Francis Zamora: After 50 years, San Juan gets a new captain

MANILA, Philippines – The ball is in Francis Zamora’s court. 

He is finally the mayor of San Juan. He had slain allies-turned-enemies: the Estrada clan that had run the city for 50 years until 2019.

Zamora’s win was not only a victory against Janella Estrada, who had been eyed to extend the line of succession which her grandfather, former president Joseph Estrada, started in San Juan. Zamora’s win, he himself said, was a victory against how things used to be done in the city. He promised a “new San Juan,” to end the culture that did not hold leaders and government workers accountable. 

He believes the Estradas – the patriarch, then son Jinggoy, then other son JV, then JV's mother Guia – steered the city into stagnation. He says his victory last May proves that more San Juaneños see this now more than ever. 

But will this be his only legacy? What will the people of San Juan see in him?

The shadow of the Estradas

Undoing the impact of a 50-year dynasty cannot happen overnight, this much Zamora knows.  

San Juaneños had not known any other kind of leadership since 1969, when then 32-year-old Joseph Estrada became mayor. Since then no one has defeated the Estrada family in a mayoral race. The only other time a non-Estrada was at the helm of the city was in 2001, when former basketball star Philip Cezar served as acting mayor as Jinggoy faced plunder charges. 

After Erap and Jinggoy, the throne was passed on to the latter’s estranged half-brother JV Ejercito, whose mother Guia Gomez took over until she maxed out the 3-term limit by 2019.  

Jinggoy's daughter Janella, vice mayor to Gomez from 2016 to 2019, was supposed to continue the line, but she lost with only 24,813 votes to Zamora’s 35,060 – over 10,000 votes apart. This was a far cry from the tight race between Gomez and Zamora in 2016, which Zamora attempted to protest but eventually lost. 

Atienza also said Zamora also appears in touch with the sentiments of the people. 

During his first 100 days, Zamora focused not only on President Rodrigo Duterte's order to clear roads, but also on promising better healthcare and afforable housing to the city's poorest. 

His administration is pursuing public-private partnerships to improve the state of the city's public hospital. While he has no deadline for the hospital's full rehabilitation, he said the city government has made agreements with private hospitals to cater to San Jueneños seeking medical help. 

He is also proud of what he has dubbed as San Juan's own "condo for the poor." A 1,850-square meter lot owned by the city government and located in Barangay St Joseph will be used for a 22-floor high-rise public housing – the first of its kind in the country. Zamora said it would have 396 units, each with an average size of 29 square meters. The building will also have a multi-purpose hall and 10 commercial space units.

Units will be rent-to-own, said Zamora, who promised reasonable amortization for prospective residents. Ideally, they would own the property in 25 years. 

Atienza said Zamora would need to balance projects and policies like these and "convincing San Juaneños who are less poor" to buy into his governance. Though the smallest city in Metro Manila, San Juan is a first class city and business hub. 

"San Juan is a city, but it does have remnants of a small town [given its population and geographic size]," Atienza said. "Zamora will need to capitalize on that."

TOP PHOTO: NEW CAPTAIN. Francis Zamora takes on the role of San Juan's chief executive, the city's new captain after 50 years. Photo from the San Juan City Mayor's Office