He likes to be known as his father’s son, yet senatorial candidate Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito also says he wants to be his own man.
He could have been the other Joseph Estrada in the campaign, Ejercito says in jest, noting that he shares the same first name as his father, deposed President Joseph Estrada.
Ejercito has also taken to using his father’s well-known screen name “Estrada” as an “alias” to boost his run for a seat in the Senate. But he has opted to go by his nickname in the campaign instead of his first name.
He identifies himself as JV Ejercito Estrada or JV Estrada in his TV ads and posters, and in campaign rallies of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Ejercito’s use of Estrada has been controversial enough, drawing flak from civil society groups and critics who accuse him of riding on his father’s popularity, and adding fuel to fiery criticism against dynasties dominating Philippine politics.
Deception not intended
But Ejercito, the representative of San Juan in Congress and a three-term mayor of the city, insists that he is not out to fool people into thinking he is someone else.
He did not change his name but only adopted an alias or nickname, he says.
“There’s no deception intended because whether I use JV Ejercito or Estrada, they pertain to me. They will never pertain to President Erap (his father’s nickname),” he said at a dinner with Inquirer editors and reporters last week.
“If I really wanted to use it, I could have used my real name, which is Joseph. And then I would be Ejercito Estrada, Joseph. I might be number one,” he added, laughing.
But he never planned on becoming known as Joseph Ejercito Estrada in the campaign, he said, adding he had his own accomplishments.
“Of course, I want my own identity also,” he declares.
At 43, Ejercito intends to distinguish himself by focusing on youth issues, particularly education.
His campaign promise is to have a graduate in every family, and his legislative agenda includes student loan assistance programs and tuition “rationalization.”
But with “Estrada” appended to his name, Ejercito could not deny that his father’s prominence is a vital factor in his run for the Senate.
Using Estrada is an “opening” for him, he admitted.
Ejercito is the former President’s son by former actress Guia Gomez, now mayor of San Juan. Whenever he goes around the country, he is always identified as the son of Estrada, he said.
The Estrada name also registers well with people, he said, citing polls showing high trust ratings for his father and brother, Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, in certain areas, and lower numbers for him when he was still going by the name Ejercito.
His father also “insisted” that he use the Estrada surname to get a comfortable lead in the polls. He is in the top five in the polls, and he wants to keep this.
“I’m not aiming to be in the top three. We’re just working hard to have a buffer,” he said.
Ejercito believes name recall is not enough to win a Senate seat.
“Of course, name recall is a big factor, but right now, with the influx of young voters, I don’t think it’s enough to make you win,” he said.
Performance is key, he said, and this ties in with criticism of political dynasties. While the dynasty issue will affect him, he does not think it will be enough to knock him out of the race because people also look at candidates’ accomplishments.
He noted that “nonperforming dynasties” have seen themselves voted out of office because of lack of accomplishments.
Ejercito said he would support a law against political dynasties if it would apply to everybody. On the other hand, he said, it would be unfair to bar people from running for public office because of their names.
He said he had his own record to show, including a Ten Outstanding Young Men award as San Juan mayor, and higher revenues for the city during his term.
Ejercito takes pride in his role in getting a 40-percent increase for state colleges and universities in the 2013 budget.
If he wins, Ejercito said, he and Jinggoy will not be a “buy one, take one” deal.
There are issues in which their stands differ, he said, and one such issue is a “supercoalition” involving the Liberal Party and the UNA in May’s midterm elections.
Independence is vital, especially for the Senate so that it could tell the administration when something is wrong, especially since the House of Representatives has been its “rubber stamp” most time, Ejercito said.
He said he liked his colleagues in the House because many of them were junior legislators like him.
But he decided to run for the Senate after just one term in the House because of his good standing in preelection polls, which he took as a sign that the people wanted him in the Senate.
Actually, he said, he wanted to run for the Senate earlier, in 2007, on the Genuine Opposition ticket. But he “sacrificed” his ambition and gave way to the Liberal Party coalition’s candidates, Sonia Roco and then Sen. Benigno Aquino III.
For Ejercito, the hardest part of running for office is the steep cost of advertising.
In the past, 70 percent of the campaign consisted of barnstorming and other conventional methods, and 30 percent was media warfare.
Now it has been reversed, and airtime is expensive. This is why Ejercito is glad about stricter restrictions on TV advertising for candidates. The restrictions would level the playing field, he said.
Ejercito has received help from “unexpected donors” some of whom are from the “Makati crowd.”
His father also helps finance his campaign, he said.
Going back to his father, Ejercito said being identified as a son of the former President could be a bane to his campaign.
There are people who “generalize,” or those who remain staunchly against his father, and oppose all things associated with him, Ejercito said.
But he hopes to be judged for who he is, he said.