The embattled anti-human trafficking advocate Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda (center, carrying a brown bag) with some of her supporters. VF File Photo

Statements of support continue to pour in for Visayan Forum (VF) one week after its board of directors and other finance officers were slapped with fraud charges by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), its major funding agency.

VF is a known non-governmental organization fighting against human trafficking and child labor in the Philippines since 1991.

Also USAID alleged that VF’s Founder and Director Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda was behind the tampering of the NGO’s official receipts and documents to cover up missing USAID funded-projects amounting to at least P210 million (US$5 million) based on its audit records from 2005-20110.

Oebanda, in her succeeding media interviews, maintained their ‘conscience is clear’, adding the organization has remained ‘solid in its commitment’ and that they have nothing to hide.

“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,” Oebanda said.

The organization added their ‘bulk’ of achievements will contradict on the charges filed against them.

Also its director is recognized as the first person to win the Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor by the U.S. Department of Labor and an Anti-Slavery Awardee from Anti-Slavery International.

VF’s important achievements include the lobbying of Batas Kasambahay and the ILO (International Labor Organization) Convention for Domestic Workers and delisting the country in the international list where human trafficking and syndicates abound.

Oebanda also said she felt ‘betrayed’ for the lack of due process and for not being given the chance to explain their side, adding the final audit findings were not shown to them.

The VF director then blamed its former bookkeeper for faking the receipts.

Meanwhile Migrante-Middle East spokesperson John Leonard Monterona said he personally believe that VF director may have nothing to do on the allegations hurled against her by the US embassy upon hearing her on an interview by a national TV network.

The group, like VF, also works on the plight of illegally trafficked Filipino workers abroad.

“She should cooperate to the NBI to establish who really did the crime of tampering VF receipts so that charges will be filed against the culprit. This should be done so that the name and prestige of VF will not be tainted,” Monterona added

The anti human-trafficking advocate is also looking forward that the issue will be resolved amicably by VF and the US embassy being partners for a long time in combating human trafficking, adding that ‘prolonged legal battle between the two parties is a triumph by human traffickers.

“There must be a sort of regulation, let’s say by the Securities and Exchange Commission or SEC, covering the conduct of grant or funds by foreign agencies to Philippine NGOs to foster accountability and transparency. Clear-cut guidelines are needed,” Monterona stressed on the lessons learned in the case of NGOs in the country and their funding agencies.

Elsewhere, in streets and social media, concerned people also expressed support to the embattled top NGO in the country.

In its message of support, Lorna Lomiwan of Phil. Leprosy Mission said : I am working in an NGO. The news about Visayan Forum stained not only your reputation but also the other NGOs. But we, at Phil. Leprosy Mission, don’t just believe in such news. We call for due process and justice. May you resolve this issue the soonest time possible. Regain, restore and revive the trust of your investors and stakeholders. May the God of justice reveal the whole truth and give you wisdom in your endeavors. The Philippines needs NGO like VF to further promote the rights and welfare of children and women being trafficked.

Nina Valenzona said: What happened to Visayan Forum Foundation smacks of injustice. We know and believe in their work. They do honest-to-goodness programs to educate communities on trafficking in persons and to help victims. Don’t idolize Visayan Forum only to crucify it later. If mistakes have been committed, don’t take it to the media and destroy Visayan Forum’s reputation and, in the process, ruin all its good work. Due process first!

Gizelle Alcantara: God, please clear those evil minds. We believe in your fights and efforts VF. We know you can make it.

Tita Zaza: Visayan Forum’s work is so laudable. You’re one organization that’s so accessible and helpful. I’ve seen how your POs were able to help women and children who were victims of trafficking. I’ve seen how dedicated your staff who were quite generous with their time and knowledge. I hope and pray that VF will be able to weather this storm.