GMA News Online

Anti-human trafficking group calls US fraud charges 'malicious attack'

September 14, 2012 7:35pm
The anti-human trafficking group Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. on Friday branded as "false" the fraud allegations from the US government, and vowed to vindicate itself in court against accusations that it used fake receipts and contracts in liquidating hundreds of millions of pesos in foreign funding.

"We are shocked by the malicious attack to our reputation—built for 20 years with blood, sweat and tears," said Visayan Forum founder and president Cecilia Flores-Oebanda in a statement.

The US government, with the help of former employees of the VFFI as whistleblowers, accused the group of producing fraudulent contracts and receipts to justify USAID assistance.

"We feel betrayed by the lack of due process and the rush to judgment,” Oebanda said. “The final audit findings were not presented to us and we were not given a chance to clarify and explain our side."

She added: "The accusations against the directors are false and unfounded. We will staunchly defend our integrity in court."

At least P210 million ($5 million) in aid meant to fund the group's projects were found to be missing, said Rachel Marfil Angeles, the head of the investigating division. She said the findings were backed by external auditors hired by the USAID, which checked disbursements to the Foundation covering the period 2005 to 2011.

Established in 1991, the foundation is considered the leading Philippine non-government organization (NGO) in the fight against human trafficking. 

Oebanda has been recognized internationally multiple times, including an award from the US Department of Labor and the Anti-Slavery Award from the US-based Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest human rights organization, in 2005. 

According to Oebanda, there are "parallel impact evaluation that involved multi-sectoral partners and beneficiaries all over the country" that contradict the allegations and show the funds were put to good use.

"The body of our work speaks for itself—from lobbying of Batas Kasambahay and the ILO (International Labor Organization) Convention for Domestic Workers, to fighting trafficking syndicates in airports and ports, and rescuing victims from exploitation," she said.

The VFFI chief appealed to the public not to prejudge the organization and instead take notice of the group's efforts to curb human trafficking and help its victims recover.

"Our conscience is clear. We have nothing to hide. Our commitment is solid! We will continue to stand our ground, to provide services to victims and to fight traffickers. We will vindicate ourselves in our courts of law," Oebanda said.

Prosecutor General Claro Arellano on Friday told GMA News Online that the case, initially investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation and referred to the DOJ, had already been raffled off for preliminary investigation. The DOJ will determine if the complaint should be elevated to the courts. — Mark D. Merueñas/KBK/YA, GMA News
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