Graft raps vs Parojinogs junked due to inordinate delay
The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division has dismissed over inordinate delay the graft charges against Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr., and his daughter Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog over an anomalous gymnasium project granted to the family’s company in 2008.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier branded the Parijnogs as narcopoliticians. Vice Mayor Parojinog was allegedly involved in the New Bilibid drug trade as the girlfriend of Herbert Colangco, a drug lord tagged by Duterte as a member of the triad operating the drug trade in the country. Meanwhile, Duterte tagged Mayor Parojinog as among the local chief executives involved in the drug trade.
The court’s resolution granting the Parojinogs’ motion to quash the graft charges continues the spate of cases being dismissed by the Sandiganbayan due to the Ombudsman’s inordinate delay in filing the cases.
This doctrine, used by the accused to dismiss their cases which took a long time for the Ombudsman to investigate and file before the court, is now being questioned before the Supreme Court.
The Ombudsman also urged the Supreme Court to “direct the Sandiganbayan to temporarily suspend the application of the ‘inordinate delay’ doctrine” pending a ruling of the high court.
In its resolution promulgated April 7, the anti-graft court said the graft charges against the Parojinogs over a 2008 gymnasium renovation project that was awarded to Parojinog & Sons Construction Company (PSCC) owned by the mayor’s children should be dismissed due to insufficiency of information.
The court said the second and third elements of graft – the accused’s direct financial or pecuniary interest and the accused’s intervention in his or her official capacity in connection with that interest – were not properly alleged in the information.
The graft information, the court said, failed to state that the Parojinogs had financial interest in the bidding.
For one, the bidding was conducted by the Department of Public Works and Highways which awarded the contract to PSCC.
“Accused Parojinog Sr. had no participation in those activities,” the court said.
While the prosecution is allowed under the Rules of Court to amend a defective information, this could no longer be entertained because of the dismissal of the case due to inordinate delay, the court said.
In its comment to the court, the prosecution said the accused could not “sweepingly conclude” nothing happened in the investigation of their case since the anonymous complaint was filed against them.
The prosecution said there was no inordinate delay to speak of because the Ombudsman promptly issued its order directing the accused to file their counter affidavits.
Inordinate delay could not be calculated from the time of the filing of the anonymous complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the prosecution said. The DOJ received the anonymous tip on April 2010.
Assessing not just the number of years of delay but also the circumstances to justify it, the court said the Ombudsman took five years and 11 months to file the case before the Sandiganbayan on Nov. 2016, since it took cognizance of the complaint on Dec. 2010.
The Ombudsman for Mindanao referred the complaint to the Commission on Audit on Dec. 2010. The auditors then finished its special audit less than a year later or on Sept. 2011.
The Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO), however, took three years and two months to act on the COA report. The Ombudsman Mindanao received the FIO’s affidavit complaint against the Parojinogs only on Dec. 2014.
This, even though the anonymous complaint against the Parojinogs was already in the FIO’s file four years earlier, the court noted.
Meanwhile, the period of delay attributable to the accused only amounts to a little over a month, from the date of their filing of motion for extension of time on Jan. 2015 to the filing of their counter-affidavit on March 2015.
However, the Ombudsman took six months to resolve the complaint from the filing of counter-affidavits. The date of resolution finding probable cause was Nov. 2015, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved it April 2016.
The Ombudsman took another four months since the Parojinogs’ appeals were denied to file the charges in court.
Ombudsman Morales approved the resolution finding probable cause on April 2016, denied the appeal June 2016, and ordered the filing of charges July 2016. The charges were formally filed November 2016.
The delay in investigating and filing the charges was “inordinate and capricious,” a violation of the constitutional right to a speedy disposition of cases, and thus merits dismissal over inordinate delay, the court said.
“Keeping in mind the constitutional duty of the Ombudsman and the concomitant dispatch with which it is expected to handle and dispose of cases, the delay attending this case can be considered inordinate and capricious,” the court said.
“A review of the four factors would show that there has been indeed a violation of the accused’s right to the speedy disposition of their cases, and that violation warrants the dismissal of the present case against them,” it added.
The decision was penned by Associate Justice Maria Theresa Mendoza-Arcega and concurred by division chairperson Associate Justice Rafael Lagos and Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz.
The resolution granting the motion to quash was a complete turn-around of the court’s earlier resolution finding probable cause to try them for graft.
In finding probable cause, the Sandiganbayan said the PSCC should have been disqualified from bidding because Mayor Parojinog disclosed his ties to the firm in his 2011 Statement of Assets and Liabilities Networth. IDL
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