MANILA, Philippines – They heaped praises on him, welcomed him to their city, and gamely toured him around a newly-built housing complex. But the Estradas in San Juan insisted they have yet to make a decision on whether to support Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II’s bid for the presidency.
He remains an option, members of the influential political clan told reporters on Thursday, December 10, on the sidelines of the formal launch of a mid-rise housing complex built for informal settlers who lost their homes to a raze in 2012.
The Estradas are led by their patriarch, ousted president turned Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who has yet to endorse a presidential bet for 2016. In his last interview, however, Estrada hinted that he was inclined to endorse survey front-runner Senator Grace Poe.
But Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, Estrada’s son with incumbent San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez, hinted at the possibility of the clan endorsing different presidential bets.
“Yung ang kahirapan ng multi-party (That’s what makes it difficult when you have a multi-party system), we have so many good people to choose from,” Gomez told reporters in a chance interview.
Most, if not all of the leading presidential bets, have personal or political ties to the Estrada family.
Opposition standard-bearer Vice President Jejomar Binay has been allies with the clan for over a decade. In the 2010 presidential elections, Binay was Estrada’s running mate.
Poe, meanwhile, once lived in San Juan and is the adoptive daughter of actor Fernando Poe, Jr, Estrada’s close friend.
Roxas was once Department of Trade and Industry secretary under the Estrada administration.
Speaking to the crowd in San Juan, Ejercito said that among all of his father’s Cabinet members then, it was Roxas who he was closest to.
Duterte is a both a friend and political ally, too, said Ejercito.
Picking a presidential bet to support may prove to be crucial for the Estrada clan in San Juan, whose control of the city is now being challenged by the Zamora clan, an erstwhile ally.
Incumbent Vice Mayor Francis Zamora is going up against Gomez for the mayoral post. The two had been a tandem until their parting of ways this year.
The Zamoras have already placed their bets on Poe for 2016. In fact, Zamora’s father, San Juan Representative and Estrada’s former executive secretary Ronaldo Zamora is among Poe’s advisers.
It would be “better,” conceded Ejercito, if the clan picks just one bet for 2016, given the situation in San Juan. “But there’s a possibility that we’ll support different candidates,” added Ejercito.
In a previous interview with Rappler, Roxas said he would not turn down an endorsement from anybody, including Estrada, but added he draws the line if the thumbs up came with a price. He said the same in a chance interview with reporters in San Juan City.
Sources earlier told Rappler that Estrada is using his endorsement to bargain for the release of his other son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, from detention.
Ejercito dismissed this speculation and that for him, a candidate’s infrastructure plans mattered the most.
Roxas, though, said he has not spoken with Estrada recently but has thanked him for his “kind words.” (READ: Mar Roxas, the misunderstood?)
Cases vs JV
The tension between the two families may be spilling over onto the legal arena, Ejercito hinted after the Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to charge the senator for graft and technical malversation for buying high-powered firearms using the city government’s calamity fund.
Ejercito was once mayor of San Juan City.
“I don’t want to conclude pero baka lang related sa (but maybe it’s related to) local politics. Kalaban namin eh bilyonaryo. Meron silang law office, meron silang (We’re going up against billionaires. They have a law office, they have a) PR firm so actually I’m risking my political career. They can destroy me if they want to,” Ejercito told reporters on the sidelines of the launch of a housing project in the city.
Prior to saying this, Ejercito said he wanted to avoid saying the case was “politically motivated” because it’s a “convenient excuse” by those facing charges.
“I’m very confident about this case. I’m just asking the Ombudsman to take a second look. Ako, malinis ang konsensiya ko at alam ko na wala kaming ginawang anomalya at masama (My conscience is clean and I know we did not do anything anomalous or wrong),” he said.
Ejercito explained that they bought new firearms using the calamity fund because of a string of crimes in the city at that time. The Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the use of calamity funds, which Ejercito said city hall rectified right away.
“At the end of the year, yung nag reflect sa books ay (what was reflected in the books was that the) purchase of the said firearms was charged to the general fund. Yung (The) calamity fund remained intact. Up to this very moment, the COA has not issued any notice of disallowance. Ibig sabihin (That means) everything was in order. Walang irregularidad (There were no irregularities),” he added.
“It is a long time closed. I was also surprised because for me, it’s already a closed case,” Gomez told reporters when asked about the Ombudsman’s recent decision against her son.
When asked if she though the cases were politically motivated, Gomez quipped: “What else can I think of? Bad timing, isn’t it?”
But Vice Mayor Zamora is also among those facing raps for the allegedly anomalous deal. The city mayor evaded the question, instead telling reporters: “Like I said, all of them are being charged. [Then] we will have nobody left in the city of San Juan to administer the city.” – Rappler.com