Asia Business Law Journal presents our top law firms in the Philippines for 2020. Mithun Varkey reports

2020 tested the resolve and resilience of every business, and law firms were no different. As covid-19 spread across the globe, all have had to adapt to the changes and adopt new ways of working.

The Philippines, as one the most affected countries in the region, has had a roller coaster of a year, with strict lockdowns. Law firms have had to reinvent themselves to advise their clients, who were themselves facing unprecedented challenges. The demands on law firms were beyond the ordinary, as companies had to react to harsh economic realities and fast-changing regulatory environments. The role of a reliable and trustworthy legal counsel was never more important.

Typically, the winning law firms in our annual awards tend to be ones that do not just offer the most reliable legal counsel, but those that go beyond and understand the needs of their clients. This year is no different, except the winning firms have also had to demonstrate their ability to do so by adapting to the challenges of a global pandemic, and the dramatically different needs of their clients.

Amid the challenges, there are a few that stand out – the big-name firms were not to be outdone, even in a pandemic year, but as always there were some smaller, emerging firms that turned up trumps, thanks to their agility and tech-driven approach.

Within Asia Business Law Journal’s 2020 Philippines Law Firm awards, we have identified one Law Firm of the Year, and four winners each in 22 practice areas, as well as the Best New Law Firm.

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LAW FIRM OF THE YEAR

ACCRALAW

ACCRALAW is one of the Philippines’ most sought after and respected firms. With 177 lawyers including 44 partners, the firm has, in the nearly half-a-century of its presence, come to be recognised as among the top firms in the country.

The full-service firm is trusted by top companies in the country, as well as multinational companies. Led by its managing partner, Emerico O De Guzman, and co-managing partner, Salvador L Peña, the firm has an excellent track record in litigation and dispute resolution, labour and employment law, intellectual property, M&A, capital markets, and corporate and commercial, having been involved in landmark litigation cases and milestone corporate transactions.

Notably, in August this year, the firm advised Ayala Land’s subsidiary, AREIT, in the first real estate investment trust (REIT) offering in the Philippines. AREIT debuted on the bourses after its PHP13.6 billion (US$283 million) public offering of 456,883,000 common shares, a landmark capital market deal in the country.

“The firm is at the top of my list when looking for a counsel for capital markets transactions,” says Karen Lim, vice president of corporate finance at BDO Capital & Investment Corporation, among the country’s biggest investment banks. “I find the teams under the corporate and special projects department headed by Francis Lim to be very knowledgeable and responsive to our requirements,” she says. “They always get the job done in an efficient and timely manner.”

The firm has acted in some of the top equity and debt capital market deals, as well as on some notable M&A deals including inbound transactions in a year when deal-making took a nose dive due to the pandemic.

ACCRALAW has been a stable and reliable partner for our business,” says Jerome Bonsol, legal director at GlaxoSmithKline Philippines. “The partners like Emetrio Manibog, Eric Recalde and Elaine Patricia Reyes-Rodolfo have all been excellent in providing relevant, practical and robust legal advice. The level of client service is top-notch.”

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Florentino Mabasa Jr, first vice president of legal at PLDT, adds: “With its subject matter experts, ACCRALAW has been a quick source of legal opinion applicable to certain matters and situations. This has helped us in formulating decisions at once, which has proven to be beneficial.”

What always sets the best firms apart is a focus on client servicing, and an ability to go beyond just offering legal opinions to understand the actual business needs – and ACCRALAW is no different.

“I value my company’s engagement with ACCRALAW because they really go above and beyond being a mere retainer firm – they truly make an effort to understand our business and our needs in order to give the most effective and pragmatic legal advice possible,” says Jazel Anne Calvo-Carino, country legal head at Sanofi Pasteur Philippines.

“Communication is key when you are in-house counsel, and because of my close co-ordination with my ACCRALAW team, I am able to appraise my head office of the status of the matters being managed in the country,” says Calvo-Carino. “Most of all, no matter how stressful or hectic it can get, my ACCRALAW lawyers are always calm, collected and pleasant to work with. I trust the team implicitly.

