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FAST FACTS: Who are the PH tax court justices who cleared Maria Ressa, Rappler Holdings?

Jodesz Gavilan

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FAST FACTS: Who are the PH tax court justices who cleared Maria Ressa, Rappler Holdings?
Here's what we know about the CTA 1st Division justices who decided the tax evasion case

MANILA, Philippines – Who comprise the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) 1st Division that decided in favor of Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation in the tax evasion case filed during the Duterte administration?

The CTA 1st Division that handed down its decision on Wednesday, January 18, is composed of three justices: Associate Justice Catherine Triunfante Manahan, Associate Justice Jean Marie Bacorro-Villena, and Associate Justice Marian Ivy Reyes-Fajardo.

It is only Manahan who was part of the original set of justices who first tried the case at the CTA. During the May 29, 2019 hearing, CTA Presiding Justice Roman del Rosario recused himself from the cases after he expressed his view that RHC as an entity should be arraigned, a stand that the two other justices disagreed with. Justice Manahan was asked to preside over these cases.  

(Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this article, we reported that Presiding Justice Roman del Rosario inhibited when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. This has been corrected.)

Associate Justice Esperanza Victorino retired in the middle of the trial. Villena replaced Victorino. 

Who are Manahan, Villena, and Fajardo? Here’s what we know:

Associate Justice Catherine Triunfante Manahan

Manahan joined the CTA as associate justice on December 16, 2016. 

Manahan obtained both her undergraduate degree in political science and law degree from the University of the Philippines (UP), where she also taught part-time. She also holds a graduate degree in business administration from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).

Manahan, who joined the Bar in 1985, has more than three decades of experience as a tax lawyer and has worked in private practice, including the law offices of Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles and companies like Isla Lipana & Co. 

Manahan’s stint at the CTA is not her first foray into government service. Prior to being appointed CTA justice, Manahan served as chief legislative officer under the office of Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, according to her profile on the court’s website.

She worked at various government agencies such as the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and was a consultant who helped establish the international audit office of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

Manahan, considered a tax expert, has authored several law books centered on taxation. She wrote a column in BusinessWorld for at least seven years. She also served as president of the Tax Management Association of the Philippines, was a member of the committee on taxation under the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and was a member of the Revenue National Accreditation Board as appointed by the BIR.

Associate Justice Jean Marie Bacorro-Villena

Villena joined the CTA as associate justice in July 2019. She was one of the youngest justices appointed to the tax court, according to her profile on the CTA’s website.

She obtained her undergraduate degree in journalism from UP and her law degree from Arellano University. 

Villena, who was admitted to the Bar in 2001, had almost two decades of judicial experience prior to joining the CTA in 2019, including seven years as law clerk in the Supreme Court, working under SC associate justices Jose Vitug and Renato Corona, and 11 years as trial court judge. 

She headed Branch 6 of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) for four years beginning in March 2008, before becoming presiding judge of Branch 28 of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) in 2012

According to her CTA profile, Villena “maintained one of the lowest case dockets” in the MeTC and RTC. She has also received several awards, including being named as one of the most outstanding RTC judges in Manila in 2016 and outstanding first level court in Manila in 2011.

Aside from government service, Villena has been teaching in law schools since 2001, focusing on criminal procedure, public international law, and insurance law, among others. 

Associate Justice Marian Ivy Reyes-Fajardo

Fajardo joined the CTA in May 2021.

She obtained her undergraduate degree in psychology from UP and her law degree from ADMU, where she finished 14th in class.

Prior to joining the tax court in 2021, Fajardo ran her own law firm that she established in 2008, according to her curriculum vitae uploaded on the Tourism Board of the Philippines website. 

She worked for almost seven years under two law firms – Castillo Laman Tan Pantaleon & San Jose and the Medialdea Ata Bello & Guevarra law offices – after passing the Bar in 2000.

Fajardo also served as associate dean of Philippine Christian University’s College of Law. She taught in several universities, including the law schools of New Era University and Centro Escolar University. 

She is affiliated with the ASEAN Law Association and International Bar Association, among others. – Rappler.com

As we celebrate the triumph of facts over politics, we want to thank you, our readers, for holding the line with us through the years. If you want to stay updated with Rappler’s other cases and be part of a community that supports press freedom, we invite you to join Rappler+, our membership program, here.

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.