The Sandiganbayan has decided to try the graft cases lodged against Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, Sr. and his daughter Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog-Echavez of Ozamiz City, after junking their earlier plea for the dismissal of the cases for supposed lack of probable cause.
The case against the two officials, who were tagged by President Rodrigo Duterte as drug protectors last year, stemmed from the awarding of a gymnasium renovation project to Parojinog & Sons Construction Co.
In a resolution promulgated on January 31, the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division said it “is convinced that the prosecution presented ample evidence to support a finding of probable cause, hence the accused must be… brought to trial.”
In November last year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed the case, alleging that the mayor had financial interest in the construction company that was supposedly owned by his family when it participated in the bidding for the project and eventually won.
Pajorinog and Echavez then sought the dismissal of the case, arguing that the mayor is not a partner or an investor of the company. The construction firm is a registered partnership between Echavez and her sibling.
But the anti-graft court said: “The averment of the accused as to the absence of any direct or indirect financial or pecuniary interest in Parojinog & Sons Construction Company is a matter of defense which is best left for the Court to resolve after a full-blown trial of the case.”
The defense argued that the procurement law’s implementing rules and regulations were only promulgated in 2009. The law prohibits officials from awarding government contracts to relatives within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity.
The Sandiganbayan noted that the Ombudsman had dismissed a related administrative complaint for lack of merit. In 2015, the Commission on Audit lifted the notice of suspension it had issued in connection with the gymnasium renovation project.
The court, however, maintained: “The accused’s reliance on the lifting of Notice of Suspension and discharge from the administrative case should not affect the instant case since administrative liability is separate and distinct from criminal liability. The Court is duty-bound to exercise its independent judgment without its hands being tied by what transpired in the administrative case.”