Philippines Law Firm Awards

Asia Business Law Journal names the top law firms in the Philippines in 2021. Mithun Varkey reports

After a forgettable 2020, the Philippine economy is on a robust recovery path. While the economy shrank 9.6% last year on account of the pandemic, the country has bounced back, recording double-digit growth in the second quarter of this year, with GDP growth staying the course since then.

In December, the World Bank upgraded its outlook on the Philippine economy. Despite the uncertainties due to the new strains of coronavirus, the bank now expects the Philippine economy to grow at 5.3% this year, higher than the 4.3% it forecast in September.

With the worst hopefully behind, the only way is up for the economy, its businesses and, of course, its law firms. But while the immediate future seems promising, it will not be without challenges and surprises – 2022 will be eventful for the country as it prepares for a mid-year presidential election and a handover of power.

As this year closes, it is time to take stock of the past 12 months. We are happy to bring you our annual Philippines Law Firm Awards, which recognises the country’s best in the past year.

In our 2021 Philippines Law Firm awards, we have identified one Law Firm of the Year, four Best Overall Law Firms, and four winners each in 22 practice areas.

IT IS TWICE IN a row for ACCRALAW, coming out on top again as the Law Firm of the Year in the Philippines. The firm, set up in 1972, is one of the largest in the country, with more than 170 lawyers including 45 partners. It was identified as among the best firms in the Philippines across 15 categories in our awards this year.

Led by its managing partner, Emerico De Guzman, ACCRALAW has earned the trust of both leading domestic and international clients. It has an enviable track record in conventional practice areas such as litigation, dispute resolution, aviation, shipping, intellectual property, labour and employment, banking and finance, M&A, capital markets, as well as emerging areas of technology, competition, etc.

The firm has been at the forefront of embracing technology to constantly improve its services, and technology has been a real game-changer for firms in the past two years since the pandemic forced lawyers to work from home.

The firm was among the first in the Philippines to adopt a comprehensive law management software application. It also utilises a document management processes integrated into its e-library system. These tech solutions enable lawyers to work seamlessly and expeditiously from home, the office, or while mobile.

In 2021, the firm hired nine new attorneys across practice areas and offices.

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Joel Angelo Cruz, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Petron Corporation, says: “As one of the most reputable and established law firms in the Philippines, ACCRALAW’s work is quite impressive. The firm’s lawyers have a level of familiarity with their clients’ businesses that allows them to competently render sound advice on legal issues with an approach that is both practical and proficient.”

The firm is on the cutting-edge of the country’s deal space, having advised on some landmark deals during the year. Notably, it advised on the first-ever real estate investment trust (REIT) listing in the Philippines, the PHP14 billion (USD274.2 million) AREIT listing. The deal took two years to complete due to the issues pertaining to the REIT law, and uncertainties on the interpretation of requirements of the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Philippine Stock Exchange .

“It was indeed an honourable and fruitful experience working with ACCRALAW in listing the Philippines’ first REIT,” says Carol Mills, president and CEO of AREIT. “Their professionalism, network and competence in navigating the law and providing practical solutions match their firm’s stellar reputation, and inspired our team to attain our goals despite many obstacles. Going beyond closing transactions, we have gained each other’s trust and developed what we hope to be a lasting relationship as industry partners.”

In other deals, ACCRALAW advised the biggest IPO in the Philippines to date, the USD1 billion offering by Monde Nissin. The firm was Philippine counsel to the joint global co-ordinators (UBS, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan and Citibank) and local lead underwriters (BDO Capital & Investment Corp, BPI Capital and First Metro Investment).

Carol-Mills-Quotes-2ACCRALAW’s M&A practice has also had notable success. It advised Sumitomo Mitsui Banking in connection with its acquisition of shares in Rizal Commercial Banking for about USD90 million. It also advised CVC Capital Partners in its acquisition of Fastcargo Logistics, including the related notification with the Philippine Competition Commission.

Giving a boost to the firm’s international credentials, ACCRALAW was counsel for Philippine Airlines (PAL) in connection with its restructuring pursuant to the filing of a chapter 11 Bankruptcy petition in New York. It was also counsel to the underwriter in connection with the USD500 million convertible bond offering by Cebu Pacific to IFC and Indigo Partners.

