SOME local officials yesterday voiced concern over accusations by US aid funders that fund anomalies were found in a Visayas -based advocacy group agains human trafficking.
Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale said the Cebu Provincial Women's Commission would continue its partnership with the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc., saying it is an accredited and active member in their campaign against human trafficking.
“Our networking with them did not involve funds. We don’t use their fund, they don’t use our funds. They are just in the advocacy committee, although we work closely”, Magpale said.
The non-government organization (NGO) was earlier cited by the US Aid for International Development (USAID) agency for failing to account for at least P210 million of the P300 million funding it received from them as well as the discovery of fake receipts.
Magpale said the VFFI should should be given a chance to explain its side.
“For one, they have accreditation. Even if there are no funds involved we don’t want to be associated with an NGO that has a tarnished reputation. But the charges have yet to be proven. Let’s give them a chance to answer,” she said.
VFFI regional coordinator for the Visayas Vicente Abadesco said the allegation was unfair because the audit was not complete.
He said USAID relied on hearsay statements from a resigned bookkeeper.
“We felt betrayed. We felt no due process was given. They went straight to the media for trial by publicity,” Abadesco said.
He said the accusations may be part of a plan to discredit their group and stop their anti-human trafficking campaign.
Abadesco confirmed that their office in Manila was raided last August 31.
Some boxes were reportedly confiscated but Abadesco said they did not know where the boxes came from.
Abadesco also clarified that the USAID fund reached P250 million, not P300 million as mentioned in a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He said the funds are released by tranches every three months for a five-year program that was to be completed this year.
He said the organization still has collectibles andare still liquidating expenses.
Asked about alleged fake receipts and documents, Abadesco said he presumed that the investigators referred to some papers or purchase forms used by volunteers in emergency situation.
He cited as an example the food expenses they incurred for trafficking victims who ate in eateries that don't have cash registers.
Abadesco said they write the amounts in pieces of paper to be signed by the eatery owners.
Abadesco said VFFI had to use USAID funds for their operations.
The NGO has 20 social workers nationwide.
Other operational expenses include the maintenance of their nine shelters nationwide, food for the victims and even transport fare for the victims and their families.
He said USAID started issuing funds in 2005 or 2007 while their group had been operating since 1991.
Abadesco said the USAID case won't affect their ties with European partners. He said they will wait for the cases to be filed.
Cebu City President Earl Bonachita of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and executive director Lolit Aliño of the Legal Alternative for Women (LAW Inc.) both expressed support for VFI.
Bonachita said the VFFI is conducting training for the lawyers on advocacy for anti-human trafficking with the third batch trained last week.
Aliño said it's possible that the VFFI was the target of a demolition job by some groups. /Jhunnex Napallacan, Correspondent