We Asked Luke Espiritu If He Was a Communist. His Answers Floored Us
Luke Espiritu catapulted into the national consciousness after he was seen shutting down fellow senatorial candidate Larry Gadon during an SMNI debate with the words, “It’s still my time, huwag kang bastos!”
In this exclusive interview with Esquire Philippines, Luke Espiritu answers why he’s running for senator, what his most profound memory is, and whether or not he's a communist.
Esquire Philippines: Why did you decide to run for senator?
Luke Espiritu: It’s a natural development in the labor movement. In 2019, various labor groups coalesced. We fielded candidates for the senate in that year. In 2022, we also have to run candidates under labor, but of course, it is a different complexion because it is a presidential elections year. Hindi nagkaroon ng coalition of labor wing this year because labor candidates are running in different groups. I am running under the slate of Ka Leody De Guzman as senator because Ka Leody is already running for president.
Our politics today is quite at its infantile stage because there is no discourse on social class in the country, and that’s really bound to happen if there is nobody from the working class to contest the elections. So what kind of discourse ensues? The contending political parties from the traditional politicians are all the same when we talk about their class outlook, economic policies, and their views on everything. They espouse neoliberal politics in favor of big business.
So kapag ganyan sila na wala silang pinagkakaiba, anong pagdidiskursohan nila? Wala. Hindi sila magde-debate tungkol sa ekonomiya. Pare-parehas silang para sa big business. Bumabagsak ang ating diskursong pampulitika at nagiging non-issues ang pinag-uusapan. Ang pinakamatingkad na isyu na pinag-uusapan nila ay kung sino ang mas kurap at sino ang mas malinis sa atin. Diyan lang umiinog ang diskursong pampulitika.
Ang interes ng mga nasa ibaba, hindi lang ng mga manggagawa, kundi lahat ng working class at lahat ng sektor na naghahanapbuhay para sa kanilang mga pamilya, walang puwang para sa kanila if we do not run labor candidates. We want to give a push to the workers’ movement to become an independent political force.
Kahit na 40 million ang ating mga manggagawa, bumubuntot na lang sila sa mga political parties at political candidates who are property owners. One of the absurd effects is these candidates who are property owners who advance the interest of the billionaires, they lead in the votes among those they oppress.
Marami diyan na mga candidates for senator are real estate developers who are embroiled in cases of land grabbing. Sino ang mga sumusuporta sa kanila? Iyong mga walang lupa. Yung interes ng masang Pilipino ay hindi naitutulak, at sila pa ay nakukumbinsi pang bumoto sa kanila. Silang mga walang lupa, bumoboto sa mga land grabber at real estate developer.
Silang mga manggagawang kontraktwal at walang pag-asa sa buhay at security of tenure, bumoboto sa mga may-ari ng pabrika at mga kapitalista. Ang mga maralita, bumoboto sa mga walang pakialam sa problema sa housing at mataas na presyo at mga nais pang i-deregulate pa ang mga sensitibong industriya tulad ng langis. Ang mga bumoboto doon ay mismong mga biktima ng mga polisiya nila.
This country is getting crazier every day and the reason for that is mababa ang antas ng class consciousness. One of the ways we can raise consciousness is to contest the elections and raise the discourse. We see that as a positive contribution of me and Ka Leody running.
ESQ: Are you a communist or do you consider yourself a communist?
LE: You know, that term is open to a lot of misinformation.
That term has been demonized and I refuse to be demonized by people who want to preserve the old system. There was a point in time when the term “communist” had a positive connotation. It represents people who want to make society more humane.
A hundred years ago, when you talked about being a communist, you were viewed as a saint, a visionary. You wanted to transform society from a state of barbarism to something more humane. What happened since then?
The term was demonized to describe undemocratic people. There was a false dichotomy created between communists and democracies—if you were against communism, then you were pro-democracy. And that’s a misconception because they call the elite form of dictatorship "elite democracy" or "liberal-bourgeois democracy."
The term “communism” was demonized using the example of Stalin and Pol Pot and Kim Il-Jung and other communist regimes in the 20th century. Todo-todong na-demonize na yung term na “communist.”
I will not allow myself to be demonized because my message is very, very clear. It will just add to misconception kung papatulan ko yung demonization na iyan na makakatulong lang sa mga conservative elements and property owners na ipatuloy yung demonization na iyan. Therefore, I refuse to call myself one and to invite that kind of demonization sa aking sarili.
I would rather say that I am a socialist. I am a proletarian socialist. And I am for the workers, and I am still for type of society that is more humane, not barbaric, na makatao, na malawak ang demokrasya, na niyayakap ang sangkatauhan at hindi lang ang kalalakihan, pati ang karapatan ng kababaihan, karapatan ng LGBTQ, in the same way na niyayakap ang mga manggagawa, at silang nandoon sa baba ng ating lipunan: ang mga magsasaka, ang mga maralita, ang mga naghahanapbuhay para sa kanilang mga pamilya.
