Mr. Simeon Marcelo had a very remarkable career in his practice of law covering four decades since 1980. In his first two decades, he was already considered one of the country’s top litigators, having represented top corporations (both foreign and domestic), public institutions like the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), President Fidel Ramos, then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the late Henry Sy, Sr. and other prominent individuals; yet, still being able to do substantial pro bono work for indigent clients (which, after finishing his tenure as Executive Editor of its Law Journal, led to his appointment as Chairman of the National Committee On Legal Aid of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines). (cf. Manila Bulletin, 06 September 1992, page 1; Daily Globe, 06 September 1992, page 1; Tonight, 08 July 1994, page 7; The Philippine Star, Max Soliven, Publisher and Chairman of the Editorial Board, 13 Februay 2001, pages 7-8) His ‘long experience in private law practice developed his sharp drive to win’ (Philippines Daily Inquirer, 25 August 2002, page A16), prompting a prominent columnist to compare him to a ‘tenacious bull dog’ as a trial lawyer (Graphic, 15 October 2007)
In December 2000, Mr. Marcelo became a national public figure when, as one of the lead private prosecutors in President Estrada’s impeachment proceedings (which were broadcasted nationwide in all television and radio stations), he was chosen by the public prosecutors to present its star witness, Governor Singson:
“HIS impeccable courtroom manners, boyish smile and quick, appropriate answers to the questions of the chief justice, senator-judges and defense panel won the hearts of the viewers of the impeachment trial. Simeon Marcelo, one of the private prosecutors in the impeachment trial, handled the direct examination of star witness Governor Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson, and became, in the process, one of the leading lights in this historical trial. x x x During the entire proceeding, Marcelo, though low-key and unassuming, stood out. In fact, he was brilliant. Cool and unflappable, he was so prepared, nothing could have surprised or unnerved him. x x x” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 14 February 2001, pages B13: emphasis supplied)
In February 2001, he was appointed as Solicitor General, winning all his major cases in favor of the government, particularly the cases against the Marcoses and their cronies (resulting in the recovery of ill-gotten wealth with a value/amount of at least 130 Billion Pesos, compared to the paltry 26 Billion Pesos previously recovered from 1986 to 2000 or a period of 14 years). (cf: Sunday Inquirer, 20 January 2002, page 9; The Philippine Daily Inquirer, 25 August 2002, page A16; Philippine Graphic, 02 September 2002, page 21; Newsbreak, 11 November 2002, page 28; Philippine Graphic, 15 October 2007, pages 24-25) Almost two years later, due to his above accomplishments, he was appointed as the youngest Ombudsman (considered the most powerful official in the government next to the President), the head of the independent Constitutional Office tasked to investigate and prosecute those accused of graft and corruption in the government, including the military. Again, he served with great distinction, intensely fighting widespread and grave corruption in government, especially in the notorious graft-ridden armed forces, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the revenue-generating agencies, despite his Office’s severe lack of resources. This was noticed prominently not only locally but also internationally. (The Philippine Daily Inquirer, 29 November 2004, page A14; The Philippine Star, 09 May 2005, page 14) Describing his tenure as Ombudsman, The Washington Post stated that Mr. Marcelo “restored credibility to that organization xxx, taking on the most powerful vested and entrenched interests in a country that perennially ranks amoung the worlds’ most corrupt xxx’; ‘targeting the most corrupt agencies, daring to prosecute even members of the historically untouchable military” (10 June 2005, at page A14). But considered as his most important achievement was leading the legal team that prosecuted and secured the conviction of President Estrada for the crime of Plunder, despite the fact that the accused was defended by a group of the most prominent veteran trial lawyers, including a retired Supreme Court Chief Justice and a retired Presiding Justice of the Anti-Graft Court.