“The partners I work with – Francis Lim, Rowena Flores, Trina Prodigalidad and the indomitable George Aquino – have made themselves accessible to me and my legal team for any queries we may have, given the complexity of the legal issues being managed for us,” she adds. “I have seen their senior associates, Quito Nitura and Rey Orsua, step up and really take the lead in ensuring seamless co-ordination of multiple tasks that are managed for us.”

Some noteworthy deals this year for ACCRALAW include: Converge Information and Communications Technology Solutions’ PHP25.3 billion IPO, the largest offering in the Philippines since 2016; acting as the bookrunners’ Philippine counsel for UnionBank’s US$300 million dollar-denominated note issuance, listed on the Singapore Exchange; Philippine counsel for Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation’s US$300 million tier-1 capital securities issuance; and advising Thailand’s Bank of Ayudha in its acquisition of a 50% stake in consumer finance company SB Finance Company.

The firm has in the past represented the biggest corporations in the Philippines, including San Miguel, PLDT, Procter & Gamble, Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation and the country’s central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

The firm has offices in Taguig in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao City.

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BEST NEW LAW FIRM

Sarmiento Loriega

Set up in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, Sarmiento Loriega has already caught the attention of clients and peers. For a newcomer, the firm has made an impact not just among the domestic business community, but has also received praise from global law firms and multinational companies. The stellar reputation of its founding partners, Julito Sarmiento and Elizabeth Peralta-Loriega, has surely helped the firm to hit the ground running.

“We have worked closely with Beth [Peralta-Loriega] for the past 15 years, and always have been extremely impressed with her as a lawyer, advisor, strategist, and good friend,” says Joseph Bevash, a partner at Latham & Watkins in Hong Kong. “She has a brilliant mind and is incredibly creative in structuring innovative legal solutions to thorny problems that otherwise would have been deal killers. We view Beth and her new firm as a tremendously valuable strategic partner for our firm in the Philippines.”

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Other international firms have deep admiration for the new firm and its leadership. “Our firm relies extensively on their expertise as our local counsel for our international clients investing in the Philippines and for our domestic clients in the energy space particularly for sound advice in structuring transactions,” says Edward Koehler, managing partner, Asia-Pacific at Hunton Andrews Kurth in Bangkok. “We very seldom undertake a transaction in the Philippines without first being sure we have Beth and her team on board.

“The Sarmiento firm, and especially Beth Loriega, continue the tradition of excellence from their prior associations in providing world-class legal advice, especially on domestic and cross-border tax matters,” adds Koehler.

The firm’s domestic clients aren’t skimping on praise either, as they clearly cherish their long association with Peralta-Loriega. “While the firm is new, we have worked with Beth and her core team for almost 15 years,” says John Anthony Becker, the president of GNPower in the Philippines. “They have provided not only expert legal advice on contracts, but also tax and regulatory advice. Due to their in-depth experience and broad-based knowledge, Beth and her team have been able to devise structures that are viable and extremely tax-efficient.”

What seems to set the breakthrough firm and leadership apart is a focus on clients and an ability to go the extra mile in solving their issues.

“If you need an off-the-menu legal guidance and solution that mimics the commercial essence of your proposed deal structure and perfectly marries with existing laws, Beth and her team will consistently deliver,” says Ponciano Carreon, chief finance officer and investor relations head of Century Properties Group in the Philippines.

Becker, of GNPower adds: “One thing I am particularly pleased with is that they are always available – nights, weekends, holidays – and really go all out to respond quickly and on point. Beth’s assistance during development, financing, construction, due diligence, refinancing, and most recently acquisition, has been invaluable.

“I have been working on project financings for nearly 40 years, including 17 years as an investment banker, and have dealt with nearly every major Wall Street firm. I can categorically state that Beth and her team rank among the best.”

Based in Pasig City, Manila, Sarmiento Loriega is a full-service law firm led by partners with significant expertise in M&A, project financing, corporate law and tax.

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Best overall law firms

Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos is a full-service law firm that has carved a name for itself in the competitive Philippines legal market. Most recognised for its capital markets and banking and finance expertise, the firm has over the years built a formidable reputation across practice areas.