On the IP front, ACCRALAW was the go-to firm for some of the biggest international brands. Notable cases include advising Japan’s Nikon in obtaining a favourable judgment from the Court of Appeals, declaring the client’s mark “NIKON” to be a well-known mark and entitled to greater protection under the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines. This overturned an earlier decision of the Director-General of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) which dismissed the client’s trademark opposition case.

The firm also represented global battery maker Energiser in trademark opposition cases against the applications for registration of the marks “EnerMax Get Yourself Energised” and “EnerMax Maximum Power. Maximum Performance”. It was also adviser to the country’s biggest patent filer, South Korean e-commerce company Coupang.

In the past ACCRALAW has 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.

Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia is the youngest of the four firms to win the Best Overall Law Firm award. Founded in 2013, Cruz Marcelo has quickly grown to be recognised as a top-tier firm in the country.

While it is best known for its excellent dispute resolution practice, including its expertise in arbitration, it is also highly regarded for its IP, resources, energy and infrastructure practices. In recent years, it is also recognised for expertise in new areas of legal work such as data compliance and cybersecurity.

Founded by the country’s former secretary of national defence, Avelino J Cruz Jr, and former ombudsman and solicitor-general, Simeon V Marcelo and Joe Nathan Tenefrancia, the firm’s deputy managing partner Patricia Bunye and other senior partners such as Manuel Manaligod and Susan Villanueva are highly regarded in the country’s legal market.

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Edgardo Go, chair of Silverfoiltubes International in the Philippines, says: “We are very satisfied with the legal services they are giving us. We had avoided many possible problems and had fortified our brand’s IPO registration.”

In November this year, the law firm signed a collaboration agreement with Andersen Global, an international association of legally separate, independent member firms comprised of tax and legal professionals around the world. The agreement enables the firm to collaborate seamlessly and ensure that its clients receive a full suite of integrated services globally.

Cruz Marcelo is reputed to be the industry leader in banking litigation and is the firm of choice to represent most of the country’s leading banks and financial institutions, most notably the country’s central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), and its monetary board.

The firm handles BSP’s cases, from its regulatory functions to its operations as the lender of last resort of all financial institutions in the Philippines. The firm represented the BSP and successfully resisted an attempt of a related entity of a closed bank to compel the regulator to surrender titles to property acquired from the closed bank.

It has also been representing the BSP in successfully prosecuting the perpetrators of the biggest fraud systematically executed in the banking history of the Philippines, with implications of around PHP14 billion.

Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles is one of the most reputable law firms in the country. It has been around for more than a century and is one of the few firms in the Philippines with an international presence. Apart from offices in Manila and Cebu, it also has a presence in Hong Kong and is a member of the Lex Mundi global network of firms.

Naoki Okamoto, a partner at Japanese law firm Midosuji Legal Profession Corporation, says: “Romulo Law Office has a lot of experience to handle foreign investment, especially from Japan, which is so helpful for our Japanese clients. Particularly Carrie Bee Hao, a partner at the Japan desk of the firm, always provides us with competent legal services.”

Romulo has a sophisticated practice that is recognised as one of the best in the country for banking and finance, capital markets, M&A, private equity and venture capital, corporate and commercial, and competition and antitrust. The firm counts some of the biggest domestic and international businesses among its clients.

SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan (SyCipLaw) is a top law firm that has an admirable roster of clients and an enviable track record. The firm was founded in 1945 and has counselled clients in the Philippines and from overseas, and acted on landmark matters and deals.

It is among the top firms across practice areas and, given its long history, has built a name for itself in all areas of legal practice from aviation, shipping and litigation to emerging areas such as data privacy, antitrust, arbitration and technology.

SyCipLaw has acted in some of the biggest deals of the year including: JERA’s USD1.6 billion acquisition of 27% of Aboitiz Power; and San Miguel’s PHP20 billion bond offering, the largest such issue by a non-financial institution in the country to date. It also advised Synergy Grid, the holding company for the country’s power transmission monopoly National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, on its PHP13.85 billion follow-on offering.