As a result of working from Monday to Sunday, usually getting only four hours of sleep and being constrained to take only a few days of vacation leave annually, [due to the very heavy workload (with the Plunder case against President Estrada being tried four times a week, leaving only three days (Friday to Sunday) for his other equally voluminous work) the greater part which included the almost innumerable uncompleted and procedurally mangled criminal cases against the Marcoses and their cronies left unfinished by his predecessors dating back to 1987], his health deteriorated gravely, compelling him to leave public office on 30 November 2005.
Juan Mercado, a well-respected Manila columnist, wrote:
“THERE’S ONLY ONE ACCOLADE PRESIDENT Macapagal-Arroyo can give Simeon Marcelo who, due to illness, will resign as ombudsman at the end of November. That’s to appoint another Marcelo.
That requires refusal to skid into old gutters. The President slid into one in reappointing brigands, like fugitive Virgilio Garcillano, to crucial constitutional offices.
Exasperated by political infighting, George Washington wrote: ‘Few have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder.’ Simeon Marcelo had what it took. International and local observers agree on that.
Street yokels, like us, got a first close look at this 1979 topnotcher during the Estrada impeachment trial.
People liked what they saw then: a talented comer without guile. In Adlai Stevenson’s words, he could ‘lead a cavalry charge without feeling funny astride a horse.’” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 20 October 2005, at page A12; cf. also: Rogue Magazine, June 2008, pages 86-96; The Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 May 2009, pages 1, A8; Philippine Graphic, 05 October 2009, page 13)
Furthermore, a few days after submitting his letter of resignation, the American Embassy sent the following email to the US State Department: “On September 30, GRP Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo announced that he would resign effective November 30 due to health reasons. Marcelo is widely respected as a highly effective anti-corruption crusader and Malacañang will be hard pressed to find a worthy successor x x x x.” He “served as a widely admired Ombudsman, with a solid reputation for incorruptibility.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 May 2019, page 1, A8).
After a one-year sabbatical and teaching law for another year which enabled him to recover fully his health and strength, he returned in January 2008 to his old firm, i.e., CVCLAW (Villaraza Cruz Marcelo and Angangco). Writing about his return, two publications cited him “as perhaps the country’s best litigator”. (Philippine Starweek, 17 February 2008, pages 4-6; BARnone, Metro Society, October 2009, pages 168-170) Top companies immediately began to engage his legal services, including the biggest electricity distributor (which resulted in thwarting a hostile take-over attempt); the BSP (the Philippines’ new central monetary authority and a client of Mr. Marcelo since its establishment in 1993), in order to prosecute the owner and officers of the Legacy Group who committed the biggest bank fraud case in the country’s history; and one of the top companies to defend it against a multi-billion peso tax assessed by the government. In 2014, he led his legal team in securing from the Supreme Court a Decision, annulling a tax assessment of a client’s aviation fuel sales to international carriers, which was costing it 100 Million Pesos annually and in winning another related multi-billion tax case in 2018. One of the biggest banks engaged his services in 2009 to run after a debtor who employed fraud in securing a loan of almost One Billion Pesos. After he and his legal team implemented a series of legal maneuvers that pushed the debtor “into a corner”, the latter was constrained to enter into a compromise agreement with Mr. Marcelo’s client, receiving payment of its debtor’s huge debt. In the last quarter of 2016, Mr. Marcelo represented the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (the leading and biggest business organization in the country), in challenging a set of new regulations issued by the Department of Energy and Energy Regulatory Commission before the Supreme Court, securing a rarely issued Temporary Restraining Order that stopped the implementation of the new regulations pendent lite.
With respect to arbitration, he served as a member of an ICC Arbitral Tribunal in two significant inter-related international cases (2012-2014), re-starting this aspect of his legal career which began in 1984 but halted abruptly when he joined the government in 2001. He was the Chairman of an Arbitration Tribunal that resolved a very important international arbitration case in 2015-2016. He was a member of the legal team that won in a very important case involving billion of pesos in an arbitration proceedings conducted by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration. (In this connection, Mr. Marcelo is the head of the legal team that represents the same client in a related more encompassing case now pending before the Supreme Court.) In addition, he acted as counsel in several important domestic arbitration cases wherein he and his team secured favorable awards, including a very notable arbitral award rendered by the Philippine Construction Industry and Arbitration Commission. [Incidentally, he was one of the founding Trustees of Philippine Dispute Resolution Center, Inc. (est. 1996) and the first Corporate Secretary of the Philippine Chapter of the International Chamber of Commerce which he helped to organize in 1999.
