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Court allows Padaca to attend poll conference in US

The Sandiganbayan has allowed Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Grace Padaca, currently facing graft charges before the court, to travel to the United States to monitor next month’s presidential election there. Padaca, currently out on bail, has been tasked to represent the Comelec in the conference organized by the international non-profit organization International Federation of Electoral System (IFES). In an interview Tuesday, Padaca said she agreed to the conditional arraignment in exchange for the temporary lifting of the hold departure order. “[Na-grant ang aking request] because pumayag ako sa conditional arraignment,” she said. Padaca’s case stemmed from the alleged irregular disbursement of a P25-million grant to the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc. without public bidding in 2006. A former Isabela governor and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, Padaca was supposed to be arraigned on November 29 but it was moved to October 30 because of her petition to be allowed to travel abroad. Padaca earlier requested to move the arraignment to November 29 pending the Supreme Court decision on her petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO).   Padaca, who entered a not guilty plea during her arraignment Tuesday, assured the court that she would return to the country to face the charges against her, which, according to her supporters, are politically motivated. “Naka-crutches ako, unless meron akong pakpak,” Padaca, a polio survivor, said in jest. “Yes, walang [flight]. Madami kayang trabaho rito.” In US, Padaca is set to attend conferences on campaign finance, electronic voting and accessibility of voting to persons with disabilities, senior citizens and people with sickness. She will be accompanied by Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco. Padaca said they would also monitor how the media cover the US presidential election. The conference will be held from November 4 to 7. Padaca requested for a leave from November 2 to 10.   Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Monday said they would not prevent Padaca from leaving the country so long as she gets the permission of the anti-graft court. — Marc Jayson Cayabyab/KBK, GMA News