The firm also advised private equity firm KKR’s investment in Frontier Tower Associates Philippines, the first tower company that has secured a provisional licence to own, construct, manage and operate common towers hosting cellular sites in the country.

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Jake Robson, a partner and head of corporate for South & Southeast Asia at King & Wood Mallesons, says: “I have found the SyCip team to be the leading corporate/commercial team in the Philippines market. They are extremely commercial and user-friendly, as well as being very responsive.”

Chan Chi Chung, an associate at Eversheds Sutherland in Hong Kong, lauds the firm for its great response time, and accurate and concise counsel. “They addressed all issues succinctly and practically,” says Chan.

In 2021, the firm promoted four women attorneys as partners. With the admission of these four partners, more than 40% of the partnership is now women. In September last year, SyCipLaw signed a co-operation agreement with Justice Without Borders (a non-profit organisation) to provide pro bono services in connection with cross-border claims by returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) against their former employers in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Gatmaytan Yap Patacsil Gutirrez & Protacio (C&G Law) is part of Singaporean law firm Rajah & Tann Asia’s legal network. The full-service firm is among the largest in terms of lawyers, and is highly regarded for its dispute resolution, real estate, taxation and projects expertise.

Led by managing partner Ben Dominic Yap, C&G Law has more than 40 lawyers, including 17 partners. The firm started in 2007 and has grown consistently to emerge among the Philippines’ 10 largest law firms in terms of the number of lawyers.

The firm’s dispute resolution practice is recognised for both its domestic and international expertise. It has experience with arbitrations in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), and the Construction Industry Arbitration Commission (CIAC). It has dealt with commercial and construction disputes, including ad hoc arbitrations. Recently, the firm was appointed as lead counsel in an SIAC arbitration arising from a contract that is not governed by Philippine law.

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Juan Lorenzo Tanada, director for corporate and regulatory affairs at Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, says: “The firm’s ability to examine issues on a 360-degree basis, particularly beyond the customary regulatory or statutory lens, really goes a long way towards helping a client arrive at an informed business decision.

“I would like to make special mention of Anthony Mark Gutierrez, whose ability to break down complex issues and provide novel ways forward clearly and succinctly, is prized and sought after by his numerous corporate clients.”

C&G Law acted on one of the largest refinancing transactions of the year. The notes issuance PHP18 billion fixed-rate corporate notes issued by SN Aboitiz Power. The firm is also advising Philippine conglomerate Ayala Group’s real estate arm Ayala Land in its five-way merger on corporate law, regulatory and competition law aspects.

Ocampo Manalo Valdez & Lim is one of the top aviation specialists in the country. Led by founding partners Carlos Ocampo and managing partner Manolito Manalo, it boasts domestic and international airlines as clients.

Tanada, at Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, lauds the firm’s aviation practice: “Ocampo Manalo is in my view the pre-eminent aviation law firm in the Philippines,” he says. “Their expensive client base, linkages with industry and regulators both here and abroad, as well as institutional knowledge brought on by decades worth of experience in the field, assures their current and prospective clients that their aviation-related concerns will be addressed in the best, most comprehensive way possible.”

He makes a special mention of Manolito Manalo, noting that “his innovative methods and solutions have been able to make a difference for the firm’s aviation industry clients”.

Started in 1997, Ocampo Manalo is a full-service firm with expertise in banking and finance, corporate and M&A, taxation, labour and employment, and taxation, among others.

However, its expertise in transportation practices is its calling card. Past clients have included Turkish Airlines, Tiger Air Taiwan, Xiamen Airlines Cambodia Airways, JC Cambodia Airlines, Airswift Transport, Philippines AirAsia, YTO Cargo Airlines, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Condor Airlines, Magnum Air (Skyjet), Starlux Airlines.

It has advised defence systems companies like ELTA Systems Ltd. (Israel) and Streit Group (Canada), airport management companies such as Tav Havalimanlari Holding and Aeroport de Paris Management, and rail business like Tranzen Group and Systra Philippines.

The firm has a formal affiliation with the JLPW Legal Group, an international legal network led by the Malaysian law firm with affiliate offices in countries including Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Quisumbing Torres is full-service and one of the country’s top law firms, sought after by both domestic and international clients. While its association with Baker McKenzie allows the firm to offer significant cross-border services to its clients, its domestic practice has a self-standing reputation that is sought after by an impressive roster of clients.

