and contributions to Philippine society. Descended from the wealthy and leading families of Lipa, Batangas, Luz had an upbringing and education that prepared him for a life of influence and excellence. But beyond his heritage and social standing, Luz was a man of many firsts, making his mark in the fields of business, journalism, and civic leadership.

Arsenio Nicasio Luz y Katigbak, born on December 13, 1887, in Lipa, Batangas, was the fifth of nine children born to a family of illustrious lineage. His father, Don Manuel Luz y Mitra, was a businessman and a Philippine revolutionary leader, and his mother, Doña Segunda Katigbak y Solís, was the first love interest of national hero Dr. José Rizal. Arsenio came from a wealthy Chinese mestizo family with a long history in the coffee business, and his ancestry, both maternal and paternal, included six gobernadorcillos of Lipa, namely: Don Juan Mitra (paternal great-grandfather, 1795, 1806), Don Tomás Luz (paternal great-grandfather, 1807), Don José Luz (paternal grandfather, 1844,1854), Don Celestino Solís (maternal great-grandfather, 1843, 1848, 1860-61), Don Josef Catigbac (maternal great-grandfather, 1827), and Don Norberto Catigbac (maternal grandfather, 1862).

In 1887, Lipa was bestowed with the honorific title “Villa” and a coat of arms by Queen Regent Maria Cristina of Spain, cementing its status as one of the prominent towns in the Philippines. Years later in 1938, Arsenio Luz supported the bill to convert Lipa into a city and wrote an article reflecting on its historical significance: “Lipa was once known as the emporium of the coffee industry in the Philippines, producing and exporting up to ten million pesos worth of coffee annually. Its status as a “villa” under Spanish rule, was a testament to the town’s wealth, culture, and refinement of its people. Throughout history, Lipa has produced many of our country’s most outstanding citizens.”

Don Arsenio sired a family in a succession of two marriages. His first wife Amparo (who was also his cousin) bore him three children: Amparito, Arsenio, and Juan. Unfortunately, Arsenio lost Amparo to tuberculosis in 1917. After several years as a widower, he married Carmen Casanova Albert in 1925 and had one child Carmencita. His grandchildren fondly called him “Lolo Aching”.

Arsenio K. Luz Family Tree

Arsenio Luz received his early education at his hometown’s Escuela Pia and completed his secondary education at the Instituto Rizal, a school established by the Club Demócratico Independista, a group of young and patriotic Lipeño professionals, during the revolutionary period of 1899. The school boasted a number of illustrious alumni, including Teodoro M. Kalaw and Claro M. Recto. At the age of fifteen, Arsenio moved to Manila to attend the Liceo de Manila, where he obtained his degree in Liberal Arts. He also pursued a degree in Law at the Liceo’s Escuela de Derecho (Law School) but did not complete the program. Later in 1920, under the Pensionado program, a scholarship grant for Filipinos to study in the United States, he enrolled in a special course on Journalism at Columbia University in New York.

Arsenio Luz with a group of Filipino students in the US

Luz’s love for writing was evident in his statement, “I became a newspaperman because I inherited the inclination.” This passion can be traced back to his father, Don Manuel Luz, who wrote for the Lipeño newspaper Columnas Volantes de la Federación Malaya during the Philippine-American War, and his grandfather, Don José Luz, who was a poet and gobernadorcillo of Lipa in 1844 and 1854. Don Arsenio became a renowned writer, captivating audiences in both Spanish and English with his articles published both locally and internationally. He started his journalistic career as a staff of Vida Filipina, a Catholic newspaper that was the mouthpiece of the Filipino priests. From there, he secured a cub reporter’s job with El Renacimiento, where his ability to write in English earned him a spot on the editorial staff of the newspaper’s special English edition. One of his assignments was to cover the newly formed Philippine Assembly, where he met Sergio Osmeña, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who offered him a job as a press-clipping clerk in his office. This eventually led to Luz becoming Osmeña’s personal secretary. In 1910, he was appointed as the editor of El Ideal, a prominent Filipino newspaper that wielded significant influence over public opinion in the Spanish language. As the official mouthpiece of the Nacionalista Party, Luz quickly gained popularity among the Philippines’ political and social elite. His work at the newspaper earned him a reputation as a powerful force in shaping the nation’s discourse. In 1925, Luz and Senator Ramon Fernandez joined forces to establish the National News Service, an island-wide news-gathering agency. This groundbreaking agency made it possible to cover the entire Philippine archipelago, thereby enhancing the comprehensiveness of newspapers with a national reach. In 1930, Luz was tasked with the challenging responsibility of managing and editing the Philippines Herald, the pioneer Filipino newspaper in English. At the time, the publication was on the verge of collapse and in dire need of revitalization. Despite these difficulties, Luz rose to the occasion and successfully turned the struggling newspaper around, helping to secure its future and establish it as an important voice in the country’s media landscape.

