MANILA - The Supreme Court has reversed the Sandiganbayan’s junking of a graft case against former Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog-Echavez and her late father, former Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, Sr. over a gym renovation project.
In an 11-page decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta dated February 11, 2019, the high court found there was no violation of the Parojinogs' constitutional right to speedy trial.
The Sandiganbayan on April 7, 2017 had dismissed the graft case against the Parojinogs because of inordinate delay in the prosecution of the case.
It noted that the anonymous letter-complaint against the Parojinogs was filed with the Office of the Ombudsman on August 23, 2010. The complaint was about the supposedly anomalous renovation of a gymnasium/multi-purpose building in Lam-an, Ozamiz City. The older Parojinog, then mayor, awarded the project to Parojinog and Sons Company, then managed by Parojinog-Echavez, his daughter, in violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The Ombudsman Field Investigation Unit however only managed to file a criminal complaint against the Parojinogs with Ombudsman-Mindanao on December 8, 2014, which found probable cause to charge them on November 27, 2015.
The information for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act was filed with the Sandiganbayan only on November 23, 2016 or 5 years and 11 months after the anonymous letter-complaint.
The anti-graft court said there was no explanation for the delay and that the Parojinogs were prejudiced since “relevant documents could have already been lost.”
But the Supreme Court said the Sandiganbayan should not have included the period for fact-finding investigation from August 23, 2010 until December 7, 2014 in determining the presence of inordinate delay.
“This is so because during this period, respondents were not yet exposed to adversarial proceedings, but only for the purpose of determining whether a formal complaint against them should be filed based on the result of the fact-finding investigation,” the decision said.
The high court instead considered only the period from the filing of a complaint on December 8, 2014 up to the filing of an information before the Sandiganbayan on November 23, 2016.
“We find that the period from the filing of the formal complaint to the subsequent conduct of the preliminary investigation was not attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays as would constitute a violation of respondents’ right to a speedy disposition of cases,” it said.
“We find the period of less than two years not to be unreasonable or arbitrary,” it added.
Apart from reinstating the case, SC also gave the prosecution “the chance to amend” the information. The Sandiganbayan had said it did not state that the older Parojinog had interest in the younger Parojinog’s business and that he intervened or participated to promote his financial interest in the project.
Violation of section 3(h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act requires proof that the accused is a public officer; that he has direct or indirect financial interest in any business, contract or transaction; and that he either intervened or take part in his official capacity or is prohibited from having such interest by the Constitution or by any law.
The high tribunal also noted that since the older Parojinog had died on July 30, 2017, the graft case should only continue against Parojinog-Echavez.
Parojinog, Sr. died in a drug raid in his house conducted by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Ozamiz City police, along with 15 others.
He was the third mayor to be killed under President Duterte’s war on drugs.
Under the Revised Penal Code, death extinguishes criminal liability.