Labor lawyer Luke Espiritu lit up social media after his fiery rebuttals against fellow senatorial bets Larry Gadon and Harry Roque during the SMNI debates on March 2.
During the debates hosted by the network owned by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy who's wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for sex trafficking of children, attendees were asked: "How will you address the problem of children being used as scapegoats in the commission of grave crimes?"
Espiritu said he is against lowering the age of criminal responsibility and holding parents responsible for their children's crimes, as the issue is a "social problem."
"Dapat tinuturo sa school na masama ang extrajudicial killings, masama ang red-tagging," he said, "masama si (Ferdinand) Marcos. Marami siyang human rights violation."
As Espiritu was about to elaborate on his statement, Gadon interrupted him, saying that he disagrees.
Tensions erupted between Gadon and Espiritu, as the latter spoke "It's still my time" 11 times before telling the disbarred lawyer, "Don't be rude!"
The host then granted Espiritu his remaining 20 seconds.
"Dapat tinuturuan natin ang kabataan na respetuhin ang kabataan ang human rights," he said. "Na di dapat pumapatay ang gobyerno. At hindi nagnanakaw."
In his rebuttal, Gadon said, "We should not use this forum for a propaganda against the Marcoses." In answering the question earlier, he also took to task the Catholic Church, accusing it of doing nothing but criticize Marcos and the Martial Law, which the late dictator imposed as he held on to power for 20 years.
"Marami sa mga pari na sa halip na magturo ng leksiyon sa mga bata," Gadon said, "ang inaatupag nila iyong mga anti-Marcos, anti-Martial Law."
"Dapat suhetuhin din itong Catholic Church," he noted. "Dapat ang ituro niyo, kagandahang asal, hindi pamomolitika."
When it was Espiritu's turn to refute Gadon, he started with a warning, "Binuksan mo ang usapan, huwag mo ako pagbawalan."
"I go for the record, Amnesty International, 3,257 ang pinatay noong panahon ni Marcos," he said at the 3:55:47 mark, as Gadon can be seen trying to interrupt him but his microphone was turned off.
"It’s my time, huwag kang bastos," an impassioned Espiritu said as he pointed at Gadon who was attempting to cut him off, "35,000 ang tinorture, 70,000 ang kinulong. It’s a matter of record."
According to Amnesty International data, 70,000 people were detained, 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed under the Marcos regime.
Harry Roque defends Marcos Jr.
Roque, meanwhile, chimed in and came to the defense of Ferdinand's son and namesake Bongbong Marcos Jr., saying he hasn't committed any crime.
“Kung anumang nangyari sa nakaraan, inisa-isa ko po ang records, wala pong kaso for human rights violations sa Amerika si Ferdinand Marcos Jr.," Roque said. "Inisa-isa ko rin po ang mga kaso na decided ng ating Philippine Supreme Court, totoo po, co-administrator si Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos. Wala pong kaso na siya mismo ang nagnakaw."
Espiritu, then, took the time to call out the former palace spokesman who was a Marcos critic as well as a human rights defender before running under the Marcos Jr. slate alongside Gadon.
"With all due respect to Atty. Harry Roque, I know your history," he said at the 2:49:41 mark. "You were anti-Marcos before. You were for human rights before. You spent your life against the Marcoses. You worked for human rights."
"And now that you were given a Senate spot under the party of Bongbong Marcos, now you cry hallelujah and praise Marcos?" he added.
But for Roque, "There is nothing respectful with what you said against me," adding that the topic is not the deceased Marcos Sr. but Marcos Jr. who's running in the May elections."
"Sa akin, panagutin ang nagkasala, ang hindi gumawa ng kasalanan wag natin idamay sa sisi," Roque said, as a panelist intervened in the heated exchange and reverted to the original topic about children committing crimes."
Espiritu has grown his Twitter follower base to over 17,000 following the SMNI debate, with many netizens giving credit to his impassioned stand.
"The way Atty. Luke Espiritu roasted Larry Gadon and exposed Harry Roque was extremely satisfying," one Twitter user said, followed by a fire emoji.
"Atty. Luke Espiritu is the bardagulan king we need in the Senate," another Twitter user said.
Espiritu has also been among Twitter's trending topics. According to trends tracker trends24, there are already over 34,000 tweets about him in the last 17 hours.
He posted a video thanking his Twitter followers.
"Maraming salamat sa lahat ng sumusuporta sa atin. Nakukulangan pa ako sa bakbakan. Gusto ko pa makipagbakbakan," he said, chuckling.
Mahaba man ang naging bakbakan, simula pa lang ng laban.— Luke Espiritu (@LukeEspirituPH) March 2, 2022
Salamat sa lahat ng nakiisa. pic.twitter.com/oG1rT37bNk
“Kaya sana magkaroon pa tayong maraming engkuwentro sa mga walang-hiyang ito," Espiritu added, noting that he's looking forward to having more supporters.
The SMNI senatorial debates will be held in two parts. Senatorial aspirants who attended the first part included Loren Legarda, Rodante Marcoleta, and Salvador Panelo.
The second part, held on March 3 at 6:00pm, will see the presence of Gringo Honasan, JV Ejercito, Manny Piñol, and Greco Belgica.
Human rights lawyer Neri Colmeranes, meanwhile, took to Twitter saying that he wasn't invited.
Good morning! Sa mga nagtatanong bakit wala ako sa SMNI senatorial debate kagabi, sa totoo lang, I was not invited.— Neri Colmenares (@ColmenaresPH) March 3, 2022