House panel suspends talks on Celiz’s furlough request
MANILA, Philippines — Discussions on Jeffrey Celiz’s request for a furlough regarding his detention were suspended by a House panel, after the controversial Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) host filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court (SC).
During its hearing on Monday, the House committee on legislative franchises initially took up Celiz’ letter to the panel, appealing his detention at the House complex.
Celiz was detained after he was cited for contempt last December 6, after he refused to reveal who from the Senate gave him the wrong information about Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez having a P1.8 billion travel expense. Lawmakers also called Celiz out for being disrespectful towards the House, after he called the panel a ‘kangaroo court’.
Manila 6th District Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. proposed to grant Celiz’ request for a furlough in the spirit of Christmas, especially after the host’s legal counsel Mark Tolentino said Celiz was remorseful about the remarks he made.
However, several lawmakers including Santa Rosa City Rep. Dan Fernandez and Abang Lingkod party-list Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano raised concerns that the SMNI host might keep on attacking the House — contesting the panel’s authority to detain him.
“Because of non-disclosure of his false information have led to an animosity and adversity between the upper and the lower chamber […] How can we be assured of that after we have given him (furlough) to be released in the detention in this House of Representatives, nakakasigurado po ba tayo na hindi niya tayo aatakihin muli?” Fernandez asked.
(How can we be sure that they would not attack us again?)
“We have been elected by the people, and it is our right to vote on something that pertains to our national security. At sa paningin ko po Mr. Chairman, hindi pa po napapanahon,” he added.
(I think Mr. Chairman it is not yet timely.)
Paduano, who heads the House committee on public accounts, also said that his committee handled several furlough requests for resource persons cited for contempt, but Celiz’ case is different because the other resource persons did not challenge the House’ authority.
“Two things Mr. Chairman, there are also furlough requests within my committee last time, but this situation with Ka Eric is different […] Now, after we temporarily lift his detention, once he is outside, we need to amend this because if he will agree, he should commit not to issue public statements outside, against this investigation, individual members of this committee, and that includes the whole Congress,” he said.
“But we have no assurance. […] Number two, it should be clear that he will not seek relief especially on Rules 55 and 68, Mr. Chairman, that should be part of the affidavit, that if he will appeal before the Supreme Court, we can also use it just like what we did with (Cagayan) Governor (Manuel) Mamba,” he added.
Eventually, it was raised that Celiz and co-host Lorraine Badoy had challenged the House authority to detain them, before the Supreme Court. But rather than outrightly denying the appeal, Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel moved that the panel defer discussions for the meantime, as the petition can be withdrawn.
“Mr. Chair, I suggest that we suspend consideration — not entirely deny the subject matter or the request — because although they have already filed cases in the Supreme Court, they can always withdraw the cases filed before the court. So let us look at the direction of Celiz and Badoy,” he said.
Committee chair and Parañaque City 2nd District Rep. Gus Tambunting meanwhile approved a motion to defer discussions.
Celiz and Badoy were dragged into the limelight after the House panel probed Celiz’ wrong claims that Speaker Romualdez spent P1.8 billion for travel expenses. The claims were disputed by House Secretary General Reginald Velasco — who said that the entire House spent P39.60 million and not P1.8 billion as Celiz relayed.
Celiz apologized to the panel and to Romualdez after admitting that his source was wrong, but the hearings eventually led to greater scrutiny of the network’s franchise. Some lawmakers believe SMNI breached rules stated in its franchise, which can be grounds for revocation.