In the middle of 1982, he was recruited by recently retired Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio to join his then two year-old law firm to establish its own litigation department. (since none of his partners was a trial court lawyer) Incidentally, with the pertinent presidential decree (on financial rehabilitation of corporations) having been enacted only a few years back before he became a lawyer, Mr. Marcelo, with an inherent keen interest in debt restructuring negotiation and rehabilitation of financially distressed companies, realized that the then known senior trial lawyers ignored the practice of handling rehabilitation cases; thus, he devoted substantial attention on this field of law. Consequently, he was already acknowledged, as early as 1984, as an authority in this specialized legal field. To date, he continues to handle rehabilitation cases and debt restructuring.
From December 2008 to June 2014, he served as one of the four members of the World Bank’s prestigious Independent Advisory Board composed (apart from him) of Mr. Peter Costello (who was a former member of the Australian Parliament and Australia’s longest-serving Treasurer), Chester Crocker (former US Assistant Secretary of State and Georgetown University’s James R. Schlesinger Professor of Strategic Studies) and Mr. Mark Pieth (former Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Bassel and former Chair of the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions).
From 2009 to 2010, Mr. Marcelo also served as the President of the Philippine Bar Association, the country’s oldest and largest voluntary organization of lawyers. In view of his recognized expertise in trial work, he was appointed in late 2012 by the Supreme Court as a member of the Core Committee (and Content Chairperson – Special Remedies During Trial) which was tasked with the drafting of the new Rules of Civil Procedure.
During its Centennial Year in 2013, the University of the Philippines Alumni Association conferred upon Mr. Marcelo the Distinguished Alumnus Award in Public Service for serving the country as Solicitor General and Ombudsman.
Though already a private citizen, Mr. Marcelo continued to be active in the good governance movement in his country. (His active participation in the good governance movement was acknowledged by then Senate President Franklin Drilon in his speech before the Philippine Bar Association on 30 September 2014.) Because of his vast experience as the former head of the Philippines’ anti-corruption body, a principal adviser of the World Bank on anti-corruption, and his active participation in the good governance movement in the country, he is the arbitrator/counsel of choice for arbitral disputes involving public/private corruption, corporate fraud and money laundering.
Mr. Marcelo was ranked as a Band 1 Lawyer in Dispute Resolution by Chambers Asia Pacific 2020. He was also ranked as Senior Statesman for Dispute Resolution by Asia Law Leading Lawyers 2020 and 2021. The award of Alternative Dispute Resolution Lawyer of the Year (Philippines) was given to him by ACQ Global Awards (2016-2017). He has been recognized by the Asian Legal Business as among the Philippines’ Top 100 lawyers in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Mr. Marcelo was named Dispute Resolution Star of the Year in 2018 and Dispute Resolution Star (Commercial and Transactions, Tax) in 2019 by Benchmark Litigation Asia-Pacific. The Japan Times, in an article about the Philippines, cited Mr. Marcelo as “one of the Philippines’ top litigators (15 May 2018, at page seven). In the May-June 2018 issue of the Asia Business Law Journal, he was listed as one of the country’s top litigation lawyers” (at page 71). During the Asia-Pacific Dispute Resolution Awards 2018 held by Asialaw, Mr. Marcelo was recognised as the Dispute Star of the Year (2018) of the Philippines. For 2019, Corporate USA TODAY Annual Awards recognized him as the Best Founding Partner & CEO of the Year–Philippines.
Currently, he serves as legal counsel in high-profile cases, including providing pro bono services to farmers’ organizations.