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Following an extensive nominations process, Asia Business Law Journal reveals the A-List of the Philippines’ legal profession. Putro Harnowo reports

Caught up in Asia-Pacific tensions and the worsening global pandemic, the legal service market in the Philippines requires strenuous advocacy to shore up the economy during this year’s troubling financial times. Among the world’s most dynamic emerging markets, the country’s skilled young workforce and a large domestic market makes it attractive for investment, not to mention the relatively low taxes compared with elsewhere in the region.

Many regional startups and tech-related companies have already expanded into this market and spurred demand for legal services. On top of corporate governance, clients are seeking reliable advice and foresight into potential risks and all possible legal outcomes.

With the global economy yet to recover from the covid-19 pandemic, the World Bank projects the country’s GDP growth will decline by between 0.5% and 3% in 2020. However, the Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund expect the country’s economy to grow, at 2% and 0.6%, respectively this year.

The government is seeking to boost the economy with stimulus measures including the Bayanihan Act, which will result in spending of billions of pesos in the next four years. The proposed fiscal measures aim to assist small and big businesses in all industrial sectors, as well as restore consumer and investor confidence.

It is against this backdrop that Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-List of the top 100 lawyers practising in the Philippines (see the list of all 100 lawyers and the key practice areas for which they are endorsed). The list is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel based in the country and elsewhere, as well as Philippine-focused partners at international law firms based outside the jurisdiction.

Nearly all of the A-List lawyers are located in the national centre of economy and political activity, Metro Manila. This metropolis has been the hub of industrial development and international trade for centuries, making it imperative for lawyers to have their straw in the wind within the corridors of power in government.

To understand the clients’ perspectives about what it takes to become an outstanding lawyer in the Philippines, we sought answers from a large number of professionals, mainly experienced in-house counsel and corporate legal managers. From these recommendations it is possible to derive a portrait of the outstanding Filipino lawyers that make up this elite group.

Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by clients suggest that they not only look for lawyers with an extensive knowledge, but those that also provide well-founded and well-grounded legal advice: a professional who provides a client with realistic risks, which the company highly appreciates as helpful in making its decisions.

Innovative advice

Last year, global research firm Startup Genome named Manila as one of the friendliest cities for fintech startups. Strong English-language skills and well-established outsourcing industries were cited as key drivers that entice investors.

Mark Gorriceta at Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra is a lawyer who has marked his name firmly in the startup space. The managing partner of the Manila-based firm is praised as a “thorough corporate lawyer in handling fast-rising digital or fintech and tech firms” by Imelda Tiongson, president of Opal Portfolio Investments in the Philippines.

“Mark is not just hands-on, he provides valuable updates and recommendations, making his clients very competitive,” she says.

philippines top lawyersLim Kok Chuan, the CEO of Investree Philippines, describes him as “thoughtful”, and praises his ability to do “tireless work under tight timelines with invaluable, sound advice”.

Cynthia Tan, a counsel at King & Wood Mallesons in Hong Kong, says Gorriceta is “extremely competent and innovative. He is very sensitive to clients’ needs and able to provide well-researched and effective solutions to problems.”

Jill Lopez, a legal and compliance director at AXA Philippines, recommends Aris Gulapa, the founder of Gulapa Law Firm, for giving “strategic and innovative” legal advice.

“His advice is customized to the unique needs of his clients, always with his personal touch,” she says. “His approach is to enable clients to meet business goals, whether in single or multiple jurisdictions.”

Myla Galang, the director of human resources at CCL Label Industries in the Philippines, agrees. “Aris provides prompt legal advice and he has gained our trust with his keen knowledge in his field,” she says.

philippines top lawyersEstrella Elamparo, senior partner at Divina Law, is “a star litigator”, says Camille Aromas, the head of legal at Huawei Technologies in the Philippines. “Her out-of-the-box thinking and creative approach are exactly what in-house counsel need to win in this business environment.”

Elamparo’s colleague, Alden Francis Gonzales, is praised by Levi de Mesa, president of land-based recruitment and ship manning company International Skill Development. “We have been working with him for so many years now, and I found him very approachable, kind, attentive to our needs, and very knowledgeable in the areas of our concern,” he says.

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Academic advocates

Many of the A-List lawyers are also recommended for their scholarly involvement in law colleges, and founder and managing partner of Divina Law, Nilo Divina, is one of the most renowned. Aside from being dean of the University of Santo Tomas’ Faculty of Civil Law, he is an active member of the Philippine Association of Law Schools.

