Voters in Laguna are choosing between “Asiong Aksaya” and “Congressman Epal”—monikers that rival candidates for governor are hurling at each other in their first-time face-off in the May elections.
“Asiong Aksaya” is a pun derived from the onscreen character “Asiong Salonga” that Gov. Jeorge “ER” Ejercito played in the 2011 remake of the 1961 film that starred his uncle, former President Joseph Estrada.
“Epal,” on the other hand, is a Filipino slang for attention grabber. Ejercito refers to fourth district Rep. Edgar “Egay” San Luis by this name.
And the mudslinging gets uglier.
San Luis, in his campaign sorties, never fails to mention Ejercito’s “tardiness.” He cites one instance when the governor arrived late for a meeting with President Benigno Aquino III to discuss the supposed dredging of the flood basin Laguna de Bay.
“He would refer to me as a son of a bold star and accuse me of being (a drug) addict, and that’s not very nice,” Ejercito said of San Luis in a recent phone interview.
He hit back, accusing the congressman of spending most of his time in casinos or playing golf.
Ejercito, 49, is seeking a second term under the United Nationalist Alliance. An actor like his late father, George Estregan, Ejercito entered politics in 2001 when he was elected mayor of Pagsanjan town and held that office up to 2010.
“My long record of service can no longer be disputed,” he bragged.
During his first term as governor, he said, Laguna’s annual gross income rose from P1.7 billion to P2.3 billion.
He said he was able to build 286 more classrooms and hire 300 more teachers, bringing down the teacher-pupil ratio of 1:80 down to 1:45.
State hospital facilities have been upgraded and the provincial capitol and sports complex improved, Ejercito said. At least 12,000 new businesses emerged and the number of tourist arrivals doubled yearly from two million in 2010 to 4.8 million last year.
These were the outcomes of his tourism campaign from his “connections” in show business, he said.
“(Given) my popularity and performance, how can he beat that?” Ejercito said.
Running against a movie star does not threaten San Luis though.
“The people of Laguna know better. We’re (talking of) a serious matter here and people know that we don’t need a governor like Asiong Salonga or El Kamote or whatever,” he said. In 2012, Ejercito starred in the movie “El Presidente.”
San Luis, 57, is the youngest son of former Laguna Gov. Felicisimo San Luis, who kept the position for 33 years until 1992.
San Luis became congressman in 2007 and ran unopposed for a second term in 2010. His late brother, Rodolfo, was also representative of the fourth district.
Asked what made him run for governor under the administration’s Liberal Party, he pointed at “the graft and corruption at the provincial capitol.”
San Luis promised to bring development to the entire province, particularly to push for the creation of a Metro Laguna.
He said Metro Laguna would be composed of the bigger municipalities and cities in the first and second districts, namely: San Pedro, Biñan City, Sta. Rosa City, Cabuyao City, Calamba City and Los Baños town.
“Eventually, they will separate from the province, so why wait for that to happen?” he said.
San Luis said rapid urbanization was leaving the rest of Laguna behind. With the separation of Metro Laguna, the province’s budget could be wholly allotted for agro-industrialization in the third and fourth districts.
Aside from Ejercito’s wife, Pagsanjan Mayor and reelectionist Maita, his two younger brothers—Gherome Eric and Gerald—are aspiring for seats in the provincial board, representing the first and fourth districts. On the other hand, San Luis’ son, Rai-ann, is also seeking to become a board member in the fourth district.
Dynasties are not a problem as long as elected officials perform their jobs, Ejercito said. But to San Luis, dynasties remain a gray area in the Constitution that must be revisited.