Luz was an advocate of preserving the Spanish language in the Philippines, recognizing its importance in rediscovering our past. He famously stated, “Porque en este idioma (el castellano) nos hablan Rizal y nuestros más grandes hombres; porque en este idioma están escritas las paginas más gloriosas de nuestra historia; porque con este idioma hemos traducido en el pasado y traducimos en el presente nuestras ansias y nuestros ideales; porque en él expresamos nuestras indignaciones y nuestras protestas.” (Because through the Spanish language, Rizal and our greatest heroes speak to us; because in this language, the most glorious pages of our history are written; because in this language, we had translated in the past and we translate in the present our longings and our ideals; because in it we express our indignations and our protests). As one of the top Filipino journalists in Spanish, Don Arsenio’s services were also sought in the academe when he headed the Spanish Department of the University of the Philippines from 1913 to 1915. Beyond being proficient in Spanish and English, Don Arsenio also spoke French, showcasing his global perspective and versatility that led him to many opportunities.

In 1918, he was appointed as the Commercial Agent of the Philippine Government in New York, an organization that was established to promote commercial relations between the Philippines and the United States. This office advised those who wanted to invest or desire information about the natural resources of the Philippines, particularly in regard to the development of hemp, coconut, sugar, tobacco, coffee, rubber, and pineapple plantations, the mineral, and timber resources, and to furnish the latest official commercial statistics of the country. 

Economic resources and development of the Philippine Islands.
Philippine commercial agencies. [New York, 1920], University of California collection
The Philippine Republic, 1924, University of Michigan Collection

Arsenio Luz was a devoted patriot who worked tirelessly to secure recognition of the Philippines’ independence. He actively participated in various missions to the United States to lobby for this cause and served as the general manager of the first independence fund campaign. However, American opponents of Philippine independence did not take kindly to the drive and resorted to discrediting it in every way possible. They spread vicious lies in American newspapers that claimed Philippine Government employees were being forced to contribute to the Independence fund and would be fired if they refused. Luz wasted no time countering these falsehoods. He promptly sent a cable to the American newspapers that published the articles, calling out the antagonists’ claims as baseless. Vicente Bunuan of the Philippines Press Bureau lauded Luz for his successful management of the campaign and noted that Luz’s efforts proved invaluable to its success.

Luz’s prominence grew in 1922 when he became the first Filipino Director-General of the Manila Carnival, which later became known as the Philippine Exposition. This institution not only brought Filipinos together but also promoted progress in all areas of human enterprise. The Carnival showcased the country’s commerce, culture, and civilization to the world. Luz’s innovative ideas for the carnival included seeking out new international talents and troupes and modifying the event layout to make the production more engaging each year. For example, he once made the fairgrounds circular in shape, defined by strings of light and a lighted tower, which had never been seen before in previous carnivals. Despite the crisis in the Philippines, Luz managed the Carnival until 1939. When asked how he managed to pull off the Carnivals in the midst of the crisis, he answered, “by handling them in the best possible way and working as hard as we are allowed to,” showing his resilience and commitment to success.

