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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 Wei Iki report

A series of legal reforms have been ongoing in the Philippines to fully open the market for foreign investment, beckoning lawyers from all corners to grasp the opportunities.

The Philippines stands ready to embrace those willing to make their mark. Its economy has been resilient amid worldwide inflation and weak demand. Following last year’s GDP growth of 7.6%, one of the highest growth rates among emerging economies, its growth is estimated to moderate to 6% in 2023 due to a global slowdown and volatility in financial markets.

Amid domestic challenges including off-target inflation and elevated borrowing costs, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has pledged to further boost the economy as part of his “New Philippines” campaign.

Prior to the president’s economic measures, regulatory amendments in 2022 and 2021 have liberalised foreign investment. Amendments to the Public Service Act allow foreign investors full ownership of businesses in major industries including airports, railways, expressways and telecoms.

Foreign businesses with less capital are also welcomed into the market, from enterprises to retail trades. According to the amended Foreign Investments Act, the required capital for a foreign national or entity to engage in a domestic market enterprise has been lowered by half to USD100,000 for tech startups, alongside employment of a certain percentage of Filipinos. Similarly, the amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalisation Act have lowered the capital requirement for international capital to invest in the Philippine retail trade.

The authorities have also granted a generous tax offer encouraging local and foreign businesses. The Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Law grants a reduced corporate income tax for general domestic and foreign corporate taxpayers.

Incentives for foreign investment, along with generous tax policies, are expected to bring vigour to the Philippines legal market, especially in sectors like renewable energy, infrastructure and telecoms. However, the overall optimism towards economic development is partly clouded by uncertainty about policy implementation, a high inflation rate and high unemployment numbers.

Against this backdrop, Asia Business Law Journal presents the A-List of the best 100 practising lawyers in the Philippines. The list is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel based in the Philippines and elsewhere, as well as Philippines-focused partners at international law firms. Nearly all of the A-List lawyers are strategically located in Metro Manila, the country’s capital and economic centre.

Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by clients suggest that companies seek skilled lawyers who can provide high-quality legal advice and representation to help businesses achieve their goals and stay ahead in the global market.

Domain experts

The Philippines’ tax incentives and foreign investment-friendly policies require expertise in the various fields in which A-List lawyers excel.

Mark Gorriceta, the managing partner at Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra, receives compliments from Xavier Marzan, the managing director and CEO at the Philippine venture studio F(DEV) Digital Innovations and Ventures in Taguig, for his expertise in next-generation innovations.The Philippines top 100 lawyers 2023 Karen Jimeno

“Gorriceta and his firm display deep knowledge and expertise in their field,” says Marzan. “What continues to amaze me is their ability to understand new emerging technology areas, e.g. blockchain, fractionalisation of equities and artificial intelligence to name a few, and push the boundaries of what is possible from both a regulatory and a business standpoint.”

In the insurance sector, Romulo partner Tranquil Gervacio Salvador III is recommended by Doris Almanzor, the CEO at Manila Bankers Life Insurance Corporation in Makati City, who was impressed by Salvador’s impressive track record of successful cases and deft handling of complex legal issues.

“Tranquil has exceptional legal skills such as a deep understanding of the law, and strong analytical abilities,” says Almanzor. “His comprehensive knowledge of life and non-life insurance laws, coupled with his ability to navigate complex insurance claims and disputes, has been instrumental in protecting the interest of our policyholders.”

Benigno Emilio Ramirez, president and CEO at the information technology company Doña Alejandra in Quezon City, agrees.

“Tranquil Gervacio Salvador III is a very perceptive lawyer,” says Ramirez. “He listens and enquires about the facts of the case before he gives legal advice. He understands the legal needs of the clients and works within the parameters of the law.”

Editha Hechanova, the president and managing partner of Hechanova Group, is recommended for her outstanding IP expertise and knowledge by Dennis Prahl, trademark expert and partner at Ladas & Parry in New York, who names her as “the best IP practitioner I know in the Philippines”.

With more than three decades of experience, Hechanova is an accredited mediator of the Court of Appeals of the Philippines, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, as well as the current president of the Association of Patent Agent Qualifying Examination Professionals.

Proficient troubleshooters

As opportunities blossom in an investment journey, businesses may find challenges along the way. Removing the thorns requires patience and experience to carry out thorough research and deal with complexities.

Rowell Ilagan, the managing partner at Gargantiel Ilagan and Atanante Law, is one of those lawyers who provide all-round solutions with consideration for every aspect. David Nugent, the managing director at the Singapore-based consulting firm Samvada, nominates Ilagan as “an incredibly empathetic and comprehensive lawyer”.

