THE Supreme Court has ordered the revival of the graft case filed against Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess E. Parojinog-Echavez, daughter of the late former city Mayor Reynaldo O. Parojinog Sr., for their involvement in the anomalous renovation of the city’s multipurpose building in 2008.
The 11-page decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta held that the Sandiganbayan erred when it ruled in 2017 that there was a violation of the Parojinogs’s right to speedy trial, warranting the dismissal of the graft complaint filed by the Office of the Ombudsman 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.
It accused the Parajinogs of having financial interest in the renovation of the multipurpose 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, citing violation of the constitutional right of the accused to a 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.”
Following the Sandiganbayan’s denial of its motion for reconsideration, the Office of the Special Prosecutor brought the issue before the SC and assailed, specifically, the dismissal of the case on the ground of alleged violation of the right to speedy disposition of cases.
In reversing the Sandiganbayan’s ruling, the SC stressed that “all persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative bodies.”
However, it noted that the right to a speedy trial is violated “only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays.”
It held that “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.”
Thus, it pointed out that 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 unreasonable delay.
During that period, the SC said 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.”
“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,” the SC ruled.
“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,” it added.
The SC noted that respondent Mayor Parojinog had already died on July 30, 2019, as shown by his death certificate, thus, the information should only be filed against respondent Echavez.
In July 2017, Nova Princess and her brother Reynaldo Jr., and several other persons were arrested following a raid at their residence for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
During the raid, a firefight occurred that resulted in the death of Parojinog Sr., his wife and 14 others.
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.