Photo by Ram Cusipag.

Family Ties

Dean CLV, Atty. Tessa, Francis and Mike talk about the perks, pressures and what it actually takes to be part of a family of lawyers.

Chairman Cesar Villanueva. Photo by Ram Cusipag.

Chairman Cesar Villanueva. Photo by Ram Cusipag.


The initials known to all in the Ateneo Law community strike a curious contrast to the long list of titles to Cesar L. Villanueva’s name. This includes being a lawyer, certified public accountant, author, law professor, former law school dean, founding partner of a law firm, and Chairman of the Governance Commission for Government-Owned or -Controlled Corporations (GCG).Behind the career titles lies a sterling record of academic milestones. Earlier in high school, CLV was the class valedictorian. He then obtained his accountancy degree from Holy Angel University in 1977, graduating magna cum laude. He proceeded to take up law at Ateneo de Manila University and finished as the class valedictorian, cum laude. In 1981, he took the bar examinations and placed second (2nd). The following year, he took the certified public accountant (CPA) board examinations and placed sixth (6th). In 1989, he earned his Master of Laws from Harvard Law School at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It was in his senior year in high school when CLV fixed his eyes on entering the legal profession.. Having predetermined that he would go to Ateneo for law, he decided to pursue accountancy, a degree that would give him an edge as a lawyer. Since Ateneo did not offer accountancy, he opted to stay in his hometown of Angeles, Pampanga and enrolled in a local university that offered the degree. He was a working student in college. As he studied for his accountancy degree, he doubled as a law and accounting clerk for his father, the latter himself a CPA-lawyer.

Equipped with discipline, the habit of excellence, and a working knowledge of the law, CLV was better prepared for the rigors of law school than most of his peers. Just as vital was his fierce passion for the law. He wanted to internalize the law from the beginning to such an extent that “by the end of those four (4) years, if you cut my wrists, it’s not blood that’s going to flow out, it’s the law that will flow out.” He dwelled in the library, always the first to arrive and the last to leave. He read his textbooks and cases three times before going to class. He started reviewing for exams before his classmates did. He was a little bit slow, he quips.

CLV believed that no subject was too important or unimportant. As the goal was to have a lasting mastery of the law, he read all the cases relevant to his subjects, even those that were not assigned. In the original, mind you. For him, there was also no such thing as a bad professor. If ever there was one, he would compensate by reading up on his own and crafting his own syllabus. He developed a reputation for writing digests as good as the full decisions, which he freely shared with less diligent classmates.

In his senior year, CLV was selected to be the editor-in-chief of the Ateneo Law Journal. He tackled bar review by making his own reviewers. Among them was a consolidation of his notes on Commercial Law since first year, which likewise made the rounds among his fellow bar reviewees. He locked himself in his apartment and from morning to evening typed his notes with a manual typewriter. At the end of three (3) weeks, he had, aside from a back sore from prolonged sitting, the raw manuscript of the first book he would publish. Unsurprisingly, CLV would garner his highest bar exam grade in Commercial Law.

After his law school graduation in 1981, CLV was heavily recruited by the country’s top law firms. He chose ACCRALAW, and with permission from one of the firm’s partners, CLV decided to give back to his alma mater by assuming a post in its faculty. His knowledge and passion for the law are reflected in the breadth of subjects he has taught: Public Corporations, Administrative Law, Property, Agency, Sales, Corporation Law, and Credit Transactions. The only time he stopped teaching was when he left for the United States in 1988 to pursue his Master of Laws at Harvard, which he completed the following year. Fresh out of Harvard, CLV co-founded the Villanueva Gabionza de Santos (VGS) Law Office.

CLV held the reins of deanship of the Ateneo Law School from 2004 to 2011. As dean, he introduced significant changes to the curriculum. One was to remove the mathematical credit for Introduction to Law, a reaction to the severe treatment students would get from taking up the course. He believed that it did not make sense to discourage neophytes with failing marks at the very start of their law training. He also rearranged the sequence of major subjects to facilitate a better appreciation of bar subjects. He made Tax Review mandatory and ensured that seniors had enough slots in Labor Review. He also pushed Thesis Writing I & II down to junior year so that incoming seniors could work on their theses during the summer, allowing them to focus on bar review preparation in their final year.

Were CLV’s strategies effective? Ateneo was conferred by the Legal Education Board with the “Best Performing Law School” award in 2011 for its performance in the bar exams from 2001 to 2010. Under CLV’s leadership, the law school produced three bar topnotchers in 2007 (Mercedita Ona), 2010 (Cesareo Antonio Singzon, Jr.) and 2011 (Raoul Angelo Atadero). Ignatius Michael Ingles extended the streak to 2012, giving the Ateneo a glorious three-peat in the bar exams. The feat becomes even more impressive in light of the fact that Ateneo likewise produced the second-placers during the same period, a first in Philippine bar history.

