SMNI host apologizes for wrong claims on Speaker’s travel expenses
MANILA, Philippines — After insisting that he was only questioning whether or not House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez had a P1.8 billion travel expense, the host of a Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) program eventually apologized for any harm that his statements have made.
At the end of the House committee on legislative franchises’ hearing on Thursday, Laban Kasama ang Bayan host and self-proclaimed former rebel Jeffrey Celiz said he is taking responsibility for the harm that his statements may have caused to Romualdez and the entire House of Representatives.
“And again I would repeat my answer to the question of Congressman [David] Suarez earlier: do we take responsibility for that inadvertence and the failure to conduct proper vetting of the source and information? Yes, and we would repeat this,” Celiz told the panel.
“And if we need to repeat our appeal of understanding, Congressman [Aurelio] Gonzales, sir, at Mr. Chairman, regarding to what happened where the integrity of Speaker Martin Romualdez and of Congress as an institution was affected, I take full responsibility in behalf of the program’s anchor and in my personal capacity, and even from the station, to take responsibility,” he added.
Celiz also said that it is a hard lesson to learn that he might have been a victim of a “kuryente,” which in journalistic parlance means being fed with wrong information.
“This is a hard lesson learned that we can be subjected to and be affected if we do not do what is called due diligence, prudence, and propriety in the source verification,” he noted.
Early into the committee hearing, Celiz maintained before Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel that the tone that he used during the program, where he claimed that Romualdez spent P1.8 billion for travel, was meant to ask for clarification.
“The tone of delivery in the whole context of the program is questioning, clarification, because we want to clarify matters of public interest that are so serious, like the information given to us. So we have not made any conclusion there,” Celiz claimed.
But Suarez, whose speech at the plenary session on Tuesday eventually led to the committee being asked to exercise its oversight functions, noted that dropping such huge statements can result in tarnishing a person’s reputation.
Suarez also stressed that the way that Celiz spoke — saying that “for Speaker Martin Romualdez, his travel cost is at P1.8 billion, P1.8 billion for almost one year only” — does not sound like someone asking questions.
“There’s a responsibility on your part, Ka Eric, because if you see a number that big, at the very least you should ask or you should inquire with the House Secretary General. That’s too big of a number, right? And if ordinary people have heard of this — that the Speaker spent P1.8 billion — that can destroy someone’s reputation,” Suarez said.
“But you were blatant enough to come out on TV and say it straightforward. And the discussion was — if I remember it right — you said this and then Usec [Lorraine] Badoy asked ‘How do you spend P1.8 billion, that’s such a huge amount, maybe he doesn’t go home anymore.’ Then you chimed in, ‘And based on my source, it’s not only P1.8 billion, because if you would include the entourage, it would reach P2 billion.’ That is not a question,” he added.
SMNI is currently in hot waters after House Secretary General Reginald Velasco showed that instead of P1.8 billion as Celiz claimed, Romualdez and his office only used P4.34 million for foreign travel.
When Romualdez’s travel expenses are combined with the House lawmakers’ and other secretariat officials’ foreign trips, they only spent a combined P39.60 million from January 2023 to October 2023.