The firm is recognised as one of the best in the country for aviation, but it has also built a considerable reputation in real estate, data compliance, insurance and dispute resolution practices.

Quisumbing Torres is headed by Ramon J Quisumbing, who is recognised as among the top dispute resolution lawyers in the country. The firm also has formidable corporate, M&A and IP expertise.

One of the country’s fastest-growing law firms, DivinaLaw celebrated its 15th anniversary on 19 April 2021. While expanding its headcount and office space, the firm has managed to add 150 clients to its roster in the midst of the pandemic-hit economy.

Led by Nilo Divina, the full-service firm is most noted for its expertise in financial law and is among the go-to firms for banking and finance, restructuring and insolvency practices, with a reputed litigation practice, too. The firm added six lawyers this year and has more than 50, including nine senior partners and 13 partners.

“They do live up to their motto of ‘dynamic lawyering’,” says Rene Buenaventura, vice chairman of Equicom Group in the Philippines. “The firm is composed of professionals who are both competent and responsive. Our group of companies is extremely pleased with their service and has been dealing with the law firm from the time it was originally set up. They provide creative and appropriate solutions that consider both the legal and business aspects of their clients’ requirements.”

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DivinaLaw is advising Payamaya Philippines and Voyager Innovations in setting up a digital bank, Maya Bank, which has completed phase II of the three-stage process for a digital bank to be fully operational.

The firm’s litigation practice had some notable wins this year. In an expropriation suit against the firm’s client by the Department of Transportation, the property owner was able to receive prepayment for the property being condemned even before the trial was concluded, a first in the history of Philippine expropriation cases.

It also advised Fast Group, a leading end-to-end logistics and warehousing group in the Philippines, in obtaining the approval of the Philippine Competition Commission to proceed with the more than PHP5 Billion investment from CVC Capital Partners.

Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos is a full-service law firm most recognised for its capital markets and banking and finance practices. Highly regarded by its clients, but also by its peers, its clients include some of the biggest international investment banks, as well as domestic and international conglomerates.

Jan-David-Garcia-Quotes-2Started in 1987, it is one of the most respected firms in the country. It is also one of the biggest, with 32 partners, three special counsel, and 14 senior associates and associates.

Jan David Garcia, assistant vice president in the legal department of Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation, says Picazo is “certainly” one of the best firms in the country. “There are so many good things I can say about Picazo Law, but their creativity in solving issues, reliability and dedication to work are the traits that stand out the most,” says Garcia.

Paul Pery, a partner at Milbank in Hong Kong, says: “We enjoy working with their team and they have a well-deserved reputation of being one of the premier corporate law firms in the Philippines, involved in almost every landmark transaction.”

The firm’s counsel on capital markets, 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.

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

Ocampo & Suralvo (OSLaw) is a leading firm that is highly regarded for its corporate, M&A and tax practices. Led by Jude Ocampo, the firm has 14 lawyers with five partners and three senior associates. The firm is widely regarded as one of the best tax firms.

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Cesar Purisima, the founding partner of Singapore-based private equity firm Ikhlas Capital, says: “Ocampo & Suralvo Law Offices is an excellent legal firm in the Philippines, trusted by top international law firms to take care of Philippine clients.

“OSLaw has been a superb partner on all my legal affairs,” says Purisma, who is also a former secretary of finance of the Philippines. “OSLaw has been working with a number of foreign funds, including Ikhlas Capital, looking to become strategic partners to Philippine corporates. Managing partner Jude Ocampo’s well-rounded skill set makes his firm’s legal counsel particularly valuable as they sit at the table with our partners from end-to-end of the deal process. OSLaw is also strong on tax, which is very helpful in deal structuring.”

Tay Ek Ming, managing director of Ikhlas Capital, notes: “OSLaw has the ability and professionalism to handle many different types of legal issues. Jude Ocampo was an invaluable resource and his attention to detail and knowledge of laws are unsurpassed.”

Cirilo Noel, vice chairman of Security Bank in the Philippines, recognises Karen Ocampo’s expertise on data compliance. “The data compliance practice of the firm has evolved over the years and is getting a good foothold in this area of practice.”

