The House committee on legislative franchises will study whether to grant the appeal of Sonshine Media Network International hosts Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Badoy against the contempt order imposed on them that led to their detention in Congress.
Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting, the panel's chairperson, told reporters on Friday that he would defer to the committee members' discretion on whether to grant Celiz and Badoy's plea for a furlough.
"We will have to see. I do not want to preempt the decision of the committee, but all of these are options right now," Tambunting said.
The committee's decision, he added, will depend entirely on whether Celiz will come clean about his alleged source in the Senate that fed him "false" information about Speaker Martin Romualdez's travel expenses.
"We will have to wait for them because right now, what we want is for him to identify the source. He said it is an employee of the Senate and I think he is duly bound to make sure that person exists and is not just fiction," Tambunting said.
Celiz and Badoy were both cited in contempt on Tuesday for allegedly violating House rules during the investigation into SMNI's alleged dissemination of false information against public officials, including Romualdez and other entities, in violation of Republic Act 11422, which granted the network a 25-year franchise renewal.
Lawmakers cited several provisions of the law that were supposedly breached by the network, particularly Section 4, which mandates that the grantee shall not allow its stations "for the broadcasting of obscene or indecent language, speech, act, or scene; or for the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation."
The congressional inquiry was initiated after Celiz and Badoy made a statement on SMNI's "Laban Kasama Ang Bayan" episode aired on 27 November alleging that Romualdez had incurred a P1.8 billion in travel expenses, citing a male source in the Senate.
House Secretary General Reginald Velasco debunked the allegation, saying the travel expenses incurred by the House, including the Speaker, from January 2023 to October 2023 amounted to only P39.6 million.
While Celiz eventually admitted to the panel that the information he obtained was false, he refused to disclose his source's identity, citing the Sotto Law or RA 11458, which exempts publishers, editors or reporters from disclosing their sources.
However, lawmakers countered that the Sotto Law is not applicable to Celiz and Badoy, who are both unaccredited as broadcast journalists by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.
SMNI legal officer Atty. Mark Tolentino said on Thursday that they would ask the committee to consider granting the detained anchors a holiday furlough "for humanitarian reasons."
According to Tolentino, they are likewise gearing up to escalate the issue to the Supreme Court in the event the panel junked their appeal.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, vice chair of the committee, said on Wednesday that there is a "very big possibility" that Celiz and Badoy would be confined in the Congress premises on Christmas and New Year, pending the adoption of the committee report.
He also floated the potential revocation of SMNI's franchise by Congress, which has the sole power over media franchises.