The firm is respected not only by its clients but also its peers. Its capital markets, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), private equity and venture capital, banking and finance, and real estate practices are most sought after, and it also has strong IP, litigation, tax, labour, immigration, gaming and energy practices.

Some of the world’s biggest names in banking such as HSBC, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, ANZ Bank, Asian Development Bank, ING, Standard Chartered and UBS count among the firm’s clients, as do large conglomerates such as San Miguel, Jardine Group, Lippo Group and Udenna.

The 33-year-old firm has more than 60 lawyers based in Makati City, Metro Manila.

Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles is among the largest and most respected firms in the country. With an international presence, Romulo is equally sought after by domestic and international clients.

One of the go-to firms for both domestic and international clients in the country, they have built a solid reputation across practice areas including M&A, capital markets, private equity and venture funding, and real estate.

SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan (SyCipLaw) celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020, making it one of the oldest law firms in the Philippines. It has built a portfolio of transactions that include some of the biggest and most complex deals in the country. SyCipLaw is a truly full-service firm that has a thriving presence in almost all practice areas, representing top-notch clients across industry sectors, from more traditional practices such as aviation, shipping, litigation and taxation to the emerging ones such as data privacy, antitrust, arbitration and technology.

“As a client of Sycip Salazar, we are quite happy with their services,” says Prim B Nolido, president and chief operating officer at Pueblo de Oro Development in the Philippines.

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“They are very thorough in the work and we rely on their input on all our major decisions and investments,” says Nolido. “They provide us with confidence in all our business dealings. For example, we rely on their due diligence whenever we acquire a property.”

In 2020, SyCipLaw worked on several major transactions that included: Advising Metro Pacific Investments in the sale of 34.9% shares in Metro Pacific Light Rail to Sumitomo; the acquisition of 15% shares in One Network Bank by Osmanthus Investments Holdings; a PHP40 billion loan facility for the Vertis North Solaire Hotel and Resorts Project; and BDO Unibank’s financing of a PHP11 billion syndicated loan facility to South Luzon Thermal Energy.

SyCipLaw has an active community outreach programme that sets itself apart in the highly competitive Philippine legal landscape. The firm provides pro bono services in connection with cross-border claims, by returning overseas Filipino workers who are victims of labour exploitation, against their former employers in Hong Kong and Singapore through its co-operation with the non-profit organization, Justice Without Borders.

In other notable programmes, SyCipLaw employees joined hands in October with Philippine Business for Social Progress to raise funds to buy 1,400 reams of bond paper, to support the year-long data load allowance of 36 teachers in 12 public schools nationwide. The firm also donated cash that will enable a public school to prepare self-learning modules for 50 students for one year.

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Arbitration & ADR

Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia is led by the country’s former secretary of national defence, Avelino J Cruz Jr, and former ombudsman and solicitor-general Simeon V Marcelo. The firm has built a reputation for its dispute resolution expertise and extended its stellar credentials to other practice areas, most notably arbitration and alternative dispute resolution. It has in the past represented a diverse set of companies, including landmark clients such as Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as well as the Philippine Monetary Board, the country’s central monetary authority. The full-service firm has 20 partners and is also highly regarded for its corporate and commercial, intellectual property (IP), and energy and infrastructure practices.

Quisumbing Torres, a member firm of Baker & McKenzie, is a full-service firm and highly rated by domestic and international clients, as well as peers. The firm has earned recognition across practice areas, especially dispute resolution and arbitration. Quisumbing Torres is headed by Ramon J Quisumbing, who is widely recognised as among the top dispute resolution lawyers in the country. The firm also has a formidable aviation practice, as well as corporate, M&A and IP expertise. As a member firm of Baker McKenzie, it offers a significant international network and capabilities to its clients.

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Aviation

  • ACCRALAW
  • Ocampo Manalo Valdez & Lim
  • Platon Martinez Flores San Pedro & Leaño
  • Quisumbing Torres

Ocampo Manalo Bernabe Valdez & Lim is a full-service law firm that has an enviable record in the aviation sector. Led by founding partners Carlos Ocampo and managing partner Manolito Manalo – who are both distinguished lawyers highly regarded for their aviation, corporate law and litigation expertise – the firm boasts both domestic and international airlines as clients, many of which are household names across the region.