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Marie Mbaye, head of legal for Asia-Pacific at French advertising company Havas, says: “I have been working with Jude Ocampo for several years on different complex legal matters and have always been very well advised. He is very pragmatic and straight to the point.”

Founded in 1980, Villaraza & Angangco has built a formidable reputation for its corporate practice and litigation expertise. It also has a highly reputed labour and employment practice.

The firm was founded by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Antonio Carpio, and has 20 partners, 24 senior associates and 10 associates. The full-service firm is also recognised for its expertise in IP law.

Alejandro Navarro is the firm’s managing partner, and Augusto San Pedro Jr is a co-managing partner. Arthur Villaraza is the firm’s chairman and CEO.

Disini Buted Disini Law Offices is best known for its top-notch technology, media and telecoms practice. It is one of the most sought-after firms for its deep understanding of the sector, and ability to counsel clients in the cutting edge of the technology space.

The firm has full-service capabilities but is most recognised for technology specialisation.

Apart from the founding partners, JJ Disini and Rowena Disini, and named partner Juan Buted, the firm has 15 lawyers, including a junior partner.

Founded in 2008, Dime & Eviota is a full-service firm focused on energy, utilities and dispute resolution practices. It is highly regarded for its energy practice led by Edward Eviota. The firm’s managing partner, Ronald Dime, is a dispute resolution specialist who has appeared for some notable disputes.

He was appointed as vice chairman of the first Maritime Disputes Committee to draft specialised rules and develop a maritime-focused alternative dispute resolution set-up for the institution. Dime was also appointed by a Philippine court as liquidator for one of the first and largest publishers of online games in the Philippines.

The firm also has a thriving TMT practice and has guided leading startups on funding rounds, as well as advised the acquisition of a Singapore offshore company licensed to operate an offshore virtual cryptocurrency exchange. It has participated in public consultations for proposed guidelines for online businesses at the Department of Trade and Industry.

The firm has expertise in providing its projects and energy clients with more than legal counsel, with services including identifying projects, preparing feasibility, conducting legal, financial and technical due diligence, identifying investors and partners, and negotiating and concluding agreements.

Puno & Puno (PunoLaw) is one of the most respected firms in energy, infrastructure and utilities practices. The firm’s managing partner, Roderico Puno, leads the infrastructure practice and has advised leading domestic and international firms on all areas of the sector. Founded in 1984 by Ricardo Puno Sr, a former minister of justice in the Philippines, it is a full-service firm.

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Francisco Delfin Jr, vice president and chief operating officer of PetroGreen Energy, says: “PunoLaw’s significant in-house expertise and external networks on renewable energy and general corporate matters are crucial in their timely and effective advice to us.

“We especially value the ready availability, professional dedication and insightful opinions that Jay Layug and his team at Puno Law continuously provide to PetroGreen.” The firm has 11 senior partners and nine associates.

Puyat Jacinto & Santos Law Offices (PJS) has a well-deserved reputation for its energy and infrastructure. The firm, which is turning 25 next year, is a full-service outfit.

In 2021, the firm’s founders – Regina Jacinto-Barrientos and Roy Enrico Santos – assumed the leadership posts of CEO and managing partner, respectively. The firm has added two partners and two senior associates this year, and now has 16 partners, eight senior associates and seven associates.

In notable deals in the energy sector this year, the firm counselled DIF Capital Partners, a leading global independent infrastructure investment fund manager, in its acquisition of a 51% stake in ib vogt, one of the world’s leading developers in utility-scale PV solar. The assistance covered legal due diligence of certain projects in the Philippines.

It also acted as counsel to Marubeni Corporation’s sale of 20% interest in San Roque Power Corporation, as well to a Japanese renewable energy company in its investment in run-of-river hydropower projects in the Philippines.

The firm’s private equity practice was quite active this year, having acted as Philippine counsel to leading PE firm General Atlantic’s first investment in the Philippines, a series C funding for Filipino social entertainment platform Kumu, which was also the largest equity financing to date for an independent Filipino startup.

