The Fall of House Estrada: Is this the beginning of the end of political dynasties?
Will the family’s sudden, unplanned exit from PH politics usher a trend?
May 14, 2019
It began Monday night, when the partial and unofficial canvass counted from nearly 1,400 of Manila’s 1,500 voting precincts showed underdog Manila mayoral candidate Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso trampling incumbent Joseph Estrada by more than 130,000 votes to become the capital’s next chief executive in July.
Things were also not optimistic for Estrada’s warring sons either.
Elder son Jinggoy, who is seeking a fresh term as senator after a three-year hiatus following his plunder trial, struggled at 15th place as reflected in unofficial counts an hour after precincts closed.
Younger son JV Ejercito, a first-term senator gunning for reelection, wasn’t so secure either in 12th place. This morning showed JV already out at 13th spot, displaced by fellow re-electionist Koko Pimentel who managed to barge into the Magic 12 by early Tuesday.
In San Juan City, Jinggoy’s daughter Janella’s mayoral bid was thwarted by former vice mayor Francis Zamora who handily won the race by almost 10,000 votes. The loss is politically significant as Estrada and a succession of scions and relations have positioned themselves in the city’s power base since the 1960s.
Meanwhile, Jerica Ejercito-Estrada, the Manila mayor’s daughter by actress Laarni Enriquez, also failed in her bid for councilor in the city.
Observers realize Domagoso’s feat in Manila was remarkable. Estrada is not only a political veteran whose career began in pre-martial law Philippines. And the heavy presence of his kin in national politics would be hard to replicate.
Action star, Mayor, Senator, Vice President, President
Considered a convenient shift from his showbiz career as an action star, Estrada seamlessly took the reins of local politics as mayor of San Juan, then still a sleepy town in Rizal before Imelda Marcos cherry-picked it as an accoutrement to Metro Manila.
Estrada held court from 1969 to 1986 when he was unceremoniously replaced by then president Corazon Aquino with an OIC as part of efforts to cleanse the government of residual influence left by her predecessor.
Estrada joined the bevy of opposition figures who ran for senator the following year under the Grand Alliance for Democracy. Only he and Juan Ponce Enrile made it to the circle of 24 winners.
Estrada’s Senate career was generally uneventful. He would get attention now and then when television cameras caught him asleep inside the session hall during plenary debates. His most noteworthy accomplishment was joining the so-called Magnificent 12 that voted to oust the US bases in Clark and Subic in 1991.
Estrada almost did not become vice president in 1992. He only filled the slot left by John Osmeña, who had second thoughts about becoming Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s running mate in the Nationalist People’s Coalition.
Cojuangco failed to become president but Estrada won. President Fidel Ramos was gracious enough to offer Estrada the chairmanship of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, supposedly created to combat the growing number of kidnapping cases in 1992.
Estrada’s charisma with the masang Pilipino easily won him the presidency in 1998. At that time, his son Jinggoy became mayor of San Juan. JV, the locals recall, was being groomed as a civic leader.
Here we grow
Accusations of plunder and involvement in jueteng, an illegal numbers game, led to Estrada’s impeachment in November 2000 and his ouster from Malacañang after a popular revolt that put Vice President Gloria Arroyo as chief executive.
To gauge the remaining power of his fan base, Estrada pressed his First Lady Loi Ejercito to run for senator in 2001. Her victory was considered a continued support for his leadership despite his detention on plunder charges.
Jinggoy’s victory as first-term senator in 2004 was regarded as the Estrada’s dynasty’s assertion of influence despite Arroyo’s victory in the scandal-marred presidential elections that time. Younger brother JV, in turn, occupied Jinggoy’s seat at the San Juan city hall.
Loi refused to run a second time in 2007. Estrada, after earning a plunder conviction, still ran for president in 2010 after obtaining a pardon from Arroyo that specifically forbid him from doing so.
But while Noynoy Aquino won against Estrada, Jinggoy’s inclusion in the winning circle of Senate aspirants in 2010 secured the family’s political position.
JV’s entry to the Senate and Estrada’s successful attempt to replace Alfredo Lim as Manila mayor in 2013 further cemented the clan’s rule.
JV’s mother Guia Gomez also had her turn as San Juan mayor after her son’s local stint. Jinggoy’s daughter Janella eventually dipped her toes in city politics.
It would be difficult to blame specific incidents as reasons for things going wrong.
It is worthy to mention, however, that the family has been linked to plunder twice.
First, when close friend Chavit Singson tagged Estrada as the “godfather of jueteng lords” in the country and presented the chief executive’s supposed links to the illegal numbers game.
(This aside from accusing Estrada of allegedly masterminding an attempt to liquidate Chavit after a supposed disagreement over money.)
Second, Jinggoy was barely a year out of detention for supposedly pocketing millions of pesos in kickbacks from pork barrel when he declared his intention to return to the Senate.
Jinggoy languished for many months at the Camp Crame custodial center as he faced trial for plunder at the Sandiganbayan.
It did not help at all that Estrada failed to recover Manila’s glory as “Pearl of the Orient” as he promised during his campaign in 2013. Residents have complained of the worsening sidewalk vendor situation, dirty streets, and chaotic traffic.
It is also during Estrada’s incumbency when the scandal over the supposed sale of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex broke, along with insinuations that city officials agreed to the demolition of its Art Deco buildings to give way to a mall.
The planned reclamation of a significant portion of Manila Bay to accommodate real estate projects with Estrada’s nod also raised eyebrows.
Also, there was the underwhelming performance of other family members engaged in politics. Loi Ejercito is not remembered for any landmark legislation during her six-year stint in the Senate. Estrada’s nephew, Laguna Governor ER Ejercito was recently disqualified for campaign overspending.
San Juan residents who feared the twenty-something Janella would be too young to become mayor eventually listened to her opponent Francis Zamora who complained about the family’s half-century rule.
The beginning of the end?
Meanwhile, pundits have linked the sudden exit of Estrada, sons Jinggoy and JV, granddaughter Janella and daughter Jerica from Manila and San Juan local politics to the victory of another political scion, Vico Sotto as mayor of Pasig City, another dynastic stronghold.
To be fair, Sotto was up against the Eusebio family that has ruled the city for more than two decades. People wanting new blood, or probably tired of old politics, have made their desire clear.
Note that the same thing is slowly happening in Makati City where old guard Jejomar Binay, a former vice president, lost his bid to become first district congressman to the younger Kid Peña.
Public service is about delivery, not song-and-dance. Health, education, and basic services remain at the root of what a leader should address.
Perhaps the same explanation can be applied to Manila and San Juan. People grow tired of broken promises. In Manila especially where traffic and trash have become so commonplace, where floating trash is planted before television cameras so the good mayor can harvest them before media, we cannot blame citizens who know they deserve better.
Excited netizens were quick to link Domagoso’s and Sotto’s victories to this realization, gradual it may be. At least we are witnessing the start, they said.
Voters slowly realize their individual capacities, through lone ballots, when put together have the power to steer their community. And no amount of stage performance or loud music can distract from the service they know they deserve.
Sadly, it is only in show business where the show must go on.
Header photo courtesy of Joan Bondoc/Inquirer.
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