“He has been helping in reforming the quality and standard of the law schools, and he is a dynamic commercial lawyer,” says Robert Brana, the CEO at local property company RDB Realty.

Huawei Technologies’ Philippine-based head of legal, Camille Aromas, agrees. “Nilo is a top-notch Philippine lawyer who never fails to solve our problems. We highly recommend him.”

Kristjan Vicente Gargantiel, the founding partner of Gargantiel Ilagan & Atanante, is acknowledged for his academic work as a law professor at the college of law of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila), as well as his legal services.

“He has lawyered first the education department, specifically for indigent students and teachers,” says Wade Latawan, the chief of legal and investigation at the Department of Education in Quezon City. “He possesses unquestionable integrity and is well respected by his peers and his clients.”

Masood Abbas Mir, the CEO of Global Scientific Equipment in Oman, applauds him as “one of best lawyer we work for corporate disputes”.

Joseph Sia, the president of JeonSoft Corporation in the Philippines, says: “When he gives you advice, it is not about how much more money he or his law firm will make, but what is best for you. He puts you first and discusses with you all the possible options, and then recommends what option he thinks is the best way to go.”

philippines top lawyers

Exciting mix

The Philippines’ legal market is an exciting mix of bold new firms that have risen through the ranks, and long-established firms that are widely respected.

As would be expected, the senior lawyers of top law firms are on the A-List, including: Avelino Cruz, the founding partner of ACCRALAW; Polo Pantaleon, a founding Partner of Castillo Laman Tan Pantaleon & San Jose; Joe Nathan Tenefrancia, managing partner at Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia; Arturo Del Rosario, a managing partner at Del Rosario & Del Rosario; Editha Hechanova, the president and CEO of Hechanova Group; Carlos Alfonso Ocampo, the founding partner of Ocampo & Manalo; Euney Marie Mata-Perez, founding and managing partner of Mata-Perez Tamayo & Francisco; Gabriel Dee, managing partner of Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos; Regina Jacinto-Barrientos, managing and founding partner at PJS Law; Carlos Platon and Hector Martinez, founding partners of Platon Martinez Flores San Pedro & Leano; Alexander Poblador, Mario Bautista and Gilbert Reyes, founding partners of Poblador Bautista & Reyes; Roderico Puno, the managing partner of Puno & Puno Law Offices; Ramon Quisumbing, managing partner of Quisumbing Torres; Ricardo Romulo, the chairman of Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles; Rolando Mario Villonco, chairman and CEO of Siguion Reyna Montecillo & Ongsiako; Hector De Leon, managing partner of SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan; and Raoul Angangco, senior partner at Villaraza & Angangco.

Compiling the A-List

The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers in the Philippines, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in the country and around the world – as well as partners at international law firms – and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut.

Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Filipino and global companies, financial institutions and law firms, including: Accenture, ADM Capital, Altus Capital, Appsolutely Inc, Apptech, Arcadis Consulting Middle East, Aseana Holdings, Asian Development Bank, Ausfine, AXA Philippines, Elite Global Sourcing, Eurobrands Distributor, Filinvest Development Corporation, Glovax Biotech, Good Tech Holdings, Greenfield Infrastructure Resources Management, GTI Global Technology and Innovation, Hongkong Land, Huawei Technologies Philippines, Hyundai Asia Resources, Hyundai Engineering and Construction, iBayad Online Ventures, IBM, Investree Philippines, Jollibee Foods Corporation, Khalani Holdings, Live PH, Makati Finance Corporation, Mercadoria Trading, Metroventures, Momentum Construction & Development Corporation, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Multisys Technologies Corporation, Nestle, Pan Pacific Airlines, Philippine Seven Corporation, Phoenix Petroleum Philippines, Powersource Group Holdings, Qatar Airways, Sagittarius Mines, San Miguel Properties, SAP Philippines, SEAOIL Philippines, Shell, Unilever Philippines, Warner Music Asia, Wix, and many more.

The final list reflects the nominations received, combined with Asia Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 30 years of collective experience in documenting and analyzing the Philippines legal market.

All Filipino private practice lawyers were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.

The names and photographs of all 100 A-List lawyers are published here. In addition, each A-List lawyer was given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged.

It is important to note that while the compilation of the A-List was based solely on independent editorial research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers, and the content has not been independently verified by Asia Business Law Journal.

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