PJS also represented one of the 10 largest creditors of Philippine Airlines, in collaboration with foreign counsel, in the chapter 11 Insolvency proceedings lodged by Philippine Airlines with the US Bankruptcy Court for the southern district of New York.

The firm also recently partnered with Unawa Asia, the first regulatory-tech venture in the Philippines, in developing SignSecure, a digital solution that securely signs documents. The product was launched on 18 October 2021.

  • ACCRALAW
  • Insights Philippines Legal Advisors
  • Quisumbing Torres
  • Romulo

Insights Philippines Legal Advisors (IPLA) is an up-and-coming firm founded by Felix Sy. In a short period it has built a reputation for itself, having acted on several outstanding deals. The firm is also a member of the ZICO Law network.

The firm advised Kuala Lumpur-based ASEAN Universal Bank, one of the largest investment banks in Asia and one of the largest Islamic banks in the world, in the establishment of the banking branch in the Philippines, obtaining operational licences from the Philippine Central Bank, assisting in regulatory and operational compliance with banking regulations, reviewing financial technology and digital bank products agreements, and advising and assisting the bank in its digital bank products and cashless digital retail/consumer banking operations.

Advised the structuring of the US-based global remittance platform Western Union in the Philippines in compliance with new regulatory requirements of the BSP, which are designed to deal with the remittance platform provider’s peculiar business structure. Because of its global business reach, the firm advised various offices of the client in the Philippines, US, Australia, India, Ireland, Hong Kong and Singapore.

IPLA also counselled Japanese conglomerate Orix in its investment into a joint venture company with a leading real estate development company in the Philippines that will undertake the development of a series of commercial and residential projects, implicating various licensing and competition law requirements.

Bengzon Negre Untalan (BNU) is a premier IP boutique relied on by some of the biggest and best businesses in the country. The Manila-based firm is called on by both international and domestic companies for all matters related to IP, patents, trademarks and copyright. It has four partners and four associates.

Federis & Associates is an IP specialist law firm that is among the most notable in the country. It regularly represents some of the biggest brands and is a leading patent filer. The firm’s specialisations include patents, utility model, industrial design, copyright, anti-counterfeiting, trademarks, licensing, due diligence, contract reviews and IP litigation. The firm, founded by Mila Federis, has two partners and three associates, four patent agents and five trademark agents.

Yoshiyuki Inaba, a senior partner at Japanese law firm TMI Associates, says: “Federis & Associates is a leading Philippine law firm with a strong reputation in IP law, especially Trademark law. For TMI Associates, Federis is the best go-to firm in the Philippines, and always offers each of our clients the most appropriate solutions to obtain the best results with speed and quality.”

Hechanova Group is made up of Hechanova & Co – an IP consulting firm of principals, lawyers and non-lawyer technical professionals who focus on non-contentious IP work such as prosecution, patent drafting, searches, valuation and consulting work – and Hechanova Bugay Vilchez & Andaya-Racadio – a law firm that focuses on contentious IP work such as litigation, border control, enforcement, due diligence and licensing.

The firm has for many years been the top patent filer in the country. It was the top filer for 2020, and for the first three quarters of this year, according to IPOPHL. The firm filed 590 applications each in 2020 and in the first three quarters of 2021.

The Editha Hechanova-led firm has expanded its teams with two hires. The firm has also organised a small group of IT professionals to protect its critical assets as it handles confidential documents and information, and trains people on security and data privacy, and being mindful of possible cyber threats.

Baranda and Associates is a member of the Rouse Network, and led by managing partner Edmund Baranda. It provides a full range of IP legal and consultancy services, both contentious and non-contentious.

Apart from helping clients develop and implement IP strategies that are aligned with and support business goals, the Taguig, Metro Manila-based firm also handles different types of IP litigation, principally administrative IP cases at the BLA and civil court, working closely with the Philippines National Police, the National Bureau of Investigations and Department of Justice (State Prosecutors), and the Bureau of Customs.

Siguion Reyna Montecillo & Ongsiako is among the oldest law firms in the Philippines. Founded in 1901, it is most respected for its labour, employment and immigration practices. With more than 45 lawyers, it is a full-service firm and has a long history of acting on some landmark cases. Apart from its chairman, Rolando Mario Villonco, and general partners Cesar Manalaysay and Edgardo Balois, the firm has three senior partners and 18 partners, an of counsel, eight senior associates and 12 associates.

