By Filane Mikee Cervantes

CONTEMPT. The House committee on legislative franchises cites in contempt Sonshine Media Network International host Jeffrey Celiz for his refusal to disclose the identity of his source who gave him false information on Speaker Martin Romualdez’s alleged PHP1.8 billion travel fund during an inquiry on Tuesday (Dec. 5, 2023). Celiz will be detained at the Batasan complex until the adoption of the committee report on the matter at the plenary. (Screengrab from House of Representatives’ livestream)

MANILA – The House committee on legislative franchises on Tuesday cited in contempt Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) host Jeffrey Celiz for his refusal to disclose the identity of his source who gave him false information on Speaker Martin Romualdez’s alleged PHP1.8 billion travel fund.

During the hearing, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel made the motion to cite Celiz in contempt after the SMNI host refused four times to divulge the identity of his source, who was purportedly from the Senate.

Celiz will be detained at the Batasan complex “until the adoption of the committee report” on the matter at the plenary, Pimentel added.

The SMNI anchor refused to disclose his source even after Navotas City Rep. Toby Tiangco recommended that the committee hold an executive session.

Celiz cited Republic Act No. 11458, which protects journalists from being compelled to divulge the source of confidential information used in their reports.

“I will not answer the question because I believe Congress does not have the right to interpret laws,” Celiz said.

Former anti-insurgency task force spokesperson Lorraine Badoy, who is also an SMNI host, was also cited in contempt by the House panel during the same hearing.

Manila 6th District Bienvenido Abante Jr. moved to cite Badoy in contempt for refusing to answer questions regarding the revenues and advertisements of SMNI’s show Laban Kasama ng Bayan and disrespecting members of the Committee by lying about her role in the broadcast station.

The panel also adopted a resolution urging the National Telecommunications Commission to suspend the operations of Swara Sug Media Corporation operating under the business name SMNI in light of the network’s numerous violations of its franchise.

Committee chairperson and Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting earlier stressed that Congress has the authority to grant, amend, suspend, or revoke legislative franchises.

He said SMNI’s franchise requires the broadcast station not to deliberately disseminate false information as stipulated under Section 4 of Republic Act 11422.

“As there are alleged violations on the franchise grant, the committee is well within its mandate to look into this matter and can invoke its authority,” Tambunting said. (PNA)

In a previous hearing, House Secretary General Reginald Velasco cited the chamber’s financial reports showing that the Office of the Speaker’s travel expenses for foreign trips amounted to PHP4.3 million from January to October 2023.

Velasco, meanwhile, noted that the total travel expenses incurred by all other lawmakers and the House Secretariat for the same period totaled PHP35.25 million. (PNA)