MANILA – The Sandiganbayan has cleared a senior official of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) charged with graft for allegedly bringing her husband to a safety seminar using government money.

The anti-graft court acquitted Charlita Andales Escaño, Director of MinDA Finance and Administrative Services, as "there was no unwarranted benefit, advantage, or preference extended to the husband (Alan)."

"As a matter of fact, Escaño paid for his registration fee, although belatedly, after being sent a demand letter by the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers Davao City Chapter Inc.," read the October 26 ruling.

Escaño brought along her husband to the Basic Occupational Safety and Health Course for Construction Site Officers held at the Ritz Hotel at Garden Oases in Davao City, in lieu of MinDA engineer Renato Buhat Jr., on March 16 to 20, 2015.

Buhat was invited to the event but did not attend due to another official travel to Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and other areas in Misamis Oriental on the said dates.

The prosecution said Escaño knew beforehand that Buhat would not make it to the conference and took advantage to allow her husband to attend.

Ruling otherwise, the anti-graft court said "the undue injury sustained by MinDA in the form of wasted registration fee for Engr. Buhat was not caused by Escaño."

"Buhat's negligence was the main reason for the wastage of the registration fee paid for him" as he did not properly inform MinDA or his colleagues he won’t be attending because of a conflict in his schedule, the court ruled.

Buhat likewise did not inform MinDA right away that he was not able to attend the seminar and that the agency should seek a reimbursement of his registration fees.

In challenging her alleged violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Escaño argued that there was no documentary evidence showing that she mentioned her husband as the replacement of Buhat nor did her husband misrepresent himself as an employee of MinDA. (PNA)