The National Telecommunications Commission and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas identified potential violations by Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) after one of its anchors claimed Speaker Martin Romualdez spent P1.8 billion on travel in a year, an allegation debunked by officials of the House of Representatives based on their official records.
The allegation made by SMNI host Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz in the SMNI program “Laban Kasama Ang Bayan” was discussed during Thursday’s House committee on legislative franchises hearing.
“There appears to be infractions on certain provisions of the franchise, particularly the reference provision on Section 4 on the responsibility of the franchisee not to use the station or its facilities for the dissemination of willful or false information,” NTC Deputy Commissioner Alvin Blanco said.
Blanco was referring to the provision in Republic Act No. 11422, which granted a 25-year franchise renewal in 2019 to SMNI, legally operating as Swara Sug Media Corp. of the Philippines.
KBP Vice President for Legal and Regulatory Compliance Group Rudolph Jularbal said a possible violation by SMNI is for allowing unaccredited announcers, such as Celiz and co-host Lorraine Badoy, to go on air.
Jularbal said Celiz and Badoy were not accredited as anchors, contravening KBP rules.
He said KBP member-networks mandate lectures on the code of ethics for anchors and reporters, along with an accreditation exam.
In response to the possibility of a KBP investigation, Jularbal said: “Considering the information gathered during this hearing, I will report to the standards authority of KBP.”
“In the context of what has been presented and of which I am informed of this hearing, the network is lacking in observance of the Code of Conduct,” he added.
Jularbal said the KBP is also investigating complaints against SMNI related to fake news and red-tagging.
Celiz told lawmakers that his source was a male Senate employee, buthe declined to identify his source, citing a law that safeguards journalists from being compelled to disclose their news sources.
“Why did the source come from the Senate? That is a big question mark to me and I think of my colleagues” said House Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. in response to Celiz’s revelation.
Quezon Rep. David Suarez added: “Due to the revelations of Ka Eric, I think we are treading on very dangerous waters when it comes to interparliamentary relationship with the Senate.”
House Secretary General Reginald Velasco and Deputy Secretary General for Finance Dante Roberto Maling presented the financial report on foreign travel expenses for the entire chamber.
The report showed that from January to October this year, the total expenditure was only P39.6 million, which included P4.3 million for the Office of the Speaker—way below the P1.8 billion travel expenses claimed by Celiz.
Paranaque City 2nd District Rep. Gus Tambunting, head of the House franchise panel, highlighted the importance of fair and accurate news reporting, referencing the Broadcaster’s Code of the Philippines as guide for media practitioners.
He said while free speech and press freedom are constitutional rights, the allocation of TV and radio frequencies is subject to the authority of Congress over legislative franchises.
Celiz later apologized to Romualdez and the House, expressing regret for any harm caused by their statements during the program.
“I take full responsibility on behalf of the program anchor and my personal capacity, and even from the station, to take responsibility that this is a hard lesson learned that we can get a bum steer if we do not observe due diligence, prudence, and propriety in the source verification,” Celiz said.
Celiz said he is apologizing “if that will heal the wound of the degree and amount of insult that was forwarded to Congress.”
Badoy also explained they are not involved in any smear campaign against Congress.
The franchise panel is scheduled to conduct another hearing on Dec. 5.
The committee will also tackle two resolutions from the Makabayan bloc regarding SMNI: one focusing on alleged fake news peddling and baseless red-tagging of individuals, groups and organizations; and another on alleged fake news peddling, baseless red-tagging, and grave threats against ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro by former President Rodrigo Duterte and SMNI.
Meanwhile, SMNI’s legal officer told the House panel that the network is not owned by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy. “He’s not part of the corporate officers…He’s just a block-timer, Mr. Chair. He’s a block-timer for SMNI,” said SMNI lawyer Mark Tolentino.
“We consider him an honorary chairman but he’s not part as one of the corporate officers. His name is not part of the corporate papers. He is not a stockholder of SMNI or Swara Sug Media Corporation,” he added.
Tolentino said SMNI’s stockholders are as follows: 0% with one share for Hannah Jane Sancho, 0.13% for Marlon Rosete, 0.19% for Jesus Christ Workers Members Cooperative, 46.22% for Phoebus Capital Holdings Inc., and 53.46% for the executive pastor of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name Inc.
He said Quiboloy, who founded the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC), was no longer the executive pastor, but just a pastor of the megachurch.
The title of executive pastor was transferred to Marlon Acobo in December 2022, Tolentino said.
Quiboloy is wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for alleged sex trafficking, fraud and coercion.