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DOJ clears officers of anti-trafficking NGO of fraud raps over USAID grant

Visayan Forum founder Cecilia Flores-Oebanda (center) receiving the World's Children's Prize in 2011. (image from VFFI website)
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- The Department of Justice has dismissed criminal fraud charges against officers and staff of a nongovernmental organization that has won accolades for its efforts against human trafficking.

The Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. said in a statement that the resolution, signed July 29, by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Merba A. Waga and Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Theodore M. Villanueva, and approved by Prosecutor General Claro A. Arellano, found "insuffi­cient evidence to warrant the conduct of a further preliminary investigation" on the charges of estafa through falsification of commercial documents filed in 2012 by the National Bureau of Investigation on behalf of USAID, which was a key partner of the NGO.

The complaint had accused VFFI founding president Cecilia Flores-Oebanda and others of falsifying documents to conceal the irregular use of some P210 million from a P300-million USAID grant for a port project.

But an excerpt of the resolution quoted in the NGO's statement said “it is clear that the alleged falsified documents which were purportedly used as supporting documents to liquidate the funds they claimed VFFI received from the USAID and made the basis of their complaint cannot support the charges filed against the herein respondents. There is no gainsaying that the complaint filed against the herein respondents has no leg to stand on.”

Before the case was filed, USAID had been a key partner of VF, whose 26-year efforts to combat human trafficking and assist domestic workers have earned it international recognition.

Oebanda, in the statement, thanked the DOJ and “our partners who stood with us during those difficult times.”

“We can now move forward and focus our positive energies to fulfill our greater mission,” she added.

Currently, said Oebanda, “there are 50 victims and survivors of human tra­fficking as young as 2 years old under our care.”