"Dynasty out, dynasty in."
Two presidents, one elected and the other ousted 18 years ago, met markedly contrasting fates in this week’s May 13 mid-term elections.
In January 2001, Joseph Ejercito “Erap” Estrada was evicted from the presidency, jailed, accused, convicted of plunder, and pardoned by his own jailer, his successor President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
On Monday, as part of a long-term effort to vindicate the family name, Estrada and nine other close relatives sought election. Eight lost by a wide margin in a near-complete wipeout of an extended political dynasty that had been in power for nearly half a century.
An accomplished actor, Estrada first won public office in August 1969 as mayor of suburban bedroom town San Juan. He ruled it for 17 years. Then he ran for senator, for vice president, and for president, winning each time, parlaying an immense popularity earned while playing roles of the poor and downtrodden in 150 movies.
On May 13, Estrada, 82, lost his bid for a third term as mayor of the Philippines’ capital, Manila, disastrously, to a former scavenger on the city’s streets, Isko Moreno Domagoso, 44. Of the more than 548, 473 votes cast between them, Moreno bagged 63 percent (345,774 votes), Estrada just 37 percent (202,699), a huge margin of 143,075 or 27 percentage points. Pollsters had earlier predicted a close fight, with Estrada, at worse, losing by just 5,000 votes.
Two sons, returning Senator Jinggoy Estrada and reelectionist Senator JV Ejercito, lost big in the senatorial race, coming in 15th and 13th, respectively.
With 10,001,794 votes, Jinggoy’s distance from No.12, reelectionist Nancy Binay (who has 14,082,137 votes), is 3.09 million votes, making him a sure loser. With 13,831,863 votes, JV is outside the winning circle by 250,274 votes with nearly 95 percent of all votes already counted and 2.27 million votes still to be counted.
Erap’s granddaughter, Janela Estrada, daughter of Jinggoy, lost to former San Juan Vice Mayor Francis Zamora, son of lawyer Ronaldo Zamora who who reelection as congressman. Ronnie served in the 30-month cabinet of Estrada and was in fact the latter’s protégé.
Estrada’s daughter, Jerika failed in her first bid for elective office as councilor of Manila. The former president’s nephew, former Governor ER Ejercito, previously ousted for alleged election spending, lost as governor of Laguna. ER’s son, John Paul, lost the mayorship of Pansanjan, Laguna, hometown of the Ejercitos and where Erap’s father, the late Don Emilio, was born. ER’s wife, Maita, won as vice mayor of Pagsanjan, however.
Another Erap nephew, Gary Estrada, was not elected vice mayor of Cainta town east of Manila. A niece, Jana Ejercito, won reelection as San Juan city councilor.
Amid the dark political landscape, Senator JV put on a brave face, saying he did not do badly. “There were just too many of us,” he exclaimed. Of 10 candidate Estrada-Ejercito clan members, two won—in two minor positions. Erap Estrada’s political empire has collapsed.
Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s name was not even on the ballot but he became the biggest winner of what he described as a referendum on his administration. His sweeping victory could lead to his huge influence on, if not stranglehold of, all three major branches of the government—the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary, plus command of at least 80 percent of all local executive and legislative positions nationwide.
No president in the Republic’s 123-year history has held such overwhelming power and control. This makes Duterte the Philippines’ most powerful President ever. With 24/7 access to all the levers of power and having at his fingertips the economic life and death future of 107-million Filipinos, Duterte could change a nation’s history, perhaps moving it to an unprecedented strongman rule.
Within hours of Monday’s elections, Duterte’s allies have swept all but one of the 12 senate seats at stake (half of the 24-person Senate). The lone survivor, currently at No. 2 in the count, independent re-electionist Grace Poe, is not really reckoned to be a member of the opposition.
Duterte’s four personal choices for senator—No. 3 Bong Go, No. 5 Bato dela Rosa, No. 8 Imee Marcos, and No. 9 Francis Tolentino all won handily. When the four filed their certificates of candidacy last year, their chances of winning were iffy at best.
By having all 12 winning senatorial candidates to his side of the political fence, Duterte has whittled the Senate opposition to just four—incumbents Franklin Drilon, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and the feisty former justice secretary of past President Benigno S. Aquino III, Leila de Lima, who is in jail on drug charges.
Under the Constitution, two-thirds or 16 senators are needed to impeach a sitting president. Lacking this number, the four-member opposition cannot possibly impeach Duterte who has been maligned by the western media, perhaps unfairly, for so-called extrajudicial kiillings that have claimed up to 5,000 victims, and for his authoritarian tendencies.
By the same token, with 20 senators at his beck and call, Duterte can easily summon the votes to impeach anyone he dislikes—like opposition Vice President Leni Robredo on whom he has heaped so much contempt, the Supreme Court justices (majority of the 15 justices are now hos followers), and all constitutional commission officers subject to impeachment like the chair and commissioners of the Commission on Appointments, the chair and commissioners of the Commission on Audit, and the anti-graft prosecutor Ombudsman.
So the people who manage the elections, who audit the budget, and who run after grafters may have more reasons to spend sleepless nights in troubled times.
Meanwhile, Duterte’s allies ran under two parties—his own Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban) and his daughter’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago Party. They now dominate the country’s 81 provinces, 146 cities, and 1,488 towns, as well as the House of Representatives which has 289 congressmen.
All three Duterte children won their seats in Davao City—Sara for mayor, Sebastian for vice mayor, and Paolo for congressman—all three virtually unopposed.
Duterte magic? It works, says Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo.
Dynasty out, dynasty in.