‘The Firm’ speaks | Inquirer Business

‘The Firm’ speaks

/ 07:13 AM December 26, 2014

Since their contentious parting of ways in early 2013, a lot has been said about the breakup of the two factions of the law office previously known as “The Firm.”

For the first time, however, a senior member of the F. Arthur Villaraza-led side has opened up to Biz Buzz, relating in sometimes gory detail the reasons behind the controversies at what was once arguably the country’s most influential law firm.

According to the managing partner of what is now known as the Villaraza & Angangco law office (V&A), 15 partners bolted the original union and “set up their own firm because of their disagreement with management policy of operating the firm as a business, as against their desire to continue with their advocacy after several of them returned from government service.”


“One of their advocacies is to support Mar Roxas for President despite their failure to get him elected Vice President after being outmaneuvered by the Noy-Bi (Noynoy Aquino and Jejomar Binay) strategy promoted by [now Executive Secretary Paquito] Ochoa and [Senator Francis] Escudero,” said V&A managing partner Bienvenido “Bong” Somera Jr.


Somera—who is the chief operating officer of the law office that considers itself the successor-in-interest of The Firm—said the lawyers led by Avelino “Nonong” Cruz and Simeon “Sonny” Marcelo continue to push for Roxas to run for president despite his poor showing in the surveys.

“The insistence of the group in their advocacy did not result in bringing in income to The Firm,” he said. “Nevertheless, they received their share in income based on their seniority. In short, they were being subsidized by other partners of The Firm.”


“When reforms were instituted to create a more equitable distribution of income—one based on revenue generation rather than seniority—they resented it and thus fomented dissent,” Somera explained.

One of the complaints by the lawyers of what is now known as the Cruz Marcelo Tenefrancia (CMT) law office, is that Villaraza was “difficult to deal with”?

“Of course, he was a taskmaster!” Somera said. “Pancho Villaraza was managing partner of The Firm from 1992 until 2010. Beginning 2011 until the present, he held the position of chair and CEO of The Firm. Under his leadership, he steered The Firm through difficult times and made it grow until it secured its current position as a leading law firm in the country.”

“The 15 partners who set up their own firm do not acknowledge this,” he added.

In short, it was a disagreement over money.

Somera said that the “government group” led by Cruz wanted to continue their “advocacy activities” (which did not bring in revenues) upon their return to The Firm from their government stints, but Villaraza wanted to focus more on activities that “paid the bills.” Daxim L. Lucas


THE CMT group says that the articles of partnership of ‘The Firm’ (formerly branded as CVCLAW) revealed that most of the decision making powers were lodged with the executive committee where its lawyers Nonong Cruz and Sonny Marcelo sat as members.

The two also had majority interest in the partnership, giving them controlling votes over that of Villaraza and Angangco, the CMT camp said. As such, they believe that a “dismissal” or “expulsion” of CMT lawyers was impossible.

The amended articles of partnership was also signed by only eight of the original 23 partners now with V&A, which was left with only eight associates after the split. Fifteen partners forming the majority joined the CMT group together with 34 out of 42 associates.

“The split was said to have been precipitated by Villaraza’s ‘tyrannical’ management style that got worse after Cruz and Marcelo left the firm to join government,” the CMT camp said in an e-mail. “Issues involving the accounting of partnership revenues and expenses under Villaraza’s management also seemed to have worsened the relations among the former partners.”

“Both Cruz and Marcelo are highly successful lawyers with high-value clients before they joined government,” the e-mail said. “Both were elected by fellow lawyers to serve as president of the Philippine Bar Association. They continue to lead a successful practice that handles big league clients like the Lopez Group and Pilipinas Shell.”

And then come the hard blows.

“After a celebrated falling out with detained former President Arroyo, Villaraza has been trying hard to penetrate the Binay camp even promising to launch a demolition campaign against Mar Roxas,” the CMT camp said.

“Rumors circulating in legal circles say that V&A Law has been working behind the scenes handling a beleaguered senator involved in the Napoles scam,” they added. “Cruz, on the other hand, has long been identified with DILG Secretary Mar Roxas. After his stint as Ombudsman, Marcelo served as advisor on the Anti-Corruption program of the World Bank.”

Observers say that the current flurry of activity between the two sides seems to hinge on whether CVCLAW has been dissolved by the split and the consequences of an eventual liquidation of partnership assets, particularly the firm’s offices in the swanky CVCLAW Center in Taguig City.

Watch this space, folks. This is far from over. Daxim L. Lucas

BPI shakeup

A LITTLE over a year after taking over the presidency of Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands, big boss Cezar Consing is undertaking a major revamp of the bank’s senior management team.

For the consumer banking unit BPI Family Bank, Natividad “Nabbie” Alejo will be the new president while heading group-wide retail business. Meanwhile, Teodoro “TG” Limcaoco will become the new chief finance officer of parent conglomerate Ayala Corp. (taking over the post of Delfin Gonzales, who is retiring). New recruit Simon Paterno will be the head of all products.

Our banking sources said Mario Miranda would be the new head of asset management and trust group (AMTG) while Maria Theresa Javier will move to corporate banking under Alfonso “Yogi” Salcedo. Ginbee Go, currently head of cards and payments, will move to retail lending in charge of housing and auto loans while Jojo Ocampo will move to cards and payments.

Smith Chua of AMTG will become the new chief investment officer for the trust business while Estelito Biacora will go back to the treasury side.

One insider said the reshuffling was meant to make BPI “more client-centric” with these new assignments. Of course, each person in the senior management team will be responsible for delivering to the clients the whole suite of BPI products.

Not everyone is happy—just like in any organizational change, and may even jump ship if and when the bosses change—but overall, insiders generally agree that the changes are done with the best of intentions in mind. Doris C. Dumlao

Dragon8 soft opening

DOUBLEDRAGON Properties Corp.’s shopping center in Divisoria—Dragon8 Shopping Center in Divisoria—had a soft opening last Saturday in time for the last-minute Christmas rush.

But the group is preparing for the grand opening of this new mall on March 31, 2015 to give time for tenants to do their fit-out and renovations, DoubleDragon co-chair Edgar “Injap” Sia II told Biz Buzz.

Puregold Price Club, a long-time tenant before DoubleDragon took over the building, has likewise reopened at the ground floor on Saturday. Restaurants like Jollibee, Mang Inasal and Chowking (the brands built by Sia and his co-investor Tony Tan Caktiong) are of course setting up shop and now doing their fit-outs.

“We are looking forward to a big grand opening event with all tenants/locators up so that we can have a great momentum,” Sia said.Doris C. Dumlao

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