“Sino ang mag-aakala na ang lugar na aking kinatatayuan sa araw na ito ay nasadlak sa dugo, siphayo at pighati. Marami ang nagbuwis ng kanilang buhay, dahilan upang magising ang damdaming makabayan ng madlang Pilipino, na napakatagal nang panahon na nasadlak sa pagkagapi at pagkayurak ng dangal.
“Ang Pinaglabanan ay hindi lamang patungkol sa pagmumulat sa kamalayan kung hindi ay simbolo ng pagbangon sa pagkaka-alpas sa tanikala ng kaapihan. Ang Pinaglabanan ay isang diwa ng pag-asa, na sa gitna ng pagkagumon sa dilim, ay may liwanag na darating. Na sa kabila ng kasawian, ay mapapag tagumpayan ang hangarin para sa matamis sa kasarinlan.”
These words are lifted from Vice Mayor Janella Ejercito Estrada’s speech at the 122nd commemoration of the Battle of Pinaglabanan in San Juan City on August 30. Profound and introspective, they hardly seem like a message from a 28-year-old millennial—the day’s generation of young adults supposedly driven by the YOLO [You Only Live Once] philosophy and generally thought to put personal goals and dreams before anything or anyone else. They work hard so they can play hard for themselves and among likeminded peers, FOMO [that one means “for fear of missing out].”
But then again, in taking a closer look at this millennial’s young life thus far, it will make sense that she speaks of love for country, self-giving, sacrifice and hope despite her generation.
Born November 23, 1989, Janella Ejercito Estrada has known no other life than one ingrained in public service. Her grandfather, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, was then two years into national politics as senator, and on his way to becoming vice president in 1992, and finally president of the Philippines another six years later.
Dad Jinggoy Estrada, was also a young vice mayor of San Juan when he and wife Precy had Janella as their eldest, eventually occupying the mayor’s office and a seat in the Senate as well.
Despite the blows and controversies that plagued both her grandfather and father’s political careers through the years, it was but natural for Janella to follow in their footsteps, exposed and involved in community projects in San Juan the moment she was old enough to go out on medical missions and other outreach programs in the barangay.
Even in school, she was active in the student government, and upon reaching college had her eyes set on Political Science at De La Salle University, where she graduated in 2012.
The following year, she braved the political arena and ran for councilor at age 23, immediately taking on the very advocacies vital to her generation, among them Education, Sports, Youth Welfare and Development, Social Entrepreneurship and even Social Media Responsibility. Within two years, various sectors and organizations took notice of her projects, and numerous city ordinances and resolutions passed, earning her the Natatanging Pilipinang Konsehala recognition by 2015.
Buoyed by the fulfillment of seeing the lives of San Juaneños improve with her contribution to the council—serving with her grandfather’s battle cry, “Erap Para sa Mahirap” very much in mind—Janella believed she could do more by the end of her term, running and winning as vice mayor in her mid-20s.
In her capacity as presiding officer, she was able to do what previous vice mayors were unable to in the city council, and that is unite all 12 elected councilors of San Juan’s perpetual opposing parties, allowing a more functional and productive local government to serve their constituents.
Serving under Mayor Guia Gomez, the San Juan City website reports of its second highest elected official, “Under [J[Janella’s]eadership, the Sangguniang Panlungsod was able to enact ordinances and resolutions to support the continued progress of the city and posted a 92 percent rate of enacted pieces of legislations over those filed as of October 2017.
“San Juan City was also able to pass important pieces of legislations in support The Comprehensive Dangerous Act, the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons and the LGBTIQ Anti-Discrimination Bill, among others.
“As Mayor Guia Gomez’s appointed Chief Operating Officer of the San Juan City Anti-Drug Abuse Council (CADAC), Janella was able to facilitate the compulsory rehabilitation of drug dependents at the Bicutan Treatment and Rehabilitation Center, the creation of the City Anti-Drug Abuse Council Office and the implementation of the cash for work program for the Rehab Sa Barangay Anti-Narcotics Action Team (BANAT) for its recovering clients.
“She further initiated Rehab sa Barangay, an NCRPO best practice strategy patterned after the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Community-Based Treatment and Care for People Affected by Drug Use and Dependence in the Philippines, which to date has recorded more than 500 graduates who have started or are starting to rejoin the community.”
Given her achievements, it came in some political circles that Mayor Gomez—with whom her grandfather has a second family—was quick to endorse Janella to replace her as she nears the end of her term. They had thought personal issues between the two families would get in the way of their work in San Juan, which Janella emphatically expels. In fact, she has looked up to Gomez’s leadership and had long felt fortunate to have had a very supportive mayor since she was councilor.
“That’s why I’m very grateful and very flattered Mayor Guia endorsed my run as mayor in next year’s election,” a somewhat shy Janella told The Sunday Times Magazine.
“I’m not very used to interviews,” she admitted. “So it’s a good thing my dad’s here with me today,” she added smiling.
Not one to boast of her accomplishments, it was quite understandable that her father Jinggoy stepped into the conversation, proud of what his daughter had accomplished, especially since his personal circumstances have prevented him from physically being present to guide Janella’s political career.
“If you compare her accomplishments to mine when I was vice mayor of San Juan, mas marami siyang nagawa kesa sa akin, and she’s just in her first term,” the former senator said. “Especially in the anti-drug campaign, where she has effectively given priority to rehabilitating users and giving them another chance to live better lives.”
Asked whether she found it difficult to carve her own name outside her father’s when she was elected to office the first time, Janella replied in the affirmative, chuckling a little bit when she said, “Ganun did po pala kahit babae ka at hindi junior ng tatay mo. But of course I am proud that the people of San Juan have a high regard for my dad until now, because of what he did as mayor and vice mayor during his time, kaya handang handa na po rin po ako for next year now that he’s out of detention. Now, he’ll be there for me every step of the way.”
Finally bringing up the YOLO philosophy to the young vice mayor, The Sunday Times Magazine asked Janella if she would like to forge a different path today, given the chance. Perhaps live more freely like her peers who own their time, who travel when they want to, and work for only for themselves, be it in business or up the corporate ladder.
Without having to think about her reply, Janella went on to sound just as she did on Pinaglabanan Day: “Simula pa lang nung bata ako, nakikita ko na kung paano magsilbi ang lolo ko, ang tatay ko sa tao. Kung paano sila makiisa sa mahihirap at maglingkod para sa ikagaganda ng buhay nila. Kaya alam ko po noon pa na ito ang calling ko, bilang Estrada, bilang si Janella, so this is where I’m meant to be.”