Ocampo Manalo Bernabe Valdez & Lim provides advice and assists in the organisation and required regulatory matters for several aviation companies including Turkish Airlines, Tiger Air Taiwan, Xiamen Airlines, Cambodia Airways, JC Cambodia Airlines, Airswift Transport, Philippines AirAsia, YTO Cargo Airlines, Deutsche Lufthansa, Condor Airlines, Magnum Air (Skyjet), and Starlux Airlines.

The firm also acts as general counsel to several multinational and local corporations including the premiere Manila Golf & Country Club, airlines such as Air Seoul, Hong Kong Airlines, Philippines AirAsia, Air Asia Berhad, Cambodia Airways, Jeju Air, Turkish Airlines and Tiger Air Taiwan. Other clients include Cockram Scenario, BRYCL Resorts International, Nearsol, SAAB Philippines, Eurobrand Distributors/ Peugeot, Morrison Express, Nippon Express Philippines, Chailease Finance of Taiwan, and Teleport PH.

Set up in 1996, Platon Martinez Flores San Pedro Leaño is a full-service firm that is best known for its excellent aviation practice. The firm is also widely recognised for its IP and employment practices. With five senior partners, six partners and 10 lawyers, the Makati city, Manila-based firm has an impressive client roster, advising several large domestic and international businesses. Its aviation clients have included Air France, Swiss Air, China Airlines, Eva Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Airlines, and Malaysia Airlines.

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Banking & finance

DivinaLaw is a full-service firm that has, in just more than a decade of existence, come to be counted among the most respected law firms in the Philippines. With more than 50 lawyers in two offices (Manila and Cebu) it is highly rated among domestic and international clients.

DivinaLaw simplifies an otherwise complex perspective or approach, but at the same time manages to be two or three steps ahead in terms of the overall strategy, which is exactly what is needed in addressing a legal concern,” says Ma Paz Llasos, corporate legal counsel at HDI Group of Companies in the Philippines.

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“The firm weaves academic and practical considerations to create an intelligent yet clever legal position that impresses even the meticulous mind,” says Llasos. “This is particularly showcased by the teamwork of Estrella Elamparo [senior partner] and Ian Jerny De Leon [junior partner], whose art for simplicity is a brilliant piece of work that others will find complicated to emulate.”

In notable deals this year, DivinaLaw counselled the sponsors of Century Properties Group, a leading real estate company in the Philippines, on its domestic listing. It provided legal advice and review of a cross-border online financial transactions connecting local investors in Southeast Asia to the US stock market, and making it compliant with securities and data privacy laws.

At DivinaLaw, female lawyers make up nearly half the roster – 34 of 69 lawyers. Women are also in key leadership roles at the firm, from the head of the litigation group to its HR director, and the director of corporate affairs and business development. From August 2019 to July 2020, the firm hired 14 lawyers as associates and welcomed eight new members in its non-legal staff.

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Capital markets

 

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Competition & antitrust

  • Picazo Buyco Tan Fider & Santos
  • PunoLaw
  • Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles
  • ACCRALAW

Founded in 1984 by Ricardo Puno Sr, a former minister of justice in the Philippines, Puno & Puno, known as PunoLaw, provides advisory across practice areas, but is among the most respected firms in the energy, infrastructure and utilities practices, led by its managing partner, Roderico Puno. Although it is most widely recognised for its specialty, as a full-service firm it has built significant expertise in other practice areas, advising domestic and international firms.

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Corporate & commercial

The four-decades-old Manila-based law firm, Castillo Laman Tan Pantaleon & San Jose, is a corporate and commercial law specialist. The firm has nearly 50 lawyers, including 26 partners, and is one of the most respected names in the country’s legal market, with an enviable roster of clients across practice areas such as litigation, IP, taxation and employment.

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Data compliance

Founded in 2014, Abad Alcantara and Associates (also known as Trade Lawyers) is a specialist law firm that focuses on the cutting edge of business law. Its primary areas of focus include technology, data privacy, competition and antitrust, and trade law.

