From a young age, Jerika Ejercito has been thrust into the spotlight. Her father is former Philippine president Joseph Ejercito Estrada, popularly known as Erap, and her mother is former actress Laarni Enriquez. Erap’s term was cut short in 2001 as corruption allegations led to an impeachment trial and his ousting. He was imprisoned for seven years.

For Ejercito, then only 16, the pressure of public scrutiny led to eating disorders, depression, suicide attempts, and a lifestyle of partying and drinking. Yet at age 27 she found Christ, and her new relationship with God sparked a life transformation.

Today Ejercito is a mother of five, an Instagram influencer, a Christian life coach, and a women’s ministry leader with a passion for biblical counseling. She talked to CT about her journey of finding redemption in Christ and how she now helps others process hardships and traumas like the ones she once kept secret.

This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.

Can you tell me about your unique family and upbringing?

My parents are both public figures. My mom was an actress and my dad was an actor turned politician who held government office for 50 years: He was a mayor, senator, vice president, and then the president of the Philippines (1988–2001).

My dad has led a colorful life and has never been ashamed of it. He’s had many partners and nine children outside his marriage—including me and my two younger brothers. Growing up, I was very confused; the whole situation was too complicated for a child to understand, and my parents were not equipped to explain it to me in a way that I would understand.

We Filipinos tend to sweep things under the rug and just pray that everything will turn out okay. We don’t talk about the elephant in the room.

It's easy for people to cast stones against my dad. We are a very Catholic country, and people judge easily. Despite everything, my dad is a loving man. He’s the most generous person I know. He takes care of all of his children equally, and that says a lot about his character. Still, our unusual setup made me feel very insecure; we did not have a strong family foundation at home.

How did your father’s impeachment trial in 2001 impact you?

A few years before the impeachment trial, I was sexually abused. I was around 13 and already kind of lost. Suddenly, my innocence was gone, and that started my rebellious streak. I felt like I had nothing more to lose. After that incident, I became very conscious of my body and became bulimic at age 15.

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So when the impeachment happened a year later, I was already a mess. I was in high school, and because of who my father was, I was bullied incessantly. My parents didn’t know how to handle the situation. We didn’t want to make things worse, because there was an ongoing impeachment. My younger brothers and I were all left to just figure things out on our own.

I couldn’t even share with anyone about the bullying I experienced in school because there were just so many things happening all at once. My mom didn’t know how to deal with all the pressure, so she sent me away to boarding school in the UK. She felt like I was going to be safer outside the Philippines.

I was 17 with all of these issues in my head: I felt worthless, not good enough, ashamed, guilty from the abuse and what was happening to my dad—and then I was sent away to be by myself. It was the first time I left the country without my family for that long, and everything just went downhill from there.

Jerika Ejercito with her husband and kids.
Image: Courtesy of Jerika Ejercito

Jerika Ejercito with her husband and kids.

Were you able to process that with anyone?

No, because it’s cultural for us to dismiss things like that. Sexual abuse is more common than we would like to admit. It’s a very shameful thing—especially for us because our family is well-known. I never really opened up about it publicly until now, but I would open up about it in church settings when they asked for my testimony.

After being sent away, I wanted to escape. I didn’t want to feel the pain and the shame. I felt so dirty and worthless. I needed things and people to numb me and take my mind off of it, and that’s how I dealt with it for the next 10 years. I don’t think I was ever sober in those 10 years.

None of my friends in boarding school were Christians, so we would feed off of each other’s brokenness. But I was still a good daughter and did everything my parents wanted me to do, and I managed to graduate from university. In 2011, my mom told me it was time to come home—and it was the last thing I wanted to do. When I left, it was the height of the impeachment, and I never really dealt with all the trauma that came with that. It felt safer to stay away from the Philippines.

But then my mom said, “No, it’s time to come home. Your dad has been released; it’s time to make up for lost time.” And so I went home without dealing with my issues.

How did you come to Christ?

Our faith journey started with my mom, who gave her life to the Lord in 1989 when I was four. From then until my teen years, she would constantly go back and forth between the Protestant and the Catholic church. Long before the impeachment, we had already experienced a lot of condemnation from both sides. So we were sometimes Protestant, sometimes Catholic, depending on where we felt a little more welcome. The seed of the gospel was planted in us, but I had a hard time separating God and church back then. He really had to bring me to a breaking point so I could meet him.

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During a family gathering in 2012, a cousin of mine who happens to be a pastor came up to me and asked how I was. I wanted to run away because I knew he would try to take me to church again. As I started talking to him, I felt the heaviness of everything and broke down.

At that time, I was already searching. I had tried taking my life twice already. My mom was scared that if I talked to a psychiatrist, they would spread rumors about our family. But I knew I needed help.

After talking to my cousin, I decided that I was going to give Christianity one last try, and this time I’d give it my best shot. I quit drugs. I quit drinking. I quit going out. I started going to therapy, but I ended up feeling more confused than when I started. I felt like I was just going around in circles. So I stopped therapy and focused on my faith.

That’s when I nosedived into Christianity. I did not have a life outside of church. I thought, if this God is who he says he is, then maybe he’s my last chance. So I nosedived into my faith, and here I am now, still nosediving.

You mentioned that faith was more helpful than therapy for you. How so?

