FEL V MARAGAY As the nation braces for a new occupant of Malacaang, keen observers in the legal community have their eyes riveted on the prominent law partnership CVC, known as The Firm, on account of its links with two leading presidential candidates during the election campaign. When we speak of The Firm, we refer to one of the countrys top law outfits. We all know how it has become the envy of practitioners in the field because of its roster of big clients - and the fantastic fees that it earns. Of course, so many tales have been told about how the partners of the firm have shrewdly used their political connections to wangle juicy legal cases for themselves. Pancho Villaraza, founding partner of the law outfit, is reportedly allied with Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party. But he has pursued his political links not as openly as Avelino Nonong Cruz, who has taken upon himself the role as lead election lawyer of Senator Benigno Aquino III and the Liberal Party (LP). Thus, political analysts are tempted to ask: Will The Firm regain for itself the influence over government that it wielded during the Arroyo administration? The law firm flourished during the years when it exclusively handled the legal cases of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her family. About two years after Mrs Arroyo received a fresh mandate in 2004, The Firm and the Arroyos parted ways. But before the relationship soured, members of the law firm enjoyed close friendship with the Arroyo family. Cruz, former chief presidential legal counsel and secretary of national defence in the Arroyo Cabinet, was brought into the LP by Senator Mar Roxas, Aquinos running mate. Another founding partner of the law partnership, Antonio Carpio, served as Arroyos chief legal counsel before being appointed to the SC, where he is now senior associate justice. When President Arroyo appointed Carpio as associate justice of the SC and another partner, Simeon Marcelo, as Ombudsman, the kind of clout The Firm had over the administration manifested itself. But sometime in 2006, Cruz resigned as defence secretary. Marcelo cut short his seven-year term when he quit as Ombudsman ostensibly for health reasons. This twist of events signalled the law partnerships estrangement from the administration. Carpio turned hostile to Malacaang by voting against the administration in many high-profile political cases decided by the high tribunal. He became a source of headache for his former patron in the Palace. Despite the falling out with Malacaang, The Firm remained strong and kept on growing. This was partly because the law outfit had placed many in important positions in the judiciary and the prosecution service through its recommendations. The principal partners of The Firm accordingly followed a three-pronged formula: i). go beyond law practice; ii). penetrate the government; and iii). strengthen, enhance and magnify the law office. The principal partners were instrumental in preparing for Mrs Arroyos ascent from senator to vice president to president. With its immense influence over the Arroyo government, appointments to the judiciary and prosecution service allegedly became the domain of The Firm. And many of these appointees remain in government despite the falling out in 2006. Now the law firms partners have positioned themselves wisely in the camps of the two leading presidential contenders, Aquino and Villar. To be sure, Cruz was brought into the LP fold by Roxas, not by Aquino, who nonetheless announced that Cruz would be the chief election lawyer for his run. It is speculated that Aquinos earlier pronouncement that he would not recognise Mrs Arroyos midnight appointment of a new chief justice was made upon the advice of Cruz in order to favour Justice Carpio. The president is most likely to appoint to the coveted judicial post Associate Justice Renato Corona. What power and influence will Cruz and by inference, The Firm, wield in a Noynoy Aquino administration? Will policy, appointments and critical decisions be foisted by Cruz and his law associates upon non-lawyer Aquino? Assuming that Aquino wins the presidency, watchers from legal, political and media circles can only await with bated breath how he will deal with Nonong Cruz and The Firm. Will Aquino abide by his campaign promise of genuine change? Or will that promise be set aside to please those who helped him in his quest for power? Manila Standard Today