SMNI host admits info on Speaker’s travel expenses unverified

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The host-anchor of Davao City-based Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) TV network admitted to officials and members of the House of Representatives that his information about the P1.8 billion travel expenses of Speaker Martin Romualdez was “unverified.”

Appearing before the House committee on legislative franchises that conducted an inquiry, Jeffrey Celiz told Rep. David Suarez that such amount was a figure his source from the Senate gave, but whom he refused to identify.

Suarez then reminded the SMNI broadcaster that he, along with the network, can be held liable for violating the TV’s legislative franchise, where any information, more particularly damaging one’s reputation, should first be vetted.

Celiz told the panel headed by Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting that there was “no malice” on his part, nor was there any effort to discredit, much less vilify the Speaker, and that it was done in the context of a continuing commentary.

“But you did not ask a question. It was a statement. You were making a statement,” Suarez warned.

The Tambunting panel was directed by the House plenary to conduct the inquiry after several House Resolutions were filed, like HR 230 about “fake news peddling and baseless red-tagging of individuals and groups” and HR 1428 which covers the grave threats against opposition Rep. France Castro.

The three members of the Makabayan bloc – Castro of party-list ACT Teachers, Rep. Arlene Brosas of women’s group Gabriela and Rep. Raoul Manuel of Kabataan – sought action from the National Telecommunications Commission against SMNI, which is owned by pastor Apollo Quiboloy.

SMNI was granted a legislative franchise (RA 11422) in August 2019, allowing it to operate for 25 years, or until 2044.

“As there are alleged violation of the franchise grant, the committee is well within its mandate to look into this matter and can invoke its authority under the law,” Tambunting maintained, adding the panel is mandated to review, amend, suspend or even cancel the franchise if violations are found.

“While free speech and press freedom are constitutional rights, the allocation of TV and radio frequencies is not a guaranteed right. It is subject to the authority of Congress over the grant, amendment, suspension, or revocation of legislative franchises,” he said.

Manuel, speaking on behalf of his two other colleagues, showed the pattern that he said SMNI is guilty of as its hosts and programs have repeatedly engaged in acts of dissemination of fake news and malicious red-tagging.

“It habitually engages in the reporting as news of misleading claims, deliberately disseminating false information, willful misrepresentation, wild accusations, and red tagging against the opposition, critics, and officials of the government in violation of the terms of its legislative franchise and to the detriment of public interest,” Manuel added.

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