SMNI losing franchise ‘big possibility’ – Rep. Johnny Pimentel
MANILA, Philippines — Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel on Wednesday said there was a big chance that Swara Sug Media Corp., which operates Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), would lose its franchise, noting that its airing of unconfirmed information on Speaker Martin Romualdez’s travel expenses was only part of a pattern of assaults by the network against the House of Representatives and its members.
Pimentel, vice chair of the House committee on legislative franchises, said that while his panel has adopted a resolution directing the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to suspend the operations of SMNI, a bill is set to be filed seeking the revocation of the franchise of Swara Sug granted through Republic Act No. 11422, which was enacted in 2019 to renew for another 25 years the company’s permit.
In an interview on Wednesday with the ABS-CBN News Channel, Pimentel clarified that the House panel inquiry on possible franchise violations of Swara Sug was not just about the network’s talents airing information on the Speaker’s alleged P1.8-billion travel expenses, which had been proven false by the chamber’s secretary general and finance officer who said the office of the Speaker spent P4.3 million, while the entire House had P35 million in travel expenses this year.
“There was already a pattern we have seen. If you recall, this was not the first incident that they attacked the institution … Before this incident there were several aired programs attacking the Speaker, Congress and other individual congressmen were being attacked, in fact threatened,” he pointed out.
Pimentel was referring to an SMNI program where former President Rodrigo Duterte described Congress as “the most rotten institution,” and another broadcast where he allegedly threatened the life of ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, who he claimed was a communist.
“So Congress took it upon themselves to protect the institution, especially the integrity of the institution,” the lawmaker added.
According to Pimentel, his committee also found several other franchise violations under Sections 10, 11, and 12 of RA 11422 pertaining to Swara Sug’s duty to report to Congress and seek its approval particularly on matters of ownership or transfer of controlling interest.
It was learned during Tuesday’s inquiry that Swara Sug neither sought approval nor informed Congress that televangelist Apollo Quiboloy, who is wanted in the United States for alleged conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking, fraud and cash smuggling, had transferred through succession his controlling interest of Swara Sug to Marlon Acobo.
“There is really a big possibility [of] revoking [the franchise],” he said. “In fact, yesterday (Tuesday) we already passed a resolution urging the NTC to suspend the airing of SMNI. It is now up to the NTC whether they will act on it.”
House Resolution No. 1499, filed by Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Rep. Margarita Nograles, cited Swara Sug’s violation of Section 4 of its franchise, which states that “the grantee shall … conform to the ethics of honest enterprise; and not use its stations or facilities … for the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation, to the detriment of the public interest.”
Violation of Sections 10, 11, and 12 of its franchise were also included in the resolution, which was adopted subject to style and amendment during Tuesday’s hearing.
“I believe there is another bill to be passed to revoke the franchise of SMNI. Based on two hearings, we have evidence proving that they have violated several sections of their franchise and it is a ground [for revocation]. We have every reason to revoke their franchise,” Pimentel noted.
The lawmaker maintained that there was no politics—only “public interest”—involved in the House’s probe on SMNI, which thrived during the Duterte administration, with the former president a frequent guest of the network.
“We have seen SMNI in the past few years, for so many years, being used to attack individuals, entities and I believe Congress just took it upon themselves that enough is enough,” Pimentel said.
He added: “In this case, we can see that the public interest is already involved in so many cases filed against them. So many persons have been oppressed, harassed by SMNI. So I believe that we should take action on it.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, the panel was informed that there were at least nine pending cases against SMNI and its talents Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Marie Badoy, in a Quezon City court, the NTC, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, and the Civil Service Commission.
Most of the cases or complaints were filed against Celiz and Badoy, who accused personalities, including former Vice President Leni Robredo, and other groups of involvement with the New People’s Army.
Badoy told the committee that she was only airing information from and the positions of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), which she served as spokesperson.
The committee cited both Celiz and Badoy in contempt and ordered them detained within the premises of the House of Representatives until the committee report is adopted at the plenary session.