Asia Business Law Journal reveals the Philippines’ top 100 lawyers. Wilda Fong reports
To be one of the Philippines’ top lawyers, you have to be “quite the professional to work with,” says Keith Ng, project development manager at Clean n Green Energy Solutions, in the Philippines, when describing Maria Raquel Chavez, a partner at Puyat Jacinto & Santos Law Offices (PJS Law). “Aside from the exemplary work ethic, she has been instrumental in balancing our company’s risk-taking stance and grounding us with realistic expectations,” he adds.
Shim Suk-sub, president of Welcome Finance, Philippines, has this to say about Chavez: “She has comprehensive knowledge on the regulations and requirements for the banking and financial industry in the Philippines.”
Jeanette Ardemil, legal and compliance superintendent at Greenstone Resources, Philippines, says you need a “wide range of knowledge of the legal profession [to give] timely advice and practical solutions to the issues faced by his clients,” when talking about Roderick Salazar, senior partner at Fortun Narvasa & Salazar.
“He listens to his clients and understands their needs and as a result provides sound legal advice. He is very approachable and easy to deal with.”
Salazar also draws admiration from John Tivey, a partner at White & Case in Australia: “Roderick has many years of experience working on complex, high-profile matters and is a stalwart of the legal profession. He is particularly excellent with mining law matters and is the go-to person for most mining investors.”
Hannah Navarro-Cruz, regional director of employment law at Johnson & Johnson in Singapore, describes Kenneth Chua, a partner at Quisumbing Torres, as “an excellent employment lawyer and distinguished in his field, possessing good judgment and solid business and legal ethics. He is also a distinguished resource speaker in employment law forums.”
Comments such as these, submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by the clients, 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 Philippine lawyers with an international mindset and experience.
Spotlight on individuals
The Philippines’ multi-faceted legal landscape is made up of customary usage, Roman (civil law) and Anglo-American (common law) systems, and Islamic law. Even in the midst of China-US trade tensions, the Philippines is enjoying positive growth fuelled by domestic demand. Recent senatorial elections in May 2019 have cemented the power base of President Rodrigo Duterte and a government that has been responsible key economic improvements through liberalization of trade and foreign direct investment and has also encouraged competition among domestic companies. But the Philippines remains a challenging market and it is imperative for both domestic and international businesses to seek legal assistance when navigating its regulatory environment.
The Philippine 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, but excluding in-house counsel and government lawyers) practising in the Philippines. The list is based on extensive research and nominations received from in-house counsel around the world, and 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 have their ear to the ground with regard to developments among financial and sector-specific regulators, and within the corridors of power in government.
As would be expected, many heads of the Philippines’ top law firms are on the A-list including: Cesar Manalaysay, managing partner, Siguion Reyna Montecillo & Ongsiako, who also holds several directorships, office or representative positions in key companies such as Pru Life UK and The Thomson (Philippines) Corp; Ramil Bugayong, senior partner, PJS Law, who advises on corporate and commercial matters and frequently lectures on taxation and continuing legal education matters; Mila Federis, co-founder and managing partner of Federis & Associates Law Office, who focuses exclusively on intellectual property law and on professional activities, and devotes time to pro-bono cases; and Arturo Del Rosario, senior partner, Del Rosario & Del Rosario, whose area of practice is exclusively maritime litigation and is a past president of the Maritime Law Association of the Philippines.
A-list lawyer Ramil Bugayong, senior partner at PJS Law, receives praise from Stephen Webb, a partner and head of energy, Asia Pacific, at DLA Piper in Australia. “Ramil is our go-to partner for banking and capital markets. Ramil is very quick in replies and offers a thorough assessment on relevant issues and in-depth perspectives on foreign investor concerns. He is well respected by market participants,” says Webb.
Christina Togle, a partner at Hawkins Delafield & Wood in the US, describes Roy Santos, partner at PJS Law, as “a determined, tenacious litigator, but he is always fair. He is highly experienced in litigation and arbitration matters.”
Vicinttii Tomial, president of Astronergy Development in the Philippines, describes Ronald Dime, managing partner at Dime & Eviota Law Firm, as a top lawyer with “the ability to provide timely legal support in progressing our company’s renewable energy projects in Mindanao, Philippines”.
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.
Karim Garcia, vice president of Metro Pacific Investments in the Philippines, has this to say about Najha Katrina Estrella, a partner at PJS Law: “Najha’s charm is matched by her legal mind and her firm handle on transactions. She has the skill of handling the details and packages, and overcomes the problems and challenges of a deal neatly and efficiently, all the way to closing. Because of this, she is well sought after by me on most of my energy deals.”
Richard Fleming, a counsel with Latham & Watkins in Japan, describes Elizabeth Peralta-Loriega, a partner at Puno & Puno Law Office as “well known throughout the industry for her expert advice in tax law and all forms of transactions. She is our firm’s go-to partner for the most difficult project financings in the Philippines.”
Qualities such as these are what make a lawyer or foreign legal consultant one of the Philippines’ top 100.
A couple of the Philippines’ top 100 lawyers have reached milestones worth mentioning. Avelino Cruz, founding partner at ACCRA Law Offices, advises on complex commercial transactions. He is an active member of the ASEAN Law Association (ALA) and served as its president from 2015 to 2018. In January 2019, President Duterte appointed Avelino as his special envoy to the EU.
On 28 March 2019, Duterte appointed Monalisa Dimalanta, a partner at PJS Law, as chairperson of the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB). “The office of the new chairperson of NREB … is testimony to [Dimalanta’s] expertise in the energy sector,” says Garcia of Metro Pacific Investments, adding, “In meetings with her, it is crystal clear that she is a legal expert and her inputs and insights are relevant beyond the legal issues presented.”
Compiling the A-List
The A-List is compiled based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers in the Philippines, we turned to 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.
Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Filipino and global companies and law firms, including: Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Anthem, DFDL, DLA Piper, Fountel Corporation, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Hanesbrands, HSBC Philippines, Johnson & Johnson, Jones Day, Latham & Watkins, Light Rail Manila Corporation, Macquarie Capital, Metro Pacific Investments Corporation, Mosed Corporation, Pepsi Cola, Philippine Competition Commission, PTT, Roedl Philippines, SMC Global Power, Summa Water Resources, Welcome Finance, World Bank, and many more. The nominations were supported by detailed research from secondary sources.
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 legal developments in Asia.
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 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.