Secular therapy is focused on relief. It will give you relief, but there’s no transformation. I was relieved of my addiction and certain compulsions, but I was not changed. I knew I needed more. I don’t want to knock secular therapy, because it did help me quit the bad stuff, the glaring sins. But it was so self-focused, and if I’m trying to save myself, I can’t keep looking at the self. When I took my faith seriously, that was when real transformation happened.

While I was doing therapy, I got pregnant with my first son, Isaiah, with a guy I was in a very toxic relationship with. I eventually left that relationship because it was pulling me down. That was another big blow. I had already started going to church, and the whole congregation was praying for us, asking God to breathe life into this relationship. But nothing happened.

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I got really depressed again because I didn’t want a broken family for my son. I didn’t want him to experience what I experienced. Eventually, I decided that if it was just going to be me, my son, and God, I’d be okay. I told God, “If this is your will, then I submit. Just help me raise my son.”

Not long after, I met my husband. Later on, my mom also renewed her faith, and that’s when our relationship started to get better. I also began having better relationships with my brothers. Restoration happened. That’s when I saw that the kind of transformation with the Lord is not just relief—it’s a deep heart surgery. When he humbled me enough to realize that I could not do things on my own, everything took a turn.

One time, after I shared my testimony at a church, people told me, “Wow, you went through all of that?” The term they used was Walang bakas! (“There is no trace!”). And I said, “Well, in Christ, there really is no trace.”

Has your family been supportive of your faith journey?

At first, it was just me and my youngest brother, Jacob, who would go to church. My mom also had her own faith journey. She had a health issue and went through a season of wilderness; that’s when she really became on fire for the Lord. It helped restore our relationship naturally in a way that could not have happened through secular therapy. There was just so much resentment and trauma between me and my mom—I blamed her for a lot of things, but then I realized she was also just doing her best in her brokenness. This restoration was only possible with Christ.

Whenever I visit my dad, I play GOD TV, and he doesn’t realize it’s just there in the background. Back in the day, when he was incarcerated, he did Bible study with one of our family friends. I know his life does not reflect it, but my dad is a prayerful man. Growing up, I would always see him pray. Whether he has given his life to Christ is between him and the Lord. Whenever I see him, I pray for him and do little things to help him hear the Word. On my mom’s side, more and more relatives are becoming believers, and we’re praying for them.

What are some areas in life where you still face challenges today?

It’s easy to deal with the glaring sins, the obvious ones. But the tiny ones, the compulsive sins, are the ones that will get you. Sometimes I still place my worth on being a wife or a mom—my worth is not completely in Christ. For example, when my husband and I argue, I explode quite quickly. This happens especially when he corrects me. I would feel convicted after that. I know that correction is from the Lord, but when it’s my husband, I get so annoyed.

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I’m also still working through hardwired ways of bringing up the kids in the way I was brought up. Sometimes I shout too often, but I try to catch myself and ask God to make me a gentle and quiet spirit. There are some sins, thorns in my flesh, that remind me how dependent I am [on God]. Nothing good comes out of me. Nothing.

As a content creator, do you ever feel ensnared by the approval found in likes on social media?

Ever since I was bullied during my dad’s impeachment trial, I have been conditioned to not care about what people say. If I do, it will consume me. I’ve had that foundation. So now that I have this platform, I don’t care much for likes. This is who I am, and this is how passionate I am about the God I serve.

If you find that cheesy, that’s okay. If you’re learning something, I’m happy that you’re here. Of course, I have friends from different industries, and being a Christian is not always cool in everyone’s eyes. But this is my life, and I am not ashamed of the gospel. I do pray, though, every time I post something. I pray for wisdom in creating the content I put out there.

Tell me about how you became interested in becoming a biblical counselor.

In 2012, a few months after renewing my faith, I started becoming a mental health advocate. I got really deep into it—I even joined the research group for the Mental Health Law, spoke in the Senate, and campaigned alongside politicians advocating for it.

However, as I grew in my faith, I realized that the principles of secular therapy would always be in conflict with what the Bible says. And so, in 2020, I quietly left mental health advocacy because it just left me even more confused than I already was. I tried to find out if there was a combination of mental health and spirituality. And two years ago, I learned the term psycho-spiritual. That was it—exactly what I was looking for this whole time.

Recently, my brother Jacob started working on his life coaching certificate and said, “I can see you doing this too!” But I didn’t want to do it if it wasn’t Christian or Bible-based. I already knew what didn’t work. So, I prayed and read about Christian life coaching. I applied and got my Christian life coaching certificate.

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As I researched further, I ended up reading about biblical counseling. I sensed that it was where God was leading me.

I’ve been working on my certification for a year and a half now. It’s a long and difficult process, but I’m enjoying it. God has been so gracious. He’s healing things as I go along learning about biblical counseling. It’s also ministering to me and helping me minister to others. It helps when I invite the Holy Spirit, am sensitive to his leading, and really abide in the Word in one-on-one conversations.

What sustains your passion for God and your ministry?

I am a product of God’s grace—nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, but we are called to be faithful in the little things. I try to be faithful with what’s in front of me. I try to be faithful in what he has given me for the day, and I surrender the big things to him. He has shown up for me countless times, so even when I doubt, I go back and remember the times that he saved me.