FORMER palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the cease-and-desist order issued to Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) is an “outright suppression of the press freedom.”

“What they did to us is an outright suppression of the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression. No doubts about it,” Roque said at the “Business and Politics” program hosted by The Manila Times Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd.

Swara Sug Media Corp., the mother company of SMNI, was first docked a 30-day preventive suspension order on Dec. 21, 2023, for alleged franchise violations.

Former palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. PHOTO BY MIKE ALQUINTO
Former palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. PHOTO BY MIKE ALQUINTO


On January 22, the NTC issued another suspension order against SMNI after receiving reports the media company was “still operating” in certain areas in Region 7 (Central Visayas) on Dec. 27, 2023.

“They impose a 30-day suspension without even hearing the side of SMNI. That’s patently illegal. They were already convicted before they were even informed of the charges [filed] against them,” Roque said.

Roque was referring to two SMNI hosts detained by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises during a congressional hearing in December.

Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Marie Badoy, hosts of the “Laban Kasama Ang Bayan” segment, were cited in contempt after alleging that Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez spent P1.8 billion on his foreign travels.

Roque cited Section 4, Article III of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress and grievance.”

“Every minute of suppression of freedom of expression is a violation of a fundamental constitutional right. So every minute that we are not able to air is a violation not only of the rights of SMNI and its journalists but [also] the right of the people to information, and the court of appeals should have acted on it,” he said.

Roque has been calling for other media workers to stand in solidarity with SMNI.

“This is different from the case of ABS-CBN. Their franchise had lapsed. It no longer had the privilege to broadcast. We have that privilege. A jurisprudence says that even if the government has more control over broadcast media because they own the airwaves, still freedom of expression and freedom of the press take precedent over any regulatory concern that the government has,” Roque said.

He said that supposed threats of franchise revocation are not just a temporary part of political development but “is here to stay for as long as Speaker Romualdez is in power and for as long as the President (Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) does not exercise his power over the speaker.”

“Unless the President actually shows that he is in control, speaker Romualdez will continue not only to suppress SMNI but to chill other media companies,” Roque said.

Claire Bernadette Mondares