Arsenio K. Luz, second from left, during the Made-in-the-Philippines Exhibition in 1920 at the Daniel Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky, USA

As a prominent figure in publicity, he represented the Philippines in several international expositions, which include the Foreign Trade Convention of San Francisco in 1920, the Tropical Products Exposition in London in 1921, and the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931. At the latter event, he played a significant role in elevating Filipino creativity, showmanship, and culture to a global audience. His contributions were so impressive that the French Government honored him with the Officer of the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor) award. He received this prestigious accolade on February 9, 1933, aboard the French naval ship “Primauguet.”

Arsenio Luz leading the Philippine delegation at the Paris Colonial Exposition
Clippings from the newspaper La Vanguardia, July 8, 1931, Southeast Asian Newspapers Collection, Center for Research Libraries.

Don Arsenio Luz was a man of strong convictions and remarkable achievements. As a business and civic leader, he displayed a great interest in the economic and social development of the Philippines. His contributions to the nation were varied and impactful, including his appointment as Aide in Commercial Affairs of Governor-General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. on February 13, 1933. This appointment made him the first Filipino adviser to be part of the staff of any governor-general. In addition to this achievement, Luz held many other significant positions throughout his career. He served as the past President of the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Organizer of the Philippine American Trade Association, First Director of the Manila Hotel, Manager of the First Philippine Sweepstakes Organization (1933), and General Agent of the National Life Insurance Co. of the Philippines (1933). He was also actively involved in various organizations and institutions, such as the Real Academia de La Lengua Española, Philippine Columbian, Los Tamaraos, Polo, Wack-Wack Golf, and Casino Español-Filipino. Notably, he was the first Filipino President of the Rotary Club of Manila.

The Founding Fathers of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines
(BSP Collection)

Arsenio Luz played a significant role in the establishment and growth of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, earning him the title of one of its founding fathers. He became a member of the Executive Committee in 1923 when the Manila Council was established under the Boy Scouts of America by the Manila Rotary Club. Luz’s commitment to the organization led to his election as the Second Vice President of the Philippine Council in 1934, followed by his unanimous selection as the First Vice President the next year. He recognized the importance of the Boy Scouts in promoting safety, and their involvement was crucial in ensuring the success of every Carnival he managed. Boy Scouts like Magno Topacio proved their bravery and resourcefulness by preventing a potential disaster at the 1933 Carnival. Luz was also instrumental in the creation of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines through the passing of Commonwealth Act No. 111. President Quezon signed this law on October 31, 1936, and it took effect on November 1, 1937. Luz’s unwavering dedication to the Boy Scouts is evident even in his death on November 12, 1966, when he was laid to rest in his scout’s uniform.

Arsenio Luz was a renowned figure in Philippine history, celebrated for his numerous accomplishments and contributions to nation-building through his exceptional showmanship skills. He remains an enduring symbol of patriotism, hard work, and dedication to excellence. Luz’s life is a testament to the idea that one’s talents can be used to make a positive impact on society, and serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding these values to help build a stronger and more prosperous nation.

• “Arsenio Luz…Nos dice”, Excelsior, abril de 1932 (una entrevista)
• Luz, Arsenio, Orientaciones Literarias, Revista Filipina, enero 1916.
• Galang, Zoilo M. Leaders of the Philippines; inspiring biographies of successful men and women of the Philippines. Manila: National Publishing Company, 1932.
• Valenzuela, Jesus Z. History of Journalism in the Philippine Islands, 1933.
• Who’s who in the Philippines. Philippines, McCullough, 1937.
• Bunuan, Vicente G. ” Liberty Drive Proved Patriotism: Arsenio Luz, “The Philippine Republic, August-September 1924, page 14.
•Manila Carnival Blog by Alex del Rosario Castro
• “Luz Praises the Work of the Boy Scouts in Carnival”, Tribune (Philippines: 1932 – 1945)  Thursday,  16 Feb 1933
•”President Manuel Quezon signs the bill creating the Boy Scouts of the Philippines or Commonwealth Act No. 111″ The Tribune (Philippines : 1932 – 1945), Sunday, 1 November 1936

One Reply to “From Writer to Scoutmaster: The Multifaceted Career of Arsenio Katigbak Luz”

  1. Most appreciate this, Renz!


    div>Warmest regards. 

    Sent from Stella’s iPhone


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