In 2011, CLV stepped down as dean when President Benigno Aquino III appointed him Chairman of GCG, which functions as the central advisory, monitoring, and oversight body of government-owned or -controlled corporations, government financial institutions, and government corporate entities. He is pleased that more and more Ateneo lawyers are taking on public service, proudly noting the recent appointments of Atty. Michael Aguinaldo and Dean Andres Bautista as Commission of Audit Chairman and Commission on Elections Chairman, respectively.

Asked if he would encourage students to enter government service, he answered yes, but only in areas where they could be passionate and make a difference. He stressed that in order to be effective in government, one must be extraordinary. And in order to be an extraordinary lawyer, a law student must study hard and make the law his or her passion. He says that “to know the law is really to love the law . . . When you love the law so much, the truth is it will love you back a thousand times. And with it, you will offer to your country, to the people that you love, a better quality of law, and that hopefully becomes a contribution to this country.”

Interestingly, while CLV strives to instill his passion for the law in his students, he did not do the same with his own children. In fact, he was hoping that none of them would become lawyers, as the law is a difficult profession. Jokingly, he said that he wanted them to become bankers instead so they would live the good life. Nonetheless, his son Gabriel and daughter Teresa followed in his footsteps. Gabriel is now with the Office of the Solicitor General while Teresa, like her father, is a professor in the law school and a founding partner of her own law firm.

Current IVP Mike Villanueva, Chairman Villanueva, and Francis Villanueva. Photo by Ram Cusipag.

Current IVP Mike Villanueva, Chairman Villanueva, and Francis Villanueva. Photo by Ram Cusipag.

A Legend In Her Own Right

Being part of a great lineage can be incredibly overwhelming, even more so if you are the daughter of Dean CLV. Many would fold under the intense pressure. Some might even resent the added expectations, and try to distance themselves as far as possible. This was far from the case of Atty. Tessa Villanueva-Tiansay, who proudly professes that she has always looked up to her father and wanted to be like him.

A perfect example of an individual who was able to build on others’ expectations of her and as a result carved out her own path, Atty. Tessa has become a legend in her own right. She has made her mark in the law school, where she finished sixth in her batch and garnering second honors upon graduation. This brand of excellence continued after passing the bar in 2011, and as seen in her accomplishments as an author, law school professor, and a present partner of the Villanueva Tiansay & Trinidad Law Offices, among others.

Atty. Tessa wanted to be a lawyer since she could remember, and in fact did not aspire to be otherwise — though she says that becoming a chef would not be a bad alternative. Ateneo Law was the obvious choice as she got her college degree from Ateneo de Manila University and she felt it was just natural that she continue her graduate studies in Ateneo as well. “Of course, Ateneo Law School is the best so why look anywhere else?” she quips.

Dean CLV encouraged this plan, though the idea never came from him. Atty. Tessa muses, “If he had a choice he would have wanted me to have an ‘easier’ life — have my own business and still have a comfortable life. But I just really looked up to him. He was, and still is, my idol. If anything, my dad is the most decent and principled lawyer I know. His goal as a lawyer was never to earn a lot of money, have the prestige and all that, rather what motivated him is his ability to change the lives of people and help our country through his profession and I have seen that in him at a very young age. It’s inspiring and that really made me decide that I, too, wanted to become a lawyer.”

Did being associated with Dean CLV help or hinder her in law school? After all, expectations from professors and peers, unfair or not, are difficult to avoid. Regarding this, Atty. Tessa says that she did not see any disadvantage, nor view it as a source of pressure. She states, “My parents always taught us that they wanted to create a name for themselves so that they can pass it on to us, their children, and my parents did just that. I am grateful that I am the daughter of two great personalities in their respective professions and this has prompted me to do my best to be worthy of the name that they have established for us.”

Also thankful to her peers, she puts it simply, “I had the best blockmates. They never made me feel that I had to prove myself to them just because my father was then the dean. I never felt judged when I failed to do well in some of my recitations or exams. I was treated like any other student in class. There are a handful of professors, however, who were very vocal that they have certain expectations on account of being my father’s daughter and that actually pushed me to study harder and do well in their subjects.”

Now married and raising a family, one may ask the question: How does being in a clan of lawyers affect family life? Atty. Tessa answers that since the majority of the members are all lawyers, during family dinners they would tend to dominate the discussion and bombard their other family members with legal issues the latter would have difficulty in understanding. She follows up by saying that she does feel guilty at times, so she usually starts a conversation with them that is not law-related.