Jehremiah Asis, a founding partner of the firm, was recently engaged by the Asian Development Bank as a consultant of the Public-Private Partnership [PPP] Centre – a government infrastructure institution supported by the bank – to provide project support, legal and policy advisory services, as well as professional development training.

The firm is heavily involved in data privacy compliance, counting a large number of fintech, big data and peer-to-peer startups in its portfolio. It also has thriving banking and finance, M&A and infrastructure practices.

Disini Buted Disini, formerly known as Disini & Disini, is one of the top technology, media and telecoms (TMT) law firm in the Philippines. Although the firm has full-service capabilities, it has focused on advising technology companies, or companies that are seeking specialist advice on technology-related practice areas. This focused approach has meant that the firm has an impressive technology client list.

Disini Buted Disini has assisted in data privacy compliance for an international online retailer, an international humanitarian organisation, an international school, a major international food delivery portal, an ASEAN-wide fintech company, and has performed privacy impact assessments for a major vehicle manufacturer and a leading manufacturer of bakery products.

The firm also advised a major social media provider on a government action relating to censorship of inauthentic activity. It represented a large group of students victimised by a sexual predator who took multiple videos and photos of them without their knowledge, and it also represented a public figure in a cyber libel suit pending before the Philippine National Police.

The firm welcomed a new senior partner, Juor Buted, a former senior partner at GDR Law Offices, who will lead the firm’s litigation department, and was renamed to reflect this change in its senior partnership.

Apart from the founding partners, JJ Disini and Rowena Disini, and the recent addition of Buted, the firm has a partner and 15 lawyers including special counsel and associates.

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Energy, projects & infrastructure

Dime & Eviota is recognised by clients and peers as one of the best energy-focused firms in the country. While the firm’s managing partner, Ronald Dime, is a highly regarded litigation lawyer, the other named partner, Edward Eviota, is an energy, projects and utilities law specialist, having worked as an in-house counsel in one of the country’s largest energy firms. The firm has expertise in providing its projects and energy clients with more than legal counsel, by offering services such as identifying projects, preparing feasibility, conducting legal, financial and technical due diligence, identifying investors and partners, and negotiating and concluding agreements.

More than two decades old, Puyat Jacinto & Santos Law Offices is among the most dynamic firms in the market. The full-service firm with nearly 50 lawyers has an exceptional reputation for its energy and infrastructure, and banking and finance practices.

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Insurance & reinsurance

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Intellectual property enforcement

Bengzon Negre Untalan (BNU) is an IP-focused law firm that is consistently ranked among the best sector specialists in the Philippines. The Manila-based firm has four partners and four associates, and has deep expertise in all matters related to IP, patent, trademark and copyright.

Hechanova Group, founded by Editha Hechanova, is primarily an IP-focused law firm and deservedly among the most respected in the country. The law firm has two businesses, a consulting firm, Hechanova & Co, which does IP prosecution, and Hechanova Bugay Vilchez & Andaya-Racadio, a law firm that does contentious aspects of IP such as litigation, as well as non-IP matters. Hechanova & Co has been the top patent filer in the Philippines since 2015 and has a team of lawyers as well as technical experts.

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Intellectual property protection

Federis & Associates is a small boutique IP law firm that has earned its place among the most notable firms in the country on the back of its impressive credentials and an enviable client list. It has represented some of the biggest global and domestic brands. The firm has a strong IP litigation team that has helped its clients win significant cases, which is complemented by an experienced IP prosecution team. The firm, founded by Mila Federis, has two partners and three associates.

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Labour & employment

Siguion Reyna Montecillo & Ongsiako was founded in 1901, and is among the oldest law firms in the Philippines. It has a storied past, having handled some complex, landmark matters, and in various areas of corporate law. Well respected for its labour, employment and immigration practices, the firm also has strong litigation, aviation and maritime, and corporate law expertise. With more than 45 lawyers, it is a full-service firm and has a client roster that includes domestic conglomerates and Fortune 500 multinationals.

Villaraza & Angangco is one of the country’s top firms, with a solid reputation for its litigation and corporate practices. The firm has earned laurels from its clients and competitors for its outstanding work in labour and employment practice. The 40-year-old firm, founded by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Antonio Carpio, has 21 partners, 19 senior associates and 21 associates. The full-service firm is also recognised for its expertise in IP law.