“His ability to cover all bases, ensuring my interests are protected and paramount, is always front and centre, and he and his colleagues act similarly for all their clients,” says Nugent. “Rowell represents the best of the legal profession in the Philippines, and he also represents its future: principled, tech savvy, forward looking and tradition grounded.”The Philippines top 100 lawyers 2023 Xavier Marzan

Gicar Magbanua, CEO and founder of digital academy for nurses Mind Web Academy in Taguig, recommends Ilagan for similar reasons. “Rowell has repeatedly showcased his ability to identify and resolve complex issues efficiently,” says Magbanua. “His dedication to client satisfaction is evident in his proactive approach and ability to deliver results that exceed expectations.”

Edsel Tupaz, a partner at Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra, is highly praised by Nadia Tzimerman, the CEO of international consulting firm Lexidale in Tel Aviv. Tzimerman highlights Tupaz’s careful consideration of all the small details, even when the time frame is very short.

“In addition to his professionalism, Tupaz was available for every request, and communication with him was very pleasant. He had really helped us with all that we needed,” she says.

Carl Fowler, the chief financial officer at the consulting firm MODIV Group in Atlanta, agrees. “Tupaz is an integral and trusted adviser who deftly helps us navigate the Philippines regulatory landscape,” says Fowler. “Tupaz’s attention to detail and concise prompt communication allowed our business to scale faster than we would have otherwise achieved.”

Tupaz is also described by Karen Jimeno, the director and chief legal counsel at private equity investment firm SofCap Partners in Taguig, as “exceptionally conscientious over client needs”.

“He is an excellent communicator and is able to explain complex legal frameworks clearly, especially for many leading technology startups he advises,” says Jimeno. “He makes sure to articulate clearly the usual pain points that international clients and investors would encounter in navigating through Philippine regulations, and helps clients anticipate them.”

Bespoke service

Despite the expectation of a dynamic business environment, uncertainties concerning policy implementation remain, leaving a considerable number of problems to be revealed and addressed. Since obstacles may arise at unexpected times, lawyers are required to go deep into the details, analyse the specific situations, and efficiently provide the best solutions case by case.

Alfonso Verzosa, senior partner at DivinaLaw, is an example of a lawyer who knows well the unique challenges each client has, according to Rizza Colobong, HR director at Jubilee Christian Academy in Quezon City, who praises Verzosa as “not only professional but also deeply empathetic”.

“He understood the unique challenges we faced and tailored his strategies accordingly,” says Colobong. “His insights and recommendations were invaluable, saving us from potentially lengthy and costly litigation.”

John Philip Siao, co-managing partner at Tiongco Siao Bello & Associates, is recommended by Efren Gancayco, the president of engineering and construction company Beta Electromechanical in Taguig.The Philippines top 100 lawyers 2023 Rizza Colobong

“He has displayed exceptional skill, expertise, integrity and commitment to his clients,” says Gancayco. “I believe he is a candidate that deserves recognition for his exceptional legal service and advocacy.”

Kirill Lelchitskiy, the chief legal officer at the algorithmic trading firm Pinely in Singapore, has the same impression of Siao. “John has high attention to detail and this helped on various matters mainly to prevent potential issues and to mitigate the risks to the best possible level,” says Lelchitskiy. “John is extremely thorough in a legal assessment of the matter and in efficient planning of the most suitable strategy to pursue.”

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 who should make the cut. Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Philippine and global companies, financial institutions and law firms, including 3M Philippines, Apple Canada, Armco Healthcare Services, Beta Electromechanical, Black & Decker Asia Pacific, Blackbough Swim, Calilayan Cove Beach Resort, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Doña Alejandra, Emerhub Philippines, F(DEV) Digital Innovations and Ventures, Fidelity Life, HCM Nexus, Hiratsuka & Co, iSON Tower, John David and Co Solicitors, Jubilee Christian Academy, Kaiser International Healthgroup, Kaiser Medical Center, Kalibrr, Khepri Digital, Ladas & Parry, Latham & Watkins, Lexidale, Manila Bankers Life Insurance, Manulife, Meta, Metro Pacific Investments, Meyers Pharmaceuticals, Mind Web Academy, MODIV Group, Mount Grace Hospitals, MUFG Bank, Nishimura & Asahi, Novateur Coffee Concepts, P&G Asia Pacific, Philippine Investment One, Piñakamasarap Corporation, Pinely, Pru Life UK, RepublicAsia Media, Robinsons Land Corporation, Samvada, San Beda University, San Miguel, Seaoil Philippines, SofCap Partners, Sun Life Canada, Synpulse Philippines, Tanner De Witt, the Philippine Bank of Communications, Xiaomi Technologies, and many more.

The nomination process was backed up by thorough editorial research. The final list reflects the nominations received, combined with the 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 nomination 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 the 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 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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