Support pouring in for Oebanda; also on Twitter
The founder and president of Visayas Forum Foundation Inc. (VFFI) Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda asked for understanding from the public and other donors of the foundation amid charges of fund misuse.
“We call on people not to prejudge us but instead look at the contributions we have made in the fight against human trafficking,” Oebanda said.
But despite the charges of falsification of documents filed by the National Bureau of Investigation on the behest of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), support has been pouring in for the VFFI head. The social media Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with messages of shock, sadness and encouragement since news broke about the USAID suit.
Kevin A. Mandrilla (@kevinalec) tweeted: “I hope that they survive this. They’ve done many great things.”
Bart Edes (@Bartapest) added: “So sad – anti-human trafficking group Visayan Forum Foundation is accused by US Government of misusing funds.”
Vera Ocampo (@verabear): “Hope they are cleared.”
Rachel Nalus Quintos (@echocandy): “Shocked about news of Visayan Forum. I hope the truth comes out soon enough.”
A post on the VFFI’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/VisayanForumFoundation) said, “We are shocked by the malicious attack to our reputation—built for 20 years with blood, sweat and tears. We feel betrayed by the lack of due process. The accusations are unfounded. We will staunchly defend our integrity in court and in other forums. Partners, you are aware of what we have done together and it would help if you come out to testify about our shared successes.”
The post has been shared for more than 70 times and received 70 likes as of 4 p.m. on Friday.
The foundation’s Cebu-based partners have also rallied around VFFI.
Lolit Aliño, executive director of the Legal Alternative for Women, said she did not believe the accusations. She added that it was possible that there were powerful groups or individuals who were hit by the group’s antihuman trafficking campaign and were striking back with a demolition job against VFFI.
Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, cochair of the Cebu Provincial Women’s Commission, said they would continue to work with VFFI until the allegations against the NGO were proven.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City chapter said they would continue its joint project with the VFFI. The IBP has an existing memorandum of agreement with the group for the training of lawyers who would be tapped to defend victims of human trafficking.
Vicente Abadesco, regional coordinator of VFFI in the Visayas, said the allegation would not affect their other funding sources in Europe like in London and Germany. He pointed out that when their office was raided, they got the statement of support from those funding agencies.
Oebanda said that since 1991 when the VFFI was founded, the group had reached out to “at least 70,000 victims, some 15,000 of them given food, shelter, care, counseling and [enrolled in] continuous study programs.”
She said she had proof that the aid money was given to the intended beneficiaries.
“We have testimonies of children’s success stories sheltered in the foundation’s halfway houses and the Center of Hope that could best testify to the changes we have made in their lives,” Oebanda said.
She added that part of VFFI’s accomplishment was lobbying for the Batas Kasambahay, the bill on domestic helpers.
But Oebanda said she was confident that they would be vindicated in court. “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,” she said, adding that the group was still getting funding from three smaller funding agencies and could continue with its advocacy.
Oebanda’s son, Kip, the foundation’s international coordinator, also expressed surprise at the USAID move.
“The USAID is [one of the] strictest agencies before funds are awarded,” he said.
“It will not award funds [until it] finds everything in order,” the younger Oebanda added. The US development agency, he said, conducted due diligence when VFFI made its bid for funds. With reports from Jhunnex Napallacan and Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas; and Inquirer Research