Asia Business Law Journal reveals the Philippines’ best private practice lawyers. Wilda Fong reports

To be one of the Philippines’ top lawyers, you have to be a “fast, expeditious lawyer who reacts promptly in providing solutions to issues and challenges faced within a constrained time environment,” according to Kenson Watt, senior legal counsel of ABB, when describing Maria Concepcion P Simundac, a partner at Villaraza & Angangco. Jason Wu, a senior associate at Dechert in Hong Kong adds, “I worked with Maria on an important matter in the Philippines and was impressed by her expertise and quick response.”

Mary Rose Tan, AVP associate general counsel at San Miguel Corporation in the Philippines, says you need to be able to “communicate to the client the practical effects of possible results”, when describing Alexander Poblador, founding partner of Poblador Bautista Reyes. “He is precise and meticulous in his approach and offers comprehensive and effective strategic litigation advice,” she adds.

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Maria Theresa Huschka, the project development manager of Conergy Philippines, has this to say about Rodolfo Tuazon, a partner at MOSVELDTT: “[Rodolfo] is good in his field of expertise, and he is easy to deal with.”

Comments such as these, submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by the clients of Filipino lawyers, suggest that they not only look for lawyers with an extensive knowledge of the law, but also those who have exceptional communication skills, provide practical and strategic advice, and offer solutions tailored to a challenging business environment.

In addition, most international clients seek out Filipino lawyers with an international mindset and experience.

Rich variety of expertise

The Philippines’ multi-faceted legal landscape, made up primarily of a civil law system but incorporated with certain aspects of Anglo-American (common law) systems as well as Islamic law, makes it imperative for both domestic and international businesses to seek legal assistance when navigating the regulatory environment.

The Filipino legal market continues to be one where clients seek out good lawyers, rather than good law firms. Perhaps this is because of the respect and trust individual lawyers have built and nurtured in lawyer-client relationships, and more importantly their reputation by name, which far outweighs their firm’s brand name or size  both factors that are predominant in more developed jurisdictions.

It is against this backdrop that Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-list of the top 100 lawyers (including foreign legal consultants/advisers/counsel) 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 around the world, and the Philippines-focused partners at international law firms.

Nearly all of the A-list lawyers are located in central Manila or the metro Manila regions of Quezon City and Makati, the latter being the country’s financial hub. This may reflect the premium on lawyers who are well placed to have their ear to the ground with regard to developments among financial and sector-specific regulators, and within the corridors of power in government.

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As would be expected, the heads of Filipino top law firms are on the A-list. These include Simeon Marcelo, partner and chairman/CEO of Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia, who previously headed the Office of the Solicitor General of the Philippines, and later served as the country’s ombudsman. His practice areas include litigation, arbitration and tax litigation, and is actively involved in the good governance and anti-corruption movement in the country.

Also making the list is Mila Federis, co-founder and managing partner of Federis & Associates. Federis’ practice is exclusively focused on IP law and boasts one of the highest numbers of trademark applications filed in the Philippines.

Singing high praise

A-list lawyer, Aris Gulapa, founding partner of Gulapa Law, received praise from Myla Galang, HR and administration manager at CCL Label Industries Philippines, a supply chain leader of premium package and promotional label solutions for consumer and healthcare products, who says, “Aris is truly reliable … aside from prompt responses to all inquiries, he gives options on every issue raised. His knowledge and timely accomplishment of assignments take his professionalism to a higher level.”

“[Augusto] always delivers exceptionally good advice,” says Rajen Ramiah, Consultant (IP & BD) at Siam City Law Offices in Thailand, when describing Augusto San Pedro, co-managing partner at Villaraza & Angangco.

Notable deals

Lawyers in our A-list have been involved in notable deals. To name a few: Eusebio Tan, partner at ACCRALAW, led a team that advised Standard Chartered Bank as a co-lead arranger on the updating of BDO Unibank’s medium term note programme and the issuance of US$300 million senior notes that was three times oversubscribed; Marievic Ramos-Añonuevo, partner at SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, has represented various lending syndicates that extended financing for the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Project, the NAIA Expressway Project, and the Solar Philippines Calatagan Project; and Jaime Renato Gatmaytan, founding partner of Gatmaytan Yap Patacsil Gutierrez & Protacio, advised on the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in extending a US$400 million bridge loan to Aboitiz Equity Ventures to fund its acquisition of an interest in cement manufacturing assets.

A-list women lawyers

Not to be outshone by their male peers, a good portion of the A-list was filled by the Philippines’ leading women lawyers including: Lily Gruba, managing partner at Zambrano & Gruba, who is well known for her experience in the banking industry, and held the position of associate dean at the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law; Editha Hechanova, managing partner at Hechanova Bugay Vilchez & Andaya-Racadio, who is a prolific writer and regularly contributes articles on IP in publications about IP law in the Philippines; Benedicta Du-Baladad, founding partner and CEO of Du-Baladad and Associates, who is also the co-chair of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s taxation committee; and Patricia Bunye, senior partner at Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia, who became the third female and the first Filipino and Southeast Asian president of the Licensing Executives Society International, a worldwide association of professionals who are involved in advancing the business of intellectual property globally.

June Vee Navarro, general counsel of Ayala Land, a leading property developer in the Philippines, has this to say about Norma Patacsil, founding partner of Gatmaytan Yap Patacsil Gutierrez & Protacio: “she is competent, responsive and a good counsellor. Excellence and integrity mark her practice.”

Kenson Watt, of ABB, describes Sylvette Tankiang, a partner at Villaraza & Angangco, as “a very experienced and all-rounded lawyer who has the expertise and skills in providing creative solutions to overcome challenges. Her knowledge and skills are beyond the spectrum.”

Satisfied clients such as these are what make a lawyer or foreign legal consultant/counsel/adviser one of the Philippines’s top 100.

Compiling the A-List

The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. For this we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in the Philippines and around the world, as well as Philippines-focused partners at international law firms, and asked them to nominate private-practice lawyers (excluding senior counsel) for this list of the Philippines’ top 100 lawyers.

Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Filipino and global companies and law firms, including: ABB, AXA Philippines, Ayala Land, CCL Label Industries, Conergy Philippines, DSDC Software Development Centre, Halder & Associates, Ligman Lighting, San Miguel, Siam City Law Offices and Sidley Austin.

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 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 on this page. 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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