Who is Atty. Luke “Wag kang bastos!” Espiritu? 2
Atty. Luke Espiritu. Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Who is man of the hour Atty. Luke “Wag kang bastos!” Espiritu?

Meet the impassioned lawyer and labor leader everyone’s talking about
ANCX Staff | Mar 05 2022

“Wag kang bastos!” has been a trending catchphrase on social media the last couple of days. It’s being talked about even on Tarantadong Kalbo’s Facebook thread. His “Wag kang bastos!” comic strip has so far garnered 7.4K shares and 1.7K comments as of this writing.

For those who missed the recent SMNI Senatorial Debate, the three-word quote was spoken by lawyer and labor leader Atty. Luke Espiritu who is running for a senate seat under Ka Leody de Guzman’s Partido Lakas ng Masa. Sparks flew between Espiritu and fellow senatorial aspirant Atty. Larry Gadon Wednesday night—and former Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, also running for a senate seat under the KBL slate like Gadon, eventually got in on the action. Click on this link and go straight to the video’s 7-minute mark, if you still haven’t seen the heated back and forths. 

Espiritu’s impassioned response to Gadon and Roque earned him many people’s admiration, respect—and votes, if one is to believe netizens whose Tweets and status updates on Facebook saying they now have a new entry to their list of senators to support come May 9. 

“Atty. @LukeEspirituPH - you had me at #WagKangBastos! You have just earned 3 votes from our household! 💗🙌” said one. “Yes Sir! Ganyan ang kandidato, hindi lang basta banat ng banat, may baong resibo dapat!” said another. “Atty. Espiritu is proof that debates are important,” went yet another Tweet. “We voters get to know the ones who are unknown and validate that the famous ones know nothing.” 

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Luke who’s talking 

Clearly, Atty. Luke Espiritu is a name many have not heard before the SMNI senatorial debates. Our introduction to him was via his appearance in the “Sino Sen Nyo?” edition of the Teleradyo show SRO. He was among senatoriables whose credentials and platforms were being introduced to viewers. In the fast-talk segment, when host Doris Bigornia shot him the question: “May genie sa harap mo, ano-iwiwish mo?” Espiritu replied poker-faced: “Sana makulong si Duterte.” It took Bigornia, who was unable to control her laughter, a few seconds to regain composure. 

Reading the man’s profile posted on his Facebook wall, one would be made to believe Espiritu came from a privileged background. He was born in Bacolod, land of hacienderos. He attended grade school in La Salle, in both Bacolod and Greenhills. High school and college were spent at Ateneo de Manila. 

But Espiritu said those who know him will never refer to him as privileged, as per his latest interview with CNN Philippines' "News Night". In fact, his friends might laugh at the suggestion. People have mistaken him for a taxi driver, an air con repairman. He’s never worn an “Amerikana,” he claimed, except during the SMNI debate. 

In the same interview, Espiritu said he comes from a middle class family. His father was a lawyer whose earnings had to send not only the young Luke but his six siblings to school. “Hindi naman kami ganoong kayaman. Ang mga kaibigan ko ay simula pa noong bata ako—yung mga kapitbahay namin sa kanto,” said the senatorial aspirant. “Tapos naging religious pa ako, naging katekista kaya ang nakakasalamuha ko talaga ay yung mga nasa underprivileged ng lipunan.”

In Ateneo, he gelled with the scholars who came from public schools. And while the institution wasn’t exactly a haven for activism during his time, Espiritu told “News Night” his social and political awakening came rather early, having grown up in the Marcos era, with a lawyer for a father, and having been surrounded by activist priests in Bacolod.

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Leading from the ground  

Espiritu completed his law degree in 2002. It was the year after Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the Philippine presidency, an event the labor leader said he “could not accept.” “That was the time I was reaching out to different groups,” he told CNN. And this was how he was “discovered” by Sanlakas, a party list organization representing marginalized sectors.

Espiritu joined the law firm founded by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez in 2004 but he left in 2008 to join the mass movement. He may be regarded as a fresh face in the political scene but he’s a well-entrenched figure in the labor movement. At the SRO senatorial candidates’ interview, Espiritu described himself as a “labor leader leading from the ground.” 

He was president of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, a group comprised of 200 local unions and a member of over 100,000 laborers. He was also president of the labor federation Solidarity of Unions in the Philippines for Empowerment and Reforms (SUPER). He’s been working against contractualization and for fair minimum wage. He’s also helped organize labor strikes and address concerns of aggrieved workers during the pandemic.

As a lawyer, he specializes in advocacy cases—e.g., environment, academic freedom, human rights, among others. He also served as counsel for the victims of the extrajudicial killings in Escalante, Negros Occidental. 

Walden Bello, who’s running for vice president under Leody De Guzman’s party, says “Luke’s candidacy is a breath of fresh air in an election season that has so far been dominated by stale ideas and unprincipled compromises.”

De Guzman himself has high hopes Espiritu will be the voice of Filipino workers in the Senate. “Dadalhin niya sa Senado ang tapang at tibay na ipinakita niya bilang batikang lider manggagawa at ng mamamayan,” he said.