SC: Former Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess E. Parojinog-Echavez’s Right to a Speedy Disposition of Case Was Not Violated; Reversed and Set Aside Sandiganbayan Dismissal of Graft Rap Against her

March 18, 2019

The Supreme Court Third Division recently reversed and set aside the Sandiganbayan Resolutions dated April 7, 2017 and June 14, 2017 granting the motion of former Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess E. Parojinog-Echavez and her father, former Mayor Reynaldo O. Parojinog, Sr., to quash the Information against them for violation of Section 3(h) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In the 11-page decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the Supreme Court gave the Prosecution “a chance to amend” the Information against respondent former Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Parojinog-Echavez, her father having already died on July 30, 2017.

The case stemmed from an anonymous letter dated August 23, 2010 requesting the Ombudsman to conduct an investigation against respondents for possible violation of Section 3(h) of R.A. No. 3019.

A Commission on Audit (COA) Special Audit Report disclosed that respondent Parojinog-Echavez is the managing partner of Parojinog and Sons Construction Company to which the multi-purpose building/Ramirez Gymnasium renovation project in Lam-an, Ozamiz City was awarded. It also discussed that the relationship of father and daughter falls within the third civil degree of consanguinity which transaction is prohibited by Section 47 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

A formal complaint was filed by the Ombudsman Field Investigation Unit against respondents on December 8, 2014. Then Mayor Parojinog filed a Motion to Quash on February 17, 2017 alleging that the facts charged did not constitute an offense. On April 7, 2017, the Sandiganbayan granted the Motion to Quash and dismissed the case for violation of accused’s constitutional right to a speedy disposition of cases. Petitioner People of the Philippines filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which the Sandiganbayan also denied on June 14, 2017.

The Supreme Court found no violation of respondents’ right to a speedy disposition of cases. It explained that 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. It appears that after the filing of the formal complaint on December 8, 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao issued a Joint order dated January 7, 2015 directing respondents, among others, to submit their counter-affidavits, which they did on March 3, 2015 after some extensions of time. Thereafter, a subpoena duces tecum was issued to the COA and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The other respondents filed a Supplement to Position Paper on October 16, 2015 and followed by a Motion to Admit Annexes of the Supplemental Counter-Affidavits on October 23, 2015. On November 27, 2015, the Graft Investigation Officer submitted to the Ombudsman a Resolution finding probable cause. The Resolution was approved by the Ombudsman on April 29, 2016 and the Information was filed on November 23, 2016.

The Court held 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.” The Court also pointed out that the 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.

Moreover, the Court also noted that People v. Sandiganbayan, et al., 723 Phil. 444 (2013) cited by the Sandiganbayan, where it was held that fact-finding investigations are included in the period for determination of inordinate delay had already abandoned in the July 31, 2018 case of Cagang v Sandiganbayan, G.R. Nos. 206438, 206458, and 210141-42. It clarified, “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, the period from the receipt of the anonymous complaint 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.”

As to the quashal of the subject Information, the Court noted that the petitioner did not assail the Sandiganbayan’s findings of insufficiency of the allegations in the Information. In granting the motion to quash, the Sandiganbayan ruled that the following elements need to be proven in order to constitute a violation of Section 3(h) of RA3019, to wit: (1) the accused is a public officer; (2) he has a direct or indirect financial or pecuniary interest in any business, contract, or transaction; and (3) he either (a) intervenes or takes part in his official capacity in connection with such interest, or (b) is prohibited from having such interest by the Constitution or by any law. It found that the allegation in the Information that the subject business is owned by the family of respondent Mayor Parojinog was glaringly deficient as it did not state if he had any interest in the business; hence, the second element had not been properly alleged. As to the third element, it found that the Information did not state how respondent Mayor Parojinog intervened or participated in furtherance of the alleged financial interest nor did it state that he had any financial interest prohibited by the Constitution or by any other law; that the acceptance of the project only after it was completed cannot amount to intervention or participation of respondent Mayor Parojinog in order that the project could push through since it was the DPWH which bidded out and awarded the project to the company.

The Court ruled that since there was no violation of respondents’ right to a speedy disposition of cases, the case should not be dismissed, and therefore gave the petitioner an opportunity to amend the Information and correct its defect pursuant to Section 4, Rule 117 of the Rules of Court.

It also noted that since respondent Mayor Parojinog already died on July 30, 2017, the Information should only be filed against respondent Parojinog-Echavez.

(G.R. No. 233063, People v. Sandiganbayan, et al., February 11, 2019)