Supreme Court brings back graft charges vs Parojinog daughter
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) reinstated graft charges against former Ozamiz City vice mayor Nova Princess Parojinog Echavez, reversing an earlier decision of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
The SC 3rd Division set aside two earlier decisions of the Sandiganbayan that cleared Echavez and her father, ex-Ozamiz City mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr, due to inordinate delay on the part of the Ombudsman.
"Notably, 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," said the SC in a resolution signed on February 11 and written by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, with concurrences from Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Andres Reyes Jr, Ramon Paul Hernando, and Rosmari Carandang.
The graft case stems from a construction contract which Mayor Parojinog awarded to family-owned Parojinog and Sons Construction.
The Sandiganbayan in 2017 cleared the Parojinogs on the doctrine of inordinate delay, which is increasingly becoming a politician's favorite, and became a thorn in Conchita Carpio Morales' term as Ombudsman.
Under the doctrine, if the court finds that the Office of the Ombudsman took too long investigating, it will drop the charges for violation of the right to a speedy disposition of cases. Hundreds of Ombudsman cases were dismissed because of this doctrine.
"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 said.
The case strictly started when the Ombudsman tapped the Commission on Audit for help in December 2010. Charges were filed in court only on November 23, 2016. The Sandiganbayan counted from 2010 and ruled that the 6-year probe constituted inordinate delay.
The SC in its resolution is applying an en banc decision from August 2018 that the count must only begin when the case has been docketed for criminal preliminary investigation. Any proceeding before that, including the fact-finding phase, should be excluded from the count, said the SC in an 8-2-4 vote that Morales hailed as a victory.
In the Parojinog case, the SC said the Ombudsman only took two years investigating because it was only in 2014 when the preliminary investigation began.
"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," said the SC.
The Sandiganbayan also previously ruled that the Ombudsman did not properly accuse the Parojinogs of graft.
"[The Office of the Ombudsman] should be given an opportunity to amend the Information and correct its defect pursuant to Section 4, Rule 117 of the Rules of Court," said the SC.
This recent SC decision would come as a warning to public defendants who may want to use the doctrine for their own cases, seeing that it has worked for many others in the past.
Note that the Ombudsman appeal was filed in 2017 when Morales was still at the helm.
Under Ombudsman Samuel Martires, the office will no longer go to the SC to appeal losing cases. – Rappler.com