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Following an extensive nomination process, Asia Business Law Journal unveils its top performers of the country’s legal profession. Lim Miran and Linda Silaen report

E asing of the covid-19 pandemic has brought a breath of fresh air to the Philippines. The country recorded impressive 8.3% year-on-year economic growth in the first quarter of 2022, further bolstering recovery indicated by the previous quarter’s 7.7%.

This achievement brings new hope and the new president, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, strongly indicates he will maintain the continuity of economic policy through the appointment of familiar faces to his cabinet.

A former member of the monetary council, Felipe Medalla, succeeded Benjamin Diokno as governor of the central bank, with his predecessor appointed finance secretary. Both are tasked with tackling inflation and unemployment. With debt under control, record high foreign exchange reserves and economic growth at manageable rates, Marcos Jr has inherited a much stronger economy than that of his late father, the dictator overthrown in the 1986 “people’s power” revolution.

Encouragingly, legal reforms in recent months have further liberalised the economy by opening up major sectors to 100% foreign investment.

But although the Ukraine-Russia conflict is expected to have only limited direct impact on the trade sector, the Philippine authorities are wary of global supply chain disruption that could impact regional inflation.

Against this promising and challenging backdrop, Asia Business Law Journal presents the A-List of the top 100 best practising lawyers in the Philippines. The A-List is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel in the Philippines and elsewhere, as well as Philippines-focused partners in international law firms.

Nearly all A-List lawyers are located in the capital, Metro Manila, reflecting that lawyers want to be closer in serving both local and international clients. This metropolis is an economic, cultural, educational and industrial centre where lawyers can both network and keep up to speed with changing laws.

To understand their clients, and views on what it takes to be a first-class lawyer in the Philippines, we sought answers from many professionals, experienced in-house counsel, and corporate legal managers. From these recommendations, we identified and singled out prominent Filipino lawyers who make up this elite group.

Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by clients indicate that they are not only looking for lawyers who are highly experienced in their fields and responsive in providing services, but also able to meet client needs, reliably guiding their businesses moving forward in times of uncertainty.

Venture guardian

Recovering economic growth in the midst of the pandemic has attracted many foreign investors to invest in the Philippines. However, navigating the country’s regulatory framework is no simple matter, and many A-List lawyers are commended for their outstanding advice on this matter.

Arlene M Maneja, a partner at SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, is praised by Mark Rilles, finance controller at upstream oil and gas company PXP Energy in Metro Manila. “She has done exemplary work in relation to, among others, international contract negotiations and due diligence for our company during the past 10 years,” says Rilles.

Gavin MacLaren, a senior partner and CEO at Australian law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth in Melbourne, also gives credit to Maneja for her advice and support in energy law relating to the development of multibillion-dollar oil and gas resources in the West Philippine Sea.

“Maneja was an important senior member of our team who provided very valuable legal support on this unique and challenging matter,” says MacLaren. “She clearly had the trust and confidence of our client, and contributed insightful knowledge on a wide range of issues based on an excellent understanding of relevant law and practice.”

MacLaren also praises Maneja’s colleague, counsel Emmanuel Lombos, for his advice on constitutional and administrative law matters. “Lombos demonstrated strong knowledge of relevant law and practice and provided insightful support and guidance on a range of unique and challenging matters, including constitutional, legal, practical and political matters,” says MacLaren. “We particularly valued his judgement and experience on key strategic issues, including the juxtaposition of legal issues with political and practical considerations.”

Carl Nakanishi, general manager at truck distributor Shacman Motors in Metro Manila, recommends Enrique Dela Cruz Jr, a senior partner at DivinaLaw, for his “great knowledge of the law, and [he] makes it a point to study how our business works. This makes his advice to us very useful”.

Mariano Agoncillo, managing director at construction company Datem in Metro Manila, has the same high regard for Dela Cruz Jr. “He is very helpful in letting me understand the legal terms and law concerning our case,” says Agoncillo. “I have a tendency to overreact on matters, but Rick Dela Cruz is always there to guide and assist me in all my decisions pertaining to our cases.”

Extraordinary services

The main point that distinguishes ordinary lawyers from great lawyers is the way they meet the needs of clients. While good legal knowledge is essential, it is equally important to offer advice tailored to specific needs.

Tranquil Gervacio Salvador III, a partner at Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles, receives a thumbs up from Benigno Emilio Ramirez, president and CEO at IT company Doña Alejandra in Metro Manila, for his bespoke advice, nominating him as “the best lawyer I have known”.

“He took time to explain the issues in the case and he saw to it that I understand the consequences of every legal action that he takes,” says Ramirez. “He has an excellent grasp of the law, which makes him a very effective lawyer. I saw his commitment to his work and his care towards his client. His zeal through the years never waned until he obtained a favourable outcome.”Reynaldo Casas, president and founder of Advance Renewable Energy in Manila, concurs. “Aside from being the head of an outstanding law firm serving its clients, Tranquil serves several organisations as its chairman is engaged in diverse industries,” says Casas.

