How not to write a rejoinder
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-02-07
Addressed to the STAR’s Editorial Board Head, Isaac Belmonte, with copies furnished to Editor-in-Chief Amy Pamintuan and yours truly, Tom Tolibas, the Public Affairs and Media Relations Manager of the Office of Senator Miriam D. Santiago wrote a rejoinder to my January 31st column (“Two wishes for Senator-Judges”) that was transmitted via email. 

The rejoinder reads, as follows:

“This refers to Mr. William Esposo’s column last 31 January 2012. It’s a shame that Mr. Esposo wastes half of his column on allegations of personality politics against members of the impeachment court. He totally missed the point that Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago is the most experienced judge among her colleagues, and is imparting her knowledge and expertise to the impeachment court. It seems that Mr. Esposo would rather see the impeachment proceedings drag on for months than be expedited through the appreciation and adherence to the Rules of Court.

Mr. Esposo is no lawyer, and views the impeachment proceedings as one trained and experienced in media and public relations. What should be an affirmation of the impeachment court’s mandate for a speedy trial, he uses as an opportunity to perpetuate black propaganda from days past. This is truly unfortunate.”

What are wrong with that rejoinder? Let me count the ways.

1. The many on social media who have expressed their ‘thumbs down’ opinions about Senator-Judge Miriam Santiago’s scandalous and certainly unjustifiable outburst last January 26 found concurrence from Impeachment Trial Presiding Officer Juan Ponce-Enrile (JPE) who said: “I would like to caution my colleagues to exercise greater civility in dealing with the witnesses, with the lawyers on both sides, as well as with one another in the Senate.” JPE added: “As much as possible we should control our emotions so that we can perform our work in such a manner that there’s no impression that we are for or against anyone.” Therefore it’s untrue as Tolibas alleged, we wasted half a column on personality politics.

2. It was Tolibas who totally missed the point. Senator-Judge Santiago’s judicial experience wasn’t the issue at all. It was her scandalous outburst. It demeaned the impeachment process at the expense of another person’s dignity.

3. The commentary on Senator-Judge Santiago’s defense of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) is a fair commentary in the light of allegations that some Senator-Judges were partial, with Senator-Judge Frank Drilon as the defense favorite. Comparing Drilon with Santiago placed an important perspective to the partiality allegation.

4. That claim of Tolibas that we would prefer to see the impeachment trial to drag on for months is totally baseless and reflects this letter writer’s fascination with falsehoods. Perhaps, only Chief Justice Renato Corona would want this trial to drag on until the end of his stint at the Supreme Court — if that’s his way to avoid a conviction. Everyone else wants to see this trial reach a satisfactory conclusion. However, expediting a trial cannot be justified if human dignity is to be violated in the process.

5. For Tolibas to claim that I am not a lawyer, thereby suggesting that I cannot appreciate a trial’s proceedings, is as idiotic as saying that Tolibas has to be a chicken in order to know what is an egg.

6. Tolibas raises another falsehood by saying that I “perpetuated black propaganda from days past” and this is clearly a falsehood because it was indeed a big issue that was raised against then 1992 presidential candidate Miriam Santiago. To say that the January 26 scandalous outburst of Senator-Judge Santiago rekindles that issue is fair commentary.

In other words, Tolibas sought to spread bovine ordure in attempting to discredit what is legitimate commentary. If the truth hurts his master, the Senator-Judge from Iloilo, writing a rejoinder that is falsely premised and glaringly off the point only exacerbated a bad situation. The point is that there is no justifying the scandalous outburst of Santiago. JPE’s indirect admonition was meant to save face for Santiago.

The only sentence in the letter of Tolibas to which we can agree is the last (“This is truly unfortunate.”) but only in the context of it being unfortunate for Tolibas and his master. This rejoinder exposed several unflattering aspects about Tolibas and his master. Foremost of which is that Santiago doesn’t know how to hire a competent Public Affairs and Media Relations Manager. When your own rejoinder works against you instead of working for your benefit — then it’s time to consider hiring a more capable writer. Even an amateur would not want to issue a sloppy rejoinder like that.

The other point that such a badly written rejoinder makes is that the editors may not feel like giving it precious space for the simple reason that it did not address the real issue. Tolibas was reacting for and on behalf of Senator Santiago for things that I did not say. As earlier pointed out, Tolibas was more concerned twisting words that I wrote to make it appear as what he meant in his rejoinder.

That I accorded Mr. Tolibas and Senator Santiago space for their rejoinder is certainly more than what they deserved. However, for writing that god-awful rejoinder — Senator Santiago should seriously initiate a review of her staffing. With a rejoinder writer like Tolibas, who needs political enemies like Ronnie Puno?

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