Green Guide Profile: Abuda Asis & Associates

Boutique multi-service law firm Abuda Asis & Associates in the Philippines is highly active in project finance, energy and infrastructure, and has advised on various wind, solar and hydro energy as well as biomass projects. It also has niche experience in water infrastructure projects, having acted in a number of bulk water supply and wastewater sanitation matters.

In 2022, Cornelio B. Abuda, one of the firm’s founders, was a key individual advising AC Energy Corporation with respect to the early decommissioning of its coal-fired power plant by 2040; the matter serves as a pioneer energy transition case in the Philippines. Jehremiah C Asis, the firm’s other founder, assisted JCA 1221 Holdings Inc and FLOV2Vs Gingoog Inc with a transaction for the provision of bulk water supply and sanitation services for the city of Gingoog; the proceeds of the transaction will finance the construction of the sanitation treatment plant of a water distribution utility.

In another ongoing highlight, the firm is also advising a Philippine public-private partnership joint venture company on the development of the Puerto Princesa Sanitation Project, a first of its kind project in the Philippines which showcases the possibility for other cities and municipalities to leapfrog their compliance with the Clean Water Act.

In March 2022, Asis was invited to be a panellist at the Accessing Climate Finance for Philippine Cities Technical Conference, which discussed the current climate financing in the country and the capacity of cities to adapt to, mitigate, and manage the impacts of climate change.

Abuda Asis & Associates (“AAA Law”) is boutique law firm founded in 2007 with specific focus on project finance and project development. Its project finance and project development practices are headed by AAA Law’s founding partners Cornelio “Leo” B. Abuda and Jehremiah “Jehri” C. Asis. Leo Abuda is a recognized expert in project finance in the Philippines, while Jehri Asis has deep expertise in PPP projects and water-related infrastructure projects. They are supported by the two other partners in the firm, Jose Jaime “Jim” V. Cruz and Judith Ann C. Alejo, and a team of four associates. Jim and Judith have also led teams in several major financing and acquisition transactions in the renewable energy space.

AAA Law takes pride in being able to advise and execute on transactions and projects from the seed stage up to the operational and divestment stages. The firm has advised on landmark transactions in the renewable energy industry, including several Feed-in-Tariff qualified renewable energy projects and the transition of major companies in the Philippines towards their net zero goals. In recent years, the firm has advised on major financing transactions, including an energy transition financing transaction that would allow a major player in the Philippine RE industry to retire one of its coal projects before its scheduled date of retirement. The firm also acted as advisor in an important water infrastructure project in the City of Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

Has your firm established a dedicated ESG/climate change/sustainability practice, team or task force?

Since the enactment of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, the firm has been heavily involved in several major renewable energy projects. The team easily transitioned into the renewable energy practice by taking a proactive role in advising and coordinating with clients on the regulatory and financing trends in the Philippines and advising them at every stage of their renewable energy projects.

What type of work do you handle in connection with “green change”?

I am currently advising on the financing and development of a number of renewable projects. That work involves advising clients on structuring their investments, conducting due diligence, assisting the clients in obtaining financing and divesting those projects. I also work heavily with banks and other financial institutions, as well as non-bank financial institutions (e.g., insurance companies), in assessing, negotiating and documenting financing for various renewable energy projects across a wide spectrum of technology platforms.

Would you like to highlight a particular area of strength?

While our team is relatively small, we are able to execute well and move with agility because of the team’s deep and concentrated collective expertise in project finance and project development work which we have honed from many years of project execution and close monitoring of developing trends in ESG space. We are able to design and implement solutions to transactional issues that address both the legal and commercial concerns of the parties.

Has your firm implemented any internal best practices?

We currently do not have an established best practice system related to ESG given the size of our firm. We intend to explore the necessity of such system in the future.

Has your firm joined any external ESG-related projects, networks or initiatives?

While we are not currently part of any ESG network, we encourage members of our team to be part of those networks and initiatives.

What are your firm’s ESG-related goals?

We would like our competence and expertise to be of benefit to clients who are interested in project development work in the field of ESG especially for underserved areas that would get an economic and development boost from these types of ESG projects.

Is your firm involved in any relevant pro bono work?

We currently do not have a pro-bono program but our firm was recently engaged by the Philippine PPP Center to provide free lectures and seminars on contract structuring for PPP projects. We evaluate our involvement on pro bono work depending on their impact to the beneficiary of our work.

Is your firm involved in any public outreach or client education?

We typically do not have an established program for client education but we meet with clients of the firm from time to time to discuss trends in ESG or renewable energy space.

Have there been any recent non-confidential stand-out matters that were particularly innovative, pioneering or complex?

The firm was recently involved in the financing of AC Energy’s energy transition program as part of its net zero goals. AC Energy is the renewable energy arm of Ayala Corporation. The transaction was interesting and pioneering because involved the use of long-term loans to redeem AC Energy’s equity interest in an existing company operating a conventional energy project (in this case, a coal plant) and allowing the proceeds from such redemption to be used for other renewable energy projects.

When did ESG, climate change and/or sustainability become an area of focus at your firm?

Since its inception in 2007, the firm has been advising several key players and financing institutions in the renewable energy space.

What has driven your firm’s involvement in a green transition?(Client demand? Business case? Personal attitudes/beliefs/initiatives?)

In addition to client demand, the firm wants to be part of nationally-significant projects that would spur the development of renewable energy and water infrastructure development in the Philippines.

Do you have any strategic plans to expand your work or your initiatives in this area in the future?

We currently do not have a comprehensive strategic plan in terms of ESG practice but we typically evaluate and assess the types of ESG projects we want to work on primarily on as-needed basis depending on trends on an annual basis.

Where do you see the future of ESG/sustainability in the legal community (both in terms of legal offerings and firms’ best practices)?

We anticipate that the legal community in the Philippines will become more and more proactive in the ESG space and will develop dedicated legal teams for ESG / green spaces given the increasing interest that these fields have generated from major financial institutions and foreign investors coming into the Philippines. ESG projects need creative and innovative legal solutions and committed legal experts to bring these projects to maturity. – Cornelio B. Abuda, Managing Partner, Abuda Asis & Associates