One of the most disappointed winners from the May 9 elections is reelectionist Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito “Erap” Estrada, the former president turned local government executive.
Estrada had expected to win by a landslide over his old rival, former Mayor Alfredo Lim, and Amado Bagatsing, scion of Manila’s longest-serving mayor Ramon Bagatsing.
Instead, Erap escaped defeat by the skin of his teeth, winning by an infinitesimal 2,830 votes. He got just 280,000 463 votes, Lim 277,633, and Bagatsing 166,144 votes.
In his first shot at the Manila mayoralty, in 2010, Estrada garnered 35,000 more votes than the then-incumbent Mayor Lim.
Erap’s protégé, Honey Lacuna scored an upset as vice mayor, defeating the popular Ali Atienza 266,595 to the latter’s 218,607, a whopping winning margin of 47,988. In pro-election polls, Dra. Lacuna was a cellar dweller.
The 47-plus thousand was the kind of margin Erap was expecting for himself against Lim last May. After all, he relates, “I have done so much for [Manila].” He paid more than P5 billion debts, increased revenues 2.35 times from P6.2 billion in 2012 to P14.6 billion by 2016, spent from 2013 to 2016 an unprecedented P6.76 billion in city infrastructure, built and or renovated seven city public markets whose look and feel rival those of SM malls, built 22 schools, increased teachers’ incomes, bought dialysis machines and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners for poor city health patients, modernized its six city hospitals, reduced crime incidence and increased crime solution efficiency.
Of the P6.76 billion spent for infrastructure, according to City Engineer Robert Bernardo, P1.835 billion went to roads and P3.574 billion to schools, for a total of P5.4 billion. Add the other infra expenditures for the years 2014 to 2016 —P1.1148 billion and feeder lines and lightings, P203.4 million. The grand total: P6.762 billion.
No mayor in Manila’s history has poured so much in great projects in so short a time as Estrada.
And best of all, Erap made Manila the most competitive city in the Philippines by 2015. Being the No. 1 competitive city means Manila is the best place for doing business and for living in.
As mayor, Estrada never worked so hard as an executive. Twelve-hour days were the norm each week—interacting with people, conducting advocacy and visioning meetings, signing voluminous papers, conducting ocular inspections at any time of the day and night to check on the progress of numerous projects in simultaneous construction in many different places.
What did Erap get for all that hard work? Betrayal by his own men. Isko Moreno, who lost his Erap-funded bid for senator, is often mentioned but I don’t like to believe it. And ingratitude by city residents. “In 2013, when I had zero performance, I won by a landslide. In 2016, after I have done many amazing things, I win by a hairline,” grimaces the good natured former president turned mayor.
One major factor was Estrada’s attempt to more than double city taxes. This angered businessmen. He lost in the city’s Binondo, Santa Cruz and Ermita tourist districts. It also angered the small property owners and apartment renters who had to absorb the tax hikes. “Without the taxes, which were frozen since 1990,” he explains, “I could not have done what I have done for the city.”
Erap’s reelection attempt this year became an epic battle royal never seen before in Manila’s colorful 445-year history. And it became Estrada’s most crucial and scariest electoral fight. He was up against the biggest names in city politics—Amado Bagatsing, scion of Manila’s longest-serving mayor Ramon Bagatsing; Gemiliano “Mel” Lopez, Lito Atienza, and Alfredo Lim. These men had combined 40 years of service as mayor of the Philippines’ premier city and capital.
Before serving Manila, the city of his birth, Erap had been mayor of suburban San Juan for 17 years, senator for six years, vice president for six years, and president of the Philippines for 30 months —34 years of unrivalled public service in the executive and legislative branches of government. In all his electoral battles, the actor turned politician had only been defeated once—in 2010 when he ran again for president. He got only 9.487 million votes against the winner, Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III’s 15.2 million votes.
But then BS Aquino III was aided by necropolitics—the death of his mother, Cory Aquino and of the leader of the powerful Iglesia ni Cristo church, both in August 2009.
In 2013, Estrada had had enough of national politics. He decided to run for mayor of Manila. This put him at loggerheads with reelectionist Mayor Lim, a one-time rival for the presidency and his former subaltern, being the secretary of interior and local government under the Estrada administration. Erap easily disposed of his pesky underling, winning by a comfortable 35,000 votes.
In his first term, Mayor Estrada uncorked the most vigorous and ambitious modernization and revival program to recapture Manila’s old glory as the Philippines’ best city and one of Asia’s most distinguished cities.
In managing Manila, Erap banked on his awesome executive experience as San Juan mayor of 17 years and president of three years. Those years honed his native skills for planning and execution of Mapua’s third year engineering dropout. Just like what he did in San Juan (1969 to 1986), Estrada focused on two things—peace and order and infrastructure. Succeed in those two and you produce spectacular dividends in terms of a modernity that attracts investors and increases land values tremendously. This explains why today San Juan is such a peaceful and progressive and why real estate has boomed beyond belief.
With his reelection, Erap has vowed to complete three terms as mayor, a total of nine years. He seeks reelection in 2019. He wants to restore Manila’s title as the “Pearl of the Orient” and “the Paris of the East.”
He wants to prove that Manilans is the best mayor they ever had. That distinction belongs to longtime mayor Arsenio H. Lacson.
“Being mayor of Manila is more difficult than being president of the Philippines!” exclaims Estrada. Tell that to Rody Duterte.