Vasig Abarquez Lumauig Abarquez Puno Law Offices (VAL Law) is a fast-growing young firm with full-service capabilities. Founded four years ago with five partners and three non-legal staff, VAL Law has grown to a team of 14 lawyers, supported by seven non-legal staff.

Chel Ramirez dela Cruz, general counsel of 3M Philippines, says: “VAL Law is a full-service firm with a track record of excellent work, a roster of competent counsel, and a quick and agile mindset and turnaround time, with a solid foundation on professional and ethical business practices.”

For a relatively new firm, VAL Law has an impressive client roster, including 3M, Toyota, Stanley Black & Decker, KDDI Group, Zalora Philippines, Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, WeFund Lending Corporation, Maria Health Philippines, Megawide Construction Corporation, National Book Store Group, the Pascual Total Health Group, and the Ortigas Group.

VAL Law’s labour practice advised Kalibrr when it was invited to assist the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) in the formulation of guidelines governing the recruitment and placement of digital platforms in the Philippines.

VAL Law has counselled on labour and employment concerns in the sports industry, assisting both the national sports association of basketball in the Philippines, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, and one of the leading teams in the Philippine Basketball Association, the TNT Tropang Giga basketball team.

VAL Law has been directly involved in the issuance of the 2020 Interim Rules on Remote Notarisation of Paper Documents. One of the firm’s founding partners, Elyrhey Cesar Vasig, also established and co-founded the Legal Tech Philippines Association, a non-profit organisation aimed towards the digital transformation of the legal and regulatory landscape of the Philippines.

  • ACCRALAW
  • Picazo Buyco Tan Fider & Santos
  • Romulo
  • SyCipLaw
  • Gulapa Law
  • Puyat Jacinto & Santos
  • Romulo
  • Sarmiento Loriega Law Office

Gulapa Law is a young law firm that has in just six years built a name for itself. It differentiates with its international presence and aggressive expansion. The Manila-based law firm has offices in New York and San Francisco. Led by Aris Gulapa, the firm is much noted for its private equity and venture capital expertise.

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.

On 18 December 2020, Gulapa Law opened its fourth office, Gulapa & Ismael, in Cebu City. The firm has a focus on international business, notably through its unique Asean practice, advising companies from Southeast Asia doing business in the Philippines. It set up Gulapa & Lim to build a presence across Southeast Asia.

Sarmiento Loriega Law Office (SL Law) is one of the youngest firms in the country, set up in 2020. The firm, led by Maria Elizabeth Peralta-Loriega has in a short time built capabilities across practice areas, and has built itself into a full-service firm. It has acted on several high-profile deals, and claims its portfolio of clients and matters has quadrupled within one year.

SL Law is acting as Philippine counsel in connection with the sale and purchase of the indirect ownership interests of AC Energy and Infrastructure in GNPower Kauswagan for USD453 million.

SL Law also acted as counsel for Clime Capital Management, a Singapore-based investment management company focused on clean energy investments in Southeast Asia, in its USD1 million investment in Real Wind Energy, which is undertaking an up to 250MW wind power project in Real, Quezon province. Other clients have included domestic and international companies in the financing, pharmaceutical, real estate, manufacturing and export, and energy sectors.

The firm has two founding partners, three senior partners, four senior associates and five associates, and has prioritised the hiring of senior associates from top firms with specialised experience in various fields.

Poblador Bautista & Reyes is a 27-year-old firm founded by Alexander Poblador, Mario Bautista and Gilbert Reyes. It is a general practice firm with lawyers who have extensive expertise, particularly in the fields of litigation and commercial arbitration, corporations, real estate and construction, IP, media and telecoms, antitrust and competition, insurance and banking, insolvency and restructuring, taxation and immigration.

Poblador Bautista & Reyes is held in high regard by its peers, especially the firm’s litigation and dispute resolution practices, which are among the best in the country. The firm’s roster of clients includes San Miguel Global Power Holdings, Intel, Levi Strauss, Cathay Pacific, ISS Facility Services Philippines, Trek Bicycle and Petron, among others.

