How infighting, lean bench caused Estrada dynasty downfall

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 22 2019 07:30 PM | Updated as of May 23 2019 12:02 AM

MANILA -- Simultaneous defeats in last week’s midterm elections stunned former President Joseph Estrada’s family, bringing the curtain down on the political dynasty he steadily built and expanded over 5 decades.

But the Estradas, who were wiped out in national and local elective positions, have only themselves to blame, said incoming Mayor Francis Zamora, a former ally who seized control of San Juan City from the clan.

Political rivals caught the family at its weakest, hampered by an intense sibling rivalry that was never resolved, and an insatiable ambition to firm up its dynasty in two key cities.

“If they had consolidated their forces, it would have been a tougher fight,” Zamora told ABS-CBN News.

Estrada, 82, gunned for a third and final term as Manila mayor, while his sons Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito both ran for senator.

All 3 Estradas were defeated, but none can be more bitter than losing grip of San Juan, the city they had ruled since 1969.

“Kaharian nila ito e... dito nakilala ang kanilang pamilya,” Zamora said, highlighting the gravity of his victory compared to the fall of Estrada in Manila.

(This is their kingdom... This is where their family became known.)


Years in power left the Estradas with a shallow bench in this year’s local elections in their own political bailiwick.

Neither Jinggoy Estrada nor JV Ejercito could be convinced to reconsider their senatorial aspirations, and instead run for San Juan mayor for a more formidable challenge to the equally influential and moneyed Zamoras.

Incumbent Mayor Guia Gomez, Ejercito’s mother, is on her third and last term as mayor and is constitutionally barred from seeking reelection.

So the family settled with Jinggoy‘s relatively untested daughter Janella, the incumbent vice mayor.

Had she won, Jinggoy’s faction would have regained control of the city from Ejercito and his mother, who served for a combined 18 years as mayor. Jinggoy Estrada ruled San Juan ahead of them from 1992 to 2001.

All the while, what might have been overlooked in this year’s campaign was the growing strength of the Zamoras, a former ally of the Estradas’.

Fearing the Estradas would not allow someone else outside of the family to become mayor, Zamora, the sitting vice mayor then, went for it in 2016.

Gomez defeated Zamora by only around 1,200 votes, which he took as a sign that the dynasty had weakened and could be defeated in the next election.


Like the Zamoras, former Vice Mayor Isko Moreno used to be with Joseph Estrada, who expanded the dynasty in Manila when he won the mayoralty there in 2013.

Three years later, Moreno had to shelve his planned mayoral run when Estrada reneged on a promise of a single term and opted for reelection.

They parted ways afterward.

Between then and now, while Estrada struggled to keep his dynasty intact, Moreno and Zamora went around gathering more political ground support.

In San Juan, Zamora religiously showed up in birthday parties, village fiestas, and wakes, all to make sure he remained in the public eye.

He also linked up with more celebrities and athletes, providing a solid challenge to the Estradas’ vaunted star power.

Like the Estradas, the Zamoras had enough resources for assistance to San Juan’s poor, a practice derided by political scientists as a form of patronage politics.

In Manila, Moreno went house-to-house, scouring the Philippine capital’s close to 900 villages, pressing the flesh with an estimated 47,000 voters in 6 months.


In the meantime, the half-brothers bickered, their father too old and too weak to resolve the deep animosity between 2 grown men.

Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito devoted a good part of their senatorial campaign attacking each other.

Ejercito’s campaign ads described him as the “good one” while Jinggoy Estrada presented himself as the “better one.”

“Watak-watak sila, may kanya-kanya silang pinu-problemang kandidatura,” Zamora said.

(They were fragmented, busy with their respective candidacies.)

Moreno acknowledged that the Estradas waged electoral battles in “many fronts.”

“Masyado silang maraming inaway (They made too many enemies),” the former ally told ABS-CBN News. “History will always teach us our lessons.”

Moreno acknowledged that infighting among the Estradas contributed to their downfall.

But more than that, he said, was the realization by majority of voters that Manila wasn’t any better than it was when Estrada took control 6 years ago.

That, he said, was a clear signal that the dynasty had to go.