After two senatorial candidates from the camp of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. were embarrassed during a televised debate, his camp announced they would no longer take part in any debate for any position.

The Marcos camp, however, later denied the withdrawal report which appeared over social media, and which was attributed to his spokesman. However, they refused to confirm if their candidate would attend future debates.

The brouhaha came after Luke Espiritu, a relatively unknown senatorial candidate, angrily told Larry Gadon to shut up for interrupting him while he was speaking, then addressed former presidential spokesman Harry Roque for abandoning his past as a human rights lawyer and anti-Marcos activist after he had been given a slot in the senate slate of Marcos Jr.

Gadon — who has been suspended by the Supreme Court for his profanity-laced attack against a female journalist – said the forum should not be used for propaganda against the Marcos family.

But Espiritu said it was not propaganda but “a matter of record” that tens of thousands of Filipinos were victimized by the martial law regime of the father and namesake of the presidential candidate. He cited figures from Amnesty International.

When Gadon tried to interrupt him a second time, Espiritu raised his voice and said in the vernacular that his fellow senate bid should stop being impolite.

Espiritu’s verbal sparring with Roque was no less colorful.

Addressing the former spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte, Espiritu said: “I know your history. You were anti-Marcos before.

You were for human rights. 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.”

In his rebuttal, Roque said the issue was not about a dead Marcos but one who was alive and well, and who “has done no wrong.”

The exchange went viral over social media, and turned Espiritu into a media sensation. The lawyer and labor leader is a senate bet under the tandem of labor leader Leody de Guzman and Walden Bello.

Bello himself caused a stir when he cursed the Marcos Jr.—Duterte-Carpio tandem the previous week during a debate for vice-presidential bets, which the running mate of Marcos Jr. also failed to attend, citing “personal reasons.”

The Marcos Jr. camp said at the end of last week that the news of their withdrawing from all debates was “fake information.”

The candidate’s spokesman, lawyer Vic Rodriguez, said the report was “a complete falsity and downright lie.”

He, however, would not say if Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio would finally join the various debates, including one hosted by the Commission on Elections later this month.
Marcos Jr.

had been widely criticized for refusing to join the debates, often citing “scheduling conflicts” even if the schedules of the debates were furnished the candidates beforehand.

Rodriguez cited “gutter politics” allegedly resorted to by some candidates as the reason they have stayed away from the debates.

Critics say, however, that it was the refusal of the debate organizers to furnish advance copies of questions to be asked as the reason Marcos Jr. has been staying away from the events.

In the only debate that Marcos Jr. attended, organized by SMNI, a broadcast company owned by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, who has endorsed the Marcos—Duterte-Carpio tandem, was snubbed by the four other main presidential bets – Leni Robredo, Isko Moreno, Ping Lacson, and Manny Pacquiao – and was attended by four lesser-known bets who have been given no chance of winning.

Followers of Marcos Jr. had been asking him to join the debates after the followers of the other candidates accused him of not having a program of government, at best, and being a coward, at worst.

They blame his declining popularity and the rise in the stock of Robredo for his absence in the debates as well as her ability to answer all questions with no-nonsense, straightforward replies.