Today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (28 October 2006) screams in its headline that: “Its Palace vs. The Firm”. Quoting an unnamed highly-placed source from Malacanang, President Arroyo is apparently very displeased with her most trusted legal advisers. This has reference to the law office of Villaraza and Angangco, otherwise known as “the Firm”, its fortunes being “inextricably linked to the President and her husband” according to the Inquirer.
Madame Arroyo reportedly feels betrayed by the outcome of the recent Surpreme Court ruling on charter change. The SC, by a majority of one, shot down the initiative to amend the Philippine constitution by a people’s initiative, calling the palace-backed move fraudulent and deceptive. The majority decision was written by Justice Antonio T. Carpio, a founding partner of the Firm and an Arroyo appointee. The decision has been described as “caustic” and “stinging”. Undoubtedly, it is a slap to the face of the Arroyo administration.
But why all the fuss about the Firm ? The close relationship betwen the Firm and the President’s hubby, Atty. Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, is well known. The First Gentleman or the First Dude, as he is sometimes referred to, has long-standing ties to the Firm, going back to its founding by three young lawyers from the UP College of Law.
The Firm was founded by Antonio Carpio ( THE Justice Carpio), Arthur “Pancho” Villaraza and Avelino Cruz (presently Secretary of National Defense). Carpio, Villaraza and Cruz are fraternity brothers from Sigma Rho, a UP law school fraternity. Up to the present, the Firm is closely identified with the Sigma Rho, most of its partners being members of the said fraternity.
The law firm of Carpio, Villaraza and Cruz set up their offices in the LTA Building in Legaspi Village, Makati. The LTA Building is owned by Mike Arroyo’s family and is named after his mother. By dint of its partners’ hard work and excellent service, the Firm rapidly made a name for itself. It also gained a reputation for being a “political” law firm. The driving force behind its rise was Atty. Carpio.
Antonio Carpio graduated cum laude and was class veledictorian of the U.P. Law class of 1975. He placed 6th in the bar exams. While praticing law, he also took time to teach at the law school. The Warrior Lawyer was fortunate enough to have been one of his students in corporate law. Even then, Atty. Carpio was acknowledged to be one of the brightest stars in Malcolm Hall.
The Firm threw its full support behind the candidacy of Fidel Ramos in 1992. The Warrior Lawyer played a minor role in the legal team of the Ramos campaign and remembers attending meetings at the Firm’s spare and functional Makati offices. Some of the meetings were chaired by Atty. Carpio, who heard reports from and gave out assignments to the Ramos lawyers. The Warrior Lawyer, interestingly, was detailed to the Sulo Hotel headquarters of the Ramos campaign which was run by the dynamic duo of Atty. Vic Sumulong (later Congressman) and Ronnie Puno (now Secretary of Department of the Interior and Local Governments). But that’s another story.
When Fidel Ramos assumed the Presidency, Antonio Carpio was appointed Chief Presidential Legal Counsel. Traditionally, the lawyer to the President is a low-key and retiscient figure. Atty. Carpio transformed the character of the office. Brilliant and politically adept, Carpio became one of the most influencial members of the Ramos cabinet.