Satisfying assistance also made Rowell Ilagan, managing partner at Gargantiel Ilagan & Atanante Law, highly commended for his professionalism and legal knowledge by Lady Lanie Esquivel, legal and compliance manager at MAA General Assurance in Manila.

“He and his firm’s service to clients exceed expectations, being able to represent them well and provide appropriate guidance and attention to their legal needs,” says Esquivel.

Joseph Gerard Jose, director of sales and marketing at a digital academy for nurses, Mind Web Academy in Manila, nominates Ilagan for his abundant professionalism in all measures he takes. “Rowell has been of great help not only to corporate or personal clients, but also to other channels such as being a supportive and effective head of operations for our startup,” says Jose.

Similar praise was given to Ilagan’s colleague, partner Kristjan Vicente Gargantiel, by Marge Aviso, founder and CEO at Telework PH Outsourcing Solutions in San Rafael Bulacan. “He makes it very easy to work with their firm because he makes sure he understands our needs as clients, while ensuring we are complying with, and not violating, any law,” says Aviso. “He and his team are very responsive and knowledgeable in their fields.”

Resource specialist

With increasingly complex business development, specialists are sought after for their fortes all the more. Many A-List lawyers are commended for their advice over specific specialist skills they offer.

For example, Enrico Astudillo, IP expert and partner at EB Astudillo & Associates, is the go-to person for trademarks and patents, says Maria Cristina Constantino, legal and ethics, risk and compliance manager at pharmaceutical company Sandoz Philippines in Manila.”Astudillo represented the company well and competently in IP cases involving patented products and their patented production methods and processes,” says Constantino. “With his help, these cases have been settled amicably with a mutually beneficial outcome for both parties.”

Having worked together for many years, Isabel Cortés Martinez, head of international affairs at Madrid-based IP advisory company PONS IP, highly regards Astudillo. “[He] has proven his extensive experience in the field and his firm has become our trusted firm in the Philippines,” says Cortés. “Astudillo’s practice is impeccable, always providing sharp solutions to ensure the complete protection of our clients’ assets.”

In tax and corporate law matters, Euney Marie Mata-Perez, managing partner at Mata-Perez Tamayo & Francisco, shines brightly for her outstanding expertise, acknowledged by Albert Concha, president at the Rural Bank of Rizal in Dipolog City. “She is also a sought-after counsel in the banking industry,” says Concha.

Carlos Rheal Cervantes, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at sustainable power company PowerSource Group in Manila, agrees. “Mata has effective and efficient support in legal taxation and corporate secretary work,” says Cervantes.

Mark Gorriceta, the managing partner at Gorriceta Law, is well known in the new technology and fintech sectors, as nominated by Michael Lao, managing director of Accenture in Metro Manila. “He is a leading attorney who is paving the way for this new technology to be adopted and mainstream in the Philippines,” says Lao. “He holds various positions in organisations related to this field.”

Roderick RC Salazar III, senior partner at Fortun Narvasa & Salazar, was recommended as “one of the best in the Philippines in corporate law, M&A, structuring and renewable energy matters” by Marian Majer, executive director at Roedl Philippines in Manila.

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 Philippines and around the world – as well as partners at international law firms – and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut, and why.

Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Philippine and global companies, financial institutions and law firms, including: Advance Renewable Energy, Alaska Milk Corp, All-Asia Resources & Reclamation Corporation, Aoyama & Partners, BDO Unibank, Carrascal Nickel Corporation, Catatech Corporation, Century Properties, China PAT Intellectual Property Office, Manila City Council, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Datem, Doña Alejandra, Equicom Group, Fidelity Life Mutual Benefit Association, Gestacy, Hang Seng Investment, Holman Fenwick Willan, Hotel Okura Manila, Investment & Capital Corporation of the Philippines, JcMED, Kaiser International Healthgroup, Latham & Watkins, MAA General Assurance Phils, Manila Bankers Life Insurance, Matten, Micro Image International Corporation, Micro Pacific, MicroPhase, Mind Web Academy, Nishimura & Asahi, Ortigas Real Estate, Payne Clermont Velasco, PONS IP, PowerSource Group, Primeworld Land Holdings, Pueblo de Oro Development, PXP Energy, Qualitech Diagnostic and Medical Services, Roedl Philippines, Rural Bank of Rizal, San Juan Realty, Sandoz Philippines, Shacman Motors, Smart Communications, Solidtone Innovations Group, SteelAsia Manufacturing, Suez Oil and Gas Systems, Sunlife of Canada, Telework PH Outsourcing Solutions, Regalia Group, Vivo Philippines, and many more. Thorough editorial research followed the nomination process.

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 analysing the Philippines legal market.

All Philippine 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 following this report. 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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