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The Firm’s world

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Chay Florentino-Hofileña

I will admit that in my early years in college, I imagined I would become a lawyer. High school gave me early exposure to urban poverty via a strong social orientation program. Back then, we were required to immerse ourselves for several days with families who had been relocated to Tondo.

Unappreciative of the formative value of the experience at the time, I realized it was a good thing only several years later. I romanticized being in a courtroom and fighting the battles of the oppressed and the victimized. I imagined going up against the high and the mighty—until I took a course named the Philippine Constitution. Then I realized I could not, for the life of me, memorize articles and provisions of the law of the land. The course abruptly ended my illusions and I decided I would either teach or pursue my other interest, which was writing.

Starting out as a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer many decades ago, journalism and teaching have since been my world, and being married to a lawyer and doing stories related to legal issues have been the closest I have gotten to lawyering.

Last Monday, I had another up-close encounter with lawyers when nine of us from Newsbreak were invited for lunch at the Villaraza Cruz Marcelo & Angangco (formerly Carpio Villaraza Cruz) law offices, or the CVC Law Center in The Fort. Yes, The Firm has moved to The Fort since late last year.

For some reason, there have been persistent rumors that Newsbreak is funded by The Firm. Every so often, whenever we went out doing interviews for individual stories, we would be asked, “Is it true? Funded daw kayo ng The Firm.” Each time, we would diligently and patiently say that it wasn’t true. Otherwise, why would we hold office in a cramped room on floody Panay Avenue and keep a terribly lean staff when investigative stories require a lot of work and resources? Likewise, why would we stop publishing what used to be a fortnightly magazine and shift to online, which is less capital-intensive?

F. Arthur "Pancho" L. Villaraza, CEO of CVC Law

What is true, however, is that we have access to some of the firm’s senior lawyers like Pancho Villaraza, who was CVC’s managing partner (MP). Villaraza has a reputation of being an “operator,” and is known to have closely associated with the former First Gentleman and the former President herself. (See: Firmly in power.) He has since kept a distance, although Congresswoman Arroyo is said to be trying to open lines of communication again.

Villaraza has a curious sense of humor too. When the younger partner Bong Somera took over as MP, he was handed an elegantly wrapped box. The rest of the lawyers eagerly waited for Somera to open his gift, anticipating that it could be an expensive watch from the outgoing managing partner and one of the firm’s founders. Villaraza, by his own admission, does not like cheap, and surely, this particular gift was going to be special.

Somera was in for a real surprise, as in place of a watch were mats of Biogesic. The message was clear: he was inheriting a headache. To the credit of Villaraza, Somera said he was creating a management committee to do the work that Villaraza did all by himself in the 20 years that he was MP.

The completion of the 17-story building that the firm now owns took an incredible two years. Of the 17 floors, five are designated basement parking, while the rest—except for three floors—are occupied by the firm’s 80 lawyers and 120 non-legal personnel. The building contractor must have been intimidated and feared lawsuits in the event of delays.

Close to the International School in Bonifacio Global City, the new home of The Firm is a far cry from the LTA building in Perea, Makati. It has a roof that serves as a helipad and its entire ground floor is leased to Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Its lobby is minimalist with nothing but the law firm’s name emblazoned on the wall above the receptionist’s counter.

Photo by Carmela Fonbuena

A restaurant on the top floor is called Rainmakers (possibly where clients are dined and deals are sealed), while an adjacent small bar that serves coffee and drinks is named Disbar. To accommodate smokers, an outdoor lounge—with furniture flexible enough for either rain or sun—was also constructed adjacent to the main restaurant.

On a lower floor is a huge boardroom that can seat up to 30. Perhaps in naughty reference to the Supreme Court, where one of the firm’s own founders, Antonio Carpio, now sits as a senior Justice, the room has been christened En Banc. (See: Man on the bench) We were told that invitations to Justice Carpio to go visit the firm’s new swanky office have been turned down. We couldn’t know for sure, however, unless we stake out.

Every floor occupied by lawyers has at least two Saeco coffee machines, a stark reminder to young lawyers that drowsiness is no excuse for uncompleted work. And to stress the importance of a balanced lifestyle, the building has its own fitness gym named Firmness First.

The office library has a compactor that compresses shelves of books that open up and divide with the press of a finger (we were assured no one has been caught between shelves yet because of sensors, but to die crushed by volumes of law books could be a lawyer’s dream). Another nearby room was solely for scanning documents, a room that journalists would love to have in their offices.

Up close with some CVC lawyers

As we toured some floors and offices in the building, I realized how journalists can never be like lawyers. We can never dress the way lawyers dress. We can never write the way lawyers write with so much verbosity. We can never afford the luxuries that law firms can afford even if we probably keep the same long hours or face the same risks as lawyers do.

But what we can do is take occasional peeks into their world, even dining or socializing with them, so we can better write about them. Newsbreak, independent journalism from the Philippines

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  1. Ralph Sevillano says:

    So, who’s funding Newsbreak? What’s with Newsbreak that you get invited by this law firm? Thanks.

  2. Hi Ralph, Newsbreak gets funds from grants mainly; we do not have a major investor or big business backing us up. We prepare proposals and offer them to foundations or institutions that share our interest in certain issues; if they approve the proposals, stories get funded. Implicit in the relationship is a respect for our editorial independence. Why did we get invited? Maybe because we try to do our job well and maybe because we have a track record. We’ve been doing investigative journalism as a team for the past 10 years.

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