Atty. Tessa still believes that it is truly beneficial being in a family of lawyers. She opines that, first, there is a level of security and safety that the lawyers in their family provide to their non-lawyer family members, and second, the lawyers of the family also get to help each other in furthering and improving their respective careers.

The benefit of her family legacy contributed immensely to the choice to enter the teaching profession. Since Atty. Tessa has parents and grandparents who have been members of the academe for as long as she could remember, the idea of being a professor herself easily became part of her dreams. She finds it fascinating and finds it to be an honor to have the privilege of molding the minds of individuals and being a part of their lives forever.

Like in many things, both her parents encouraged her to teach. They felt that life finds new meaning when one becomes a professor and they wanted her to experience that. For Atty. Tessa, she is very thankful that they influenced her to become a professor.

Photo by Ram Cusipag.

Photo by Ram Cusipag.

Next In Line

Following in the footsteps of their famous tito and cousin, while trying to forge their own paths, are the new generation of future lawyers — brothers James Francis “Francis” Villanueva (4A) and John Michael “Mike” Villanueva (3B) who are both currently students in the law school. How influential were Dean Cesar and Atty. Tessa in terms of convincing the brothers to take on the challenge of law school? The two say that their relatives were big influences, remaining so even up to the present day.

It would not be a surprise to feel pressured by having relatives in the law profession, especially with the stature and reputation of both Dean Cesar and Professor Atty. Tessa. However, both Francis and Mike say that they do not feel burdened at all. For Francis, his relatives serve as motivation to work hard and hopefully attain something in his own right similar to what his older family members have achieved. As for Mike, he admires the fact that his relatives especially Dean Cesar and Atty. Tessa are very professional and loved by their students.

Francis attests that they are close as a family that would see each other regularly for Sunday lunch. Interestingly enough, he had seriously planned to be an architect due to his love for design and his skills in sketching and drawing. Eventually, he took the plunge into grad school. Through their get-togethers, he was able to catch stories and recognize the achievements of his relatives, which eventually inspired him to take up law, an admitted last minute decision that surprised even his parents.

Mike on the other hand, knew that he would enter law school as early as high school. He credits high school debate and the adrenaline rush it brings as reasons for encouraging him to take up law. Of course, he draws inspiration from his relatives, as well as empowerment and encouragement from his older brother Francis.

In terms of guidance, Francis and Mike mention that Dean Cesar’s advice is usually on point. He encourages them to strive to be the best, to strive to top the bar, and to exude discipline and excellence in all things. Atty. Tessa on the other hand approaches them in a more “ate”-like manner. As she is a more recent graduate, she gives particular tips on how to handle professors as well as techniques for smarter studying.

While both share a mutual respect for each other and bond over several interests, the brothers still seek to live different lives of their own. Francis cherishes his relationship with his friends and blockmates, usually spending time with them during leisure hours, going out or playing sports. As mentioned, he is an excellent artist, with his artistic flair also manifesting in his penchant for cooking. On the other side of the spectrum, Mike takes immense pride in his extra-curriculars. He has served his batch as student council representative, and is currently the school’s Internals Vice-President. As part of the Saint Thomas More Debate and Advocacy Society (STM), the law school’s premier debate organization, he has garnered several distinctions and won championships in several debate tournaments. He is also an intern of the Ateneo Human Rights Center.

Of course, as siblings, the two ensure that they communicate constantly and help each other whenever they can with problems ranging from law questions to questions about love. The brothers are just a door knock away in the dorm whenever they need someone to talk to. They help each other in small yet significant ways, such as when Francis designed and conceptualized Mike’s campaign promos when the latter first ran for batch representative.

What is next for the brothers? Do they see themselves taking similar career paths as their Dean Cesar and Atty. Tessa? For Mike, he said he would take their cue from their relatives and become a law school professor. He has always enjoyed explaining complicated legal concepts to his peers, and he hopes to do the same for young minds. Aside from teaching, he is unsure as to the particular field of law he would enter into, but litigation and government work are big considerations. Francis on the other hand, emphasizes that he wants to make his own name in private practice. His relatives surely continue to be his inspiration, but he hopes to do his own thing, perhaps in the field of Labor Law.

Novelist and philosopher George Santayana once said, “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” Indubitably, Dean Cesar Villanueva, Atty. Tessa Villanueva-Tiansay, Francis and Mike Villanueva can be considered members of a family considered as having left a masterful legacy here in the law school, individuals who have embodied the concepts of excellence and service and who continue to inspire the future generation of Ateneo lawyers. P

Photo by Ram Cusipag.

Photo by Ram Cusipag.

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