Doting daughter Jackie Ejercito jokingly rolled her eyes and smiled as she listened in on The T-Zone’s quick conversation with former president and now Manila City Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada on the latter’s 80th birthday celebration Wednesday night.
Asked if he had any idea how grand the occasion would be, “Erap”—as the idol of the masses is famously known—shook his head and replied, “No, I had no idea about all of this.”
With his back turned to a trio of giant LCD screens—each one flashing his photographs as a young boy and through his years as an actor and public servant—the brand-new octogenarian looked out to a sea of a hundred tables across the ginormous Fiesta Pavilion of The Manila Hotel, and deadpanned, “Jackie prepares everything so well for me; she makes everything so beautiful for me… The only problem is, I’m the one who’s footing the bill!”
And with that, his unica hija with wife and former First Lady and Senator Loi Ejercito threw her arms around her chuckling father, herself unable to resist that charm which so many Filipinos from all walks of life have come to love in the iconic actor-turned-politico.
After checking that Mayor Erap was comfortable amid the heat from the stage lights and the endless stream of well-wishers, Jackie joined The T-Zone anew and generously shared a few details on how she organized the elaborate but very tasteful and personal birthday bash.
“It took around four months to prepare this,” the ever understated but stylish Jackie related. “I didn’t go by any theme like everyone’s asking, but what I made sure was that my dad would get the only thing he asked for on his birthday tonight—reconciliation with everyone, whether in our family or in politics.”
True enough, of the 1,100 guests expected that evening, even the unexpected came to greet and celebrate the latest milestone of Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
Heads turned when the arrival of former president and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was announced, bringing to mind Mayor Erap’s unfinished impeachment trial, the infamous Edsa Dos, his incarceration, and GMA’s rise to power. She came with her husband, the equally controversial Mike Arroyo, both bearing warm smiles as they greeted the celebrant and members of the family.
Former Ilocos Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson was also spotted that evening, remembered too as former president Erap’s long-time friend whose whistleblower caper led to the chain of events ousting him from Malacañang in the first place.
But perhaps the saying, “Time heals all wounds” is indeed gospel truth, for Mayor Erap—who claimed innocence all through his life’s biggest ordeal—specifically asked Jackie to make sure his former rivals were invited. He even thanked them sincerely for attending his party during his speech later that evening.
Of the expected guests, allies such as former Vice President Jojo Binay and his wife former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay were present, as well as former first lady and Ilocos Norte Congresswoman Imelda Marcos; former senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and former senator Bongbong Marcos; Senators Nancy Binay and Manny Pacquiao; former house speaker Jose de Venecia and his wife Gina; and Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco, among others.
Mayor Erap’s longtime showbiz friends, meanwhile, were led by revered character actor Eddie Garcia who came with partner Lilybeth Romero, and gave a toast where he recalled how the celebrant just picked his stage surname Estrada from a phone book. Spotted too were Bacoor Mayor Lani Mercado; Manay Ichu Maceda; Pilita Corrales; Lorna Tolentino and son Rap; Tirso Cruz 3rd and wife Lynn; Annabelle Rama and Daisy Romualdez; Miss Manila and 2015 Miss Philippines Earth Angelia Ong; talent manager June Rufino; Viva’s Vincent del Rosario [who helped put together the tribute videos for the program]; the evening’s hosts Boots Anson Roa and Edu Manzano; and performers for the night Lani Misalucha, Martin Nievera, and Sarah Geronimo.
Meanwhile, besides considering their father’s 80th birth anniversary a priceless blessing to the family, the Ejercito Estradas were also very excited that evening to have his eldest son by “Dra. Loi,” detained former senator Jinggoy Estrada, spend several hours at the party with permission from the Sandiganbayan. In one of the highlights of the evening, when all of Mayor Erap’s 11 children sang a medley of Filipino classics, Senator Jinggoy’s live rendition of “Tanging Yaman”—the lyrics of which he changed as a touching tribute to his father—was most applauded. So was his moment with half-brother Senator JV Ejercito with whom he took center stage for the final bow. Setting aside their legendary sibling rivalry, the pair of “eldest sons” put their arms around each other to the delight of the crowd, and of course, their elated dad.
Like Jackie had said, reconciliation was the order of the evening. So that despite the ensuing tirade of Mayor Erap’s guest of honor President Rodrigo Duterte [against a certain television station, a national broadsheet, and some members of the clergy]toward the end of the evening, those closest to the Ejercito Estradas truly felt warm and fuzzy all over. For while it is indeed a blessing to have their patriarch strong and thriving at the age of 80, it was most heartening for them to see him at peace with the extraordinary life he has lived so far.
Mabuhay po kayo former president and Mayor Erap!