The firm has 15 partners, including six senior partners, six partners and 23 associates.

DelRosario & DelRosario is a 55-year-old firm and one of the best-known maritime law firms in the country. 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.

The firm 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. It is most recognised for its expertise in maritime law, but has diversified into general law practice recently. 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.

Vera Law 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. The firm has four partners, a managing associate, three senior associates and three associates.

  • ACCRALAW
  • Castillo Laman Tan Pantaleon & San Jose
  • Picazo Buyco Tan Fider & Santos
  • Romulo

The four-decade-old Manila-based law firm of 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.

  • Mata-Perez Tamayo & Francisco
  • Ocampo & Suralvo
  • Salvador Llanillo & Bernardo
  • Zambrano Gruba Caganda & Advincula

Mata-Perez Tamayo & Francisco is a full-service firm that is most recognised for its taxation expertise. Apart from tax, it has a strong customs advisory service. It is recognised by clients and its peers as both a top taxation firm as well as a general corporate advisory firm.

Mata-Perez Tamayo & Francisco is led by managing partner Euney Marie Mata-Perez and has two other named partners, Mark Anthony Tamayo and Gerardo Maximo Francisco. The firm also has two senior associates.

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 name across practice areas and demonstrated capabilities in handling complex corporate, commercial, M&A, infrastructure and IP matters.

Salvador Llanillo & Bernardo (SLB) was set up in 2003 and is a top-notch tax firm widely recognised for expertise in transfer pricing matters. The firm has 10 partners, six senior associates, nine junior associates, seven legal assistants, six transfer pricing or tax compliance staff, two of counsels, and three special counsels.

The past 12 months saw SLB growing its transfer pricing practice substantially despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. SLB has won some notable transfer pricing documentation engagements, with clients that include a diversified conglomerate with entities operating in the financial services, healthcare and information technology industries, manufacturing and/or trading companies in the semiconductor industry with headquarters in Japan, and some publicly listed business process outsourcing companies with headquarters in Europe and the US.

SLB is currently handling more than 260 active cases, which are pending at various levels at the Court of Tax Appeals and Supreme Court, including more than 100 judicial appeals of deficiency tax assessments and more than 150 judicial claims for refund of overpaid creditable withholding tax and value added tax. SLB is a member of TAXAND, a global network of more than 2,000 leading tax advisers.

Zambrano Gruba Caganda & Advincula Law Offices is a leading tax firm that was set up in 1993 as Zambrano Gruba Law Offices. The law firm has an alliance with Singaporean firm WongPartnership’s WPG Law Network. Led by its managing partner, Antero Caganda, it has nine partners, two special counsel and four associates. The firm also has well recognised banking, dispute resolution and M&A practices.

Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra is a six-year-old firm that has expanded from nine lawyers across three practice areas when it started to more than 40 lawyers covering 15 practice areas. It is one of the fastest growing firms in the country, has a formidable list of clients and is a leader in the technology, media & telecoms and innovative technologies practices. The firm has nine partners, two junior partners and five counsel.

While it has full-service capabilities, Gorriceta is a leader in the digital banking and fintech sectors, including in the hot cryptocurrency business. It has advised some of the biggest names in the space, including UnionBank, Binance, Coins.PH, U-Pay Digital Technologies, Appsolutely, Wise, Direct Agent 5, AirPay Technologies, Fyntegrate, CELO Foundation, Shari-Shari, I-Remit, VSEC.COM, Plentina Lending, DLocal, and Currency Com.

In the media sector, Gorriceta advises multimedia conglomerate ABS-CBN and its joint venture partners, iBayad Online Ventures, Rappler and Kumu. It advises major commerce clients such as Shopee and ShopeePay in all its expansion/growth projects in the country, as well as Robinsons Land with its B2C e-commerce platform. It also counts Filivest Development, Multisys Technologies, Zalora Philippines and FoodPanda among its clients.

The judging process

The winners of Asia Business Law Journal’s Philippines Law Firm Awards 2021 were selected based on the 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 Philippine-focused professionals were invited to vote. At the same time, Philippine law firms were asked to make submissions in support of their candidacy for the 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 fees or any other requirements for entry.