By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the reinstatement of the graft case in the Sandiganbayan against Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess E. Parojinog Echavez, daughter of the late former city mayor Reynaldo O. Parojinog Sr., in connection with the renovation of the city’s multi-purpose building in 2008.
In a decision written by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the SC reversed the Sandiganbayan’s 2017 ruling that dismissed the graft case against father and daughter filed by the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) in 2016.
The OMB, acting on an anonymous complaint filed in 2010 and the report of the Commission on Audit (CoA), charged the Parojinogs with graft for violation of Section 3 (h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The OMB said they had financial or pecuniary interest in the renovation of the multi-purpose building awarded in favor of the Parojinog & Sons Construction Company (PSCC), a firm where Nova Princess was the managing partner.
The Parojinogs filed motions to dismiss the criminal case. Acting on the motions, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case for violation of the accused’s constitutional right to speedy disposition of cases.
The anti-graft court noted that it took the OMB a total of five years and 11 months to file the criminal case in court from the time it received the complaint and stressed that “the delay could not be ignored by separating the fact-finding investigation from the conduct of preliminary investigations as all stages to which the accused was exposed should be included.”
The Sandignbayan ruled that the OMB failed to establish the late mayor’s financial interest or intervention in the award of the project since it was the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) that conducted the bidding and awarded the contract for the project.
When the Sandiganbayan denied OMB’s motion for reconsideration on June 14, 2017, the Office of the Special Prosecutor elevated the issue before the SC and assailed, specifically, the dismissal of the case on the ground of alleged violation of the accused’s right to speedy disposition of cases.
The SC, citing the provision in the Constitution, said that “all persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.”
It pointed out that the right, like the right to speedy trial, is violated “only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays.”
Citing its decision, the SC said that “for the purpose of determining whether inordinate delay exists, a case is deemed to have commenced from the filing of the formal complaint and the subsequent conduct of the preliminary investigation.”
Thus, it said, “the period devoted for fact-finding investigations before the filing of the formal complaint is not included in the determination of whether there has been inordinate delay.”
The SC also said:
“ Hence, in this case, the period from the receipt of the anonymous complaint by the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, on August 23, 2010, until December 7, 2014 should not be considered in the determination of 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.
“Therefore, the reckoning point to determine if there had been inordinate delay should start to run from the filing of the formal complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, on December 8, 2014, up to the filing of the Information 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.
“We find the period of less than two years not to be unreasonable or arbitrary. In fact, respondents did not raise any issue as to the violation of their right to a speedy disposition of cases until the issuance of the Ombudsman’s Resolution finding probable cause.
“Finally, we note that the Sandiganbayan granted respondents’ motion to quash the Information on the ground that the facts did not constitute an offense, and since it dismissed the case due to the violation of respondents’ right to a speedy disposition of cases, it did not order the amendment of the information as provided under Section 4, Rule 117 of the Rules of Court….
“If the motion to quash is based on an alleged defect of the complaint or information which can be cured by amendment, the court shall order that an amendment be made. If it is based on the ground that the facts charged do not constitute an offense, the prosecution shall be given by the court an opportunity to correct the defect by amendment.
“The motion shall be granted if the prosecution fails to make the amendment, or the complaint or information still suffers from the same defect despite the amendment.
“WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Resolutions dated April 7, 2017 and June 14, 2017, issued by the Sandiganbayan in SB-16-CRM-1206, are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Prosecution is hereby given the chance to AMEND the Information against respondent Nova Princess E. Parojinog-Echavez for violation of Section 3(h) of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”
The SC noted that “respondent Mayor Parojinog had already died on July 30, 2017 as shown by his death certificate; thus, the Information should only be filed against respondent Echavez.”
Published reports stated that in July 2017, Nova Princess and his brother Reynaldo Jr., and several other persons were arrested when law enforcement agents served them search warrants for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
The same reports stated that in the ensuing firefight, Parojinog Sr., his wife, and 14 others died.
Reynaldo Jr. was charged with possession of dangerous drugs, firearms, ammunition and explosives, while Nova Princess was charged with illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and dangerous drugs.