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Litigation

Poblador Bautista & Reyes is a 26-year-old full-service law firm that is most recognised for its stellar litigation credentials. The firm’s dispute resolution practice is among the best in the country, and has the client list to show for it. Despite the pandemic, the firm has been on the growth path, expanding its team and investing in legal technology.

In notable deals this year, the firm represented ABS-CBN, a major Philippine broadcasting company, and its telecommunications affiliate, ABS-CBN Convergence, in defending against a petition for quo warranto filed by the Office of the Solicitor General with the Supreme Court, to revoke the legislative franchises of these two companies for supposed violations of their franchises and the constitution.

It also won, in August this year, a significant monetary award in favour of its client, a large real estate company, in the Singapore-seated arbitration of a contractual dispute with the Republic of the Philippines, through the department of transportation, concerning rights and obligations arising from one of the oldest PPPs for the development and construction of a light railway system, along with one of the country’s major thoroughfares. The arbitration focused on civil, commercial, administrative and criminal litigation, as well as real estate, IP, securities and finance, insurance, employment, tax, immigration and technology practice areas.

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Mergers & acquisitions

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Private equity & venture capital

Gulapa Law is a young law firm that has in five years built a brand for itself with its innovative approach and international presence. The Manila-based law firm also has offices in New York and San Francisco. Led by Aris Gulapa, the young team has etched a place for itself in the highly competitive corporate law practice, especially for its private equity and venture capital expertise. The firm also has expertise in other practice areas, notably infrastructure, but differentiates itself because of its presence in the US and its focus on international business, especially through its unique ASEAN practice, advising companies from Southeast Asia doing business in the Philippines.

The firm set up a New York office through its affiliate, Gulapa & Baclay, in 2017, and followed up with a representative office in San Francisco in 2018.

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Real estate

Gatmaytan Yap Patacsil Gutierrez & Protacio (C&G Law), formerly known as Caguioa & Gatmaytan, specialises in corporate and commercial transactions, real estate, litigation and arbitration, taxation, and labour and employment. It is among the largest firms in the country, with 17 partners, three senior associates, 31 associates and one of counsel. C&G Law is part of Singaporean law firm Rajah & Tann Asia’s legal network. It is reputed to be one of the strongest real estate law firms in the country, and counts some of the largest realty companies in the Philippines among its clients.

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Restructuring & insolvency

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Shipping & maritime

Set up in 1977, Del Rosario & Del Rosario is one of the most respected maritime law firms in the country. While the firm has diversified its practice in recent years, its maritime expertise continues to be its calling card. It advises international shipowners, and protection and indemnity (P&I) clubs on labour law issues, collisions, oil pollution and spills, bill of lading disputes, ship acquisitions, and sales and ship.

Del Rosario & Del Rosario is also the exclusive Manila correspondent of the Through Transport Club, the largest club for non-vessel common carriers, terminal operators and freight forwarders/consolidators. Recently it has diversified into other practice areas such as litigation, labour, M&A and IP.

Ortega Bacorro Odulio Calma & Carbonell is one of the oldest law firms in the Philippines, and is most recognised for its expertise in maritime law, although it has recently diversified into general law practice. Its other practice areas include IP, litigation, taxation, aviation, and estates and trusts.

The firm, which started as Pillsbury & Sutro in 1901, has an illustrious list of alumni including former Philippine president Diosdado Pangan Macapagal, former Supreme Court chief justice Ricardo Paras, and former ambassador to the US Amelito Mutuc.

VeraLaw (Del Rosario Raboca Gonzales Grasparil) is a maritime and admiralty law specialist. Now run by Valeriano del Rosario, the son of the firm’s founder, it has expanded into other areas of law such as IP, immigration and taxation. However, the firm continues to be among the best shipping law firms in the country. VeraLaw has four partners, a managing associate, three senior associates and three associates.