ESQ: Do you have a profound memory or experience that shaped who you are today?
I was born in Negros. Negros was one of the hotbeds of the struggle for a better society. The social stratification in Negros was so acute with the few who are owning the land and the majority who are landless and impoverished. It also became the setting for a strong anti-Marcos movement. The sights and sounds of those happenings in my childhood has remained in me and I knew that Marcos’s authoritarian rule was not good. I knew that the Marcos years were not a golden age. It was a time when my own father became involved as a private prosecutor for 11 tenant farmers who were killed by a warlord in Negros because they organized a group called Kristianong Katilingban or Basic Christian Community. These were communities organized by priests in Negros with the aim of fighting for social justice. The 11 farmers were buried in the land of the warlord whom my father prosecuted.
I also visited the priests who were falsely accused by the ones who authored the ambush on the landlord. The priests were targeted because they were the ones who organized Kristiyanong Katilingban. These were the memories I had when I was young. When I was hearing mass at the church, iyong mga pari, hindi masikmura ang mga human rights violations kasi ano naman ang gagawin mo kung pari ka at that time? Pinapatay ang mga nasa parokya mo, pinapatay ang mga kabataan, pinapatay ang mga volunteers na kabataan, pinapatay ang mga magsasaka.
Bilang pari, anong gagawin mo, magdasal ka lang? Hindi ka naman puwedeng magdasal ka lang eh! Pinapatay na ang mga parokyano mo, magdadasal ka lang? Ano na ang response mo, pari ka? Kaya ang mga pari noon, talagang nara-radicalize. Sa mga sermon nila napapakinggan ko tungkol sa kalunos-lunos na kondisyon sa Pilipinas, may mga human rights violations, may mga pinapatay, may mga pinapatahimik, at talagang ramdam na ramdam mong hindi ka dapat magsalita kontra kay Marcos. Ramdam na ramdam mong you will be in danger pag nagsalita ka. In fact, ang mga victims ng torture and forced disappearances ay kilala mo eh! May mga survivor na dito na lang sa grupo namin. Iyan ang mga experience ko na alam ko even at a young age, hindi golden years ang kay Marcos.
ESQ: You’ve been fighting for the marginalized and laborers for most of your career. What is the most heartbreaking experience you’ve had with them?
LE: Ah, marami!
Kapag simpleng mag-assert lang ng karapatan ang mga manggagawa ay tanggal sila sa trabaho. Makikita mo kung gaano kasakit para sa kanila iyon. Ang hanapbuhay sa manggagawa ay malaking concern, kung paano nila mapapakain ang kanilang mga pamilya.
Tapos ang choice for them is either lunukin na lang ang kanilang oppression, kasi kapag lumaban sila ay matatanggal sila sa trabaho. Kapag lumaban naman sila, they have that chance na maibsan ang kanilang kahirapan, but that’s a hard choice to make. I’ve witnessed na kapag natalo sila sa laban, mawawalan sila ng trabaho at masakit iyon. Masakit iyon sa akin.
Kapag ang manggagawa loses the fight in their local struggle, it just crystalizes my personal hatred for manpower agencies because they allow it to happen. It is a fact that manpower agencies exist so capitalists can deny that these people are their workers. Puwede nilang alisin anytime kapag nagreklamo sila.
Kaya ang personal na galit ko sa mga manpower agencies na iyan, sasabihin ko sa iyo, abot-abot nang malalim! Malalim na malalim na galit iyan! Hindi ko papayagan na hindi mawala iyan sa atin dahil nasaksihan ko kung paano nila inaapi ang mga manggagawa at niloloko ang mga manggagawa.
ESQ: What do you consider your most notable achievement?
LE: That I have been in the frontline of struggle.
That I am not simply a labor lawyer. I am a labor leader leading from the frontline. Natutulog ako sa picket line, experiencing the sufferings ng mga lumalabang manggagawa, habang nag-iisip at naga-adopt ng mga real and concrete tactics and strategies upang maipanalo ang laban ng mga manggagawa. At marami ang mga nanalo sa laban ng mga manggagawa dahil nagkaroon ng confidence ang mga manggagawa dahil ipinaglaban nila ang kanilang mga sarili.
Yes, there are risks, pero nagigising sila. At pag nagising ang manggagawa, iyon ang most satisfying sa lahat—kapag narinig mo ang mga manggagawa mismo na hindi na sila aasa sa mga “Messiah,” kapag inabot nila ang class consciousness at confidence, it makes me cry.