Senatorial debate sizzler: When Harry and Larry met Luke
MANILA, Philippines — In the senatorial debate organized by and aired on Wednesday by Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), lawyer and labor leader Luke Espiritu was the runaway winner.
Espiritu dressed down fellow lawyers Harry Roque and Larry Gadon, both members of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s senatorial slate, for their support of the late dictator and his son and namesake, the survey front-runner among the presidential candidates.
A composite video clip showing Espiritu fulminating in a mix of English and Filipino against Gadon and Roque trended on both Twitter and Facebook, with a number of netizens declaring that they would vote for him.
“It’s still my time, don’t be rude,” Espiritu snapped at Gadon after again being interrupted while talking about why schools should teach the “correct values” that extrajudicial killings, Red-tagging, and Ferdinand Marcos’ regime were all “evil.”
The moderator had to intervene, telling Gadon to let Espiritu finish his remarks.
Ironically, it was Gadon who triggered the verbal fireworks when he accused the Roman Catholic Church and “many” of its priests for supposedly failing to impart values and good manners to the young and busying themselves politicking and issuing anti-Marcos and pro-communist “propaganda.”
Gadon is under preventive suspension from law practice by the Supreme Court for recording himself spewing profanities at journalist Raissa Robles last December. He is facing disbarment complaints in the high court.
‘Matter of record’
When it was his turn to react, Gadon said not all killings should be blamed on Marcos. He accused the Communist Party of the Philippines leadership of massacring rebels who wanted to surrender to the government and for masterminding the deadly Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971.“We should not use this forum for propaganda against the Marcoses,” Gadon said.
Espiritu, who is running under the Partido Lakas ng Masa with fellow labor leader Leody de Guzman as standard-bearer, said it was “a matter of record” that 3,257 were killed, 35,000 tortured, and 70,000 jailed during the dictatorship, eliciting another protest from Gadon.
The labor leader said children should be taught to respect life and human rights, and that governments should not kill and steal.
Espiritu, 47, is a juris doctor graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, a private law practitioner, and a former president of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino and of Solidarity of Unions in the Philippines for Empowerment and Reforms.
‘I know your history’
Roque, a former spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte, used his rebuttal time to point out that he searched records in the United States and found that Marcos Jr. was not facing any human rights case.
Referring to the ill-gotten wealth cases against the Marcoses and their cronies that were decided by the Philippine Supreme Court, Roque said that while it was true that Marcos Jr. was a co-administrator of his father’s estate, there was no finding that he stole.
Said Espiritu: “With all due respect, I know your history. 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, you cry hallelujah and praise Marcos.”
Replied Roque: “There was nothing respectful with what you said against me. The truth is that we are not talking about the dead Marcos. We are talking about the living Marcos. For me, let the offender be made accountable, but those who did not commit any sin, let us not include them in the blame. That’s all.”
The candidates were asked about the proposed abolition of Republic Act No. 9344 (also known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 and the Pangilinan Law, after its author, Sen. Francis Pangilinan), which exempts all minors from criminal liability.
Under the law, minors below 15 years old will be made to undergo an intervention program, and those 15 to 18 years old found to have acted with discernment, a “diversion” program.
Prior to his lambasting Gadon, Espiritu said he was against the proposed lowering of the age of criminal responsibility and penalizing parents for offenses committed by their children. He said the problem of juvenile crime was caused by social problems.
Roque also said he opposed the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility, adding that a child’s mind remained in the process of development until the age of 15. “And until that time we should exert all efforts to reform and to show the right path to all children,” he said.
SMNI senior anchor Eleanor Cardona, who posed the question for the round, had the last word on the three lawyer-candidates’ heated argument. “It takes a topic on children, and then this is what happens. That’s why we really have a problem with this law. We’re becoming juvenile here,” she said.
Cardona said that should the candidates win in the May elections, they should accept the fact that some children as young as 9 years old were already under the influence of criminal syndicates and committing serious crimes.
She said legislation was needed to establish who should be held liable.
In a message posted later on his Facebook page, Espiritu lamented the lack of time in the debate and wished for “more encounters with these shameless ones.”
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