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Structured finance & securitization

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Taxation

  • Du-Baladad and Associates
  • Mata-Perez Tamayo & Francisco
  • Ocampo & Suralvo
  • Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles

Du-Baladad and Associates (BDB Law), founded by Benedicta Du-Baladad (a lawyer and an accountant), is a top taxation legal advisory and consulting firm. The firm is a member of the WTS Group, an international tax and legal consulting group. It covers all areas of taxation from assessments, advisory, planning claims, disputes, litigation, compliance, transfer pricing and advocacy. The firm also has built a respected M&A and private equity/venture capital practice. The firm has four partners, seven associates and five tax specialists.

Mata-Perez Tamayo & Francisco is a full-service firm best known for its deep expertise in tax-related matters. The firm has significant experience in handling all tax-related issues, with two of its three named partners being qualified accountants as well. Despite being a small firm it has built a reputation across practice areas, and has demonstrated capabilities in handling complex corporate, commercial, M&A, infrastructure and IP matters.

Ocampo & Suralvo is a leading Filipino law firm that has a formidable reputation for its tax practice. It is an affiliate firm of a leading regional law firm network, DFDL. Ocampo Suralvo has full-service capabilities offering general corporate and commercial legal advice across the spectrum of client business concerns including M&A, joint ventures, restructuring, foreign direct investment, and taxation. The firm’s tax practice, headed by partner Karen Ocampo, has received wide recognition from clients and peers.

“I have been working with Jude Ocampo at Ocampo & Suralvo for four or five years, for mainly Korean companies, on various issues such as M&A, real estate development, bankruptcy and potential litigation issues,” says Ahn Cheolhyo, a foreign attorney at Bae Kim & Lee in Seoul.

“Jude and his colleagues have been very professional, competitive, responsive and co-operative. Sometimes, Korean clients are quite demanding and responsive, but Jude and his colleagues never disappointed our clients, in particular, in terms of timing and quality of their services,” says Ahn. “In particular, I appreciate their active advice and efforts to provide any alternative structure/method if the contemplated structure of the clients has any material legal issue.

“Their proposed alternatives have been extremely helpful to clients. In terms of the number of attorneys, they may not be as big as major law firms in the Philippines, but I strongly believe the quality of their services is as good as any major law firm in the Philippines. I have never been hesitant to recommend Jude and his law firm to my clients,” he says.

Apart from the two named partners, the firm has three partners, a senior counsel, two senior associates, five associates and two special counsel.

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Technology, media & telecoms

Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra is one of the fastest growing firms in the country, though it is a relatively young firm, having founded only five years ago. It has quickly established itself as a formidable player competing with the market’s most storied firms.

The law firm has expanded from: Nine lawyers in 2015 to nearly 40 lawyers today; from three practice areas in 2015 to 15 today; and from 10 retainer clients in 2015 to nearly 200 today. Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, the firm’s revenue has grown 20% year-on-year in 2020.

Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra is most recognised for its stellar TMT practice, but the firm also has an impressive track record in other practice areas.

“Gorriceta Law definitely demonstrated strong knowledge and skill in M&A,” says Paolo Bugayong, CEO & co-founder of AIDE Apps in the Philippines. “They did our agreements with an investment from Ayala. They are working on our current fundraise with foreign investors. We also consult with them regularly on tech and health regulation in the country.”

Paolo-Bugayong,-CEO-&-co-founder,-AIDE-Apps,-Philippines

In notable deals this year in the TMT sector, Gorriceta represented Appsolutely in its application before the Philippine Central Bank for a virtual currency exchange (VCE) licence. It also represented ABS-CBN and U-Pay Digital Technologies in obtaining the electronic money issuer licence before the Philippine Central Bank.

The judging process

The winners of Asia Business Law Journal’s Philippines Law Firm Awards were selected based on votes, references and qualitative information received from in-house counsel and other legal professionals in the Philippines and around the world.

A voting form was posted on our website and thousands of in-house counsel, lawyers at international law firms, and other Philippines-focused professionals, were invited to vote. At the same time, Philippine law firms were asked to make submissions in support of their candidacy for awards. These submissions, combined with research by Asia Business Law Journal’s editorial team, played a supporting role in the judging process.

All Philippine law firms were automatically eligible for inclusion in the awards process. As always, there were no entry fees or any other requirements for entry.