NGO denies issuing fake receipts to US embassy

Posted at 09/14/2012 3:22 PM | Updated as of 09/15/2012 12:15 AM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) – The non-government organization (NGO) Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF) has denied allegations made by the US Embassy in Manila that they have been falsifying documents.

The NGO’s president and executive director, Ma. Cecilia Flores Oebanda, said in a press statement released Friday that the accusations against their officials “are false and unfounded.”

Oebanda claimed the group was not given a chance to clarify the final audit findings, adding that they felt “betrayed by the lack of due process and the rush to judgment.”

“We are shocked by the malicious attack to our reputation--built for 20 years with blood, sweat and tears,” the statement added.

The VFF is facing charges of falsification of documents, filed by the US Embassy.

The National Bureau of Investigation's (NBI) anti-fraud division has found irregularities in an audit of around P300 million in donations that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gave to the group since 2005.

But Oebanda explained that aside from the audit, a parallel evaluation was conducted and that it contradicts the allegations.

“The body of our work speaks for itself--from lobbying of Batas Kasambahay and the ILO Convention for Domestic Workers, to fighting trafficking syndicates in airports and ports, and rescuing victims from exploitation,” she said.

Oebanda also urged the public “not to prejudge” but to focus on “contributions we have made in the fight against human trafficking.”

“We will vindicate ourselves in our courts of law,” she said.

Due diligence

Oebanda asked why the alleged fake receipts found went as far back as 2005, adding that they would not have been granted aid if they had not passed annual auditing.

“’Yun nga ‘yung problema din namin, kasi una every year in-audit kami, so we have what they call due diligence. Hindi ka makapag-request ng bunch of money kung hindi ka dumaan sa pag-check nila,” she told ANC’s “Top Story.”

She said the group has always complied with the auditing requirements, and that problems were never raised to them through the years.

“Masyadong mahirap and tedious ang requirements, and Visayan Forum walked an extra mile para mag-comply. Ang sa amin lang sana, partner naman kami ng matagal na panahon, kung may nakita silang problema sana sinabihan kami. We should have been informed. I really feel betrayed. I feel na hindi kami dinaan sa due process,” she said.

Oebanda also said the VFF has yet to receive a formal complaint.

Former auditor

A probe by the NBI showed that 32 boxes of the falsified receipts were kept inside the office of the VFF.

A VFF auditor who recently resigned, Maria Analie Villacorte, has accused Oebanda of being the one ordering the manipulation of receipts.

The group, however, questions why the NBI was quick to believe its former auditor.

"Ba't ngayon lang siya lumabas ng ganito? Para masalba niya iyung sarili niya, tinuturo niya ngayon iyung mga direktor na walang kinalaman sa kalokohang ginawa nia," said Atty. Laurence Arroyo, lawyer of VFF.

Oebanda said she found Villacorte’s accusations shocking because the auditor had been part of the company for 4 years.

“4 years na siya amin kaya nagtaka kami bakit ngayon lang siya lumabas. Pero hindi lang siya ‘yung engaged dito kung hindi ‘yung isang anak ng auditor. She’s not even an accountant, at ang observation namin ay parang in bad faith na mula pa dati,” Oebanda told ANC’s “Top Story.”

Oebanda was referring to Celestina Aguilar, one of the witnesses who applied for the search warrant along with Villacorte and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) lawyers Dennis Villasfer and Erickson Donn Mercado.

Oebanda said they suspect that Villacorte has an ulterior motive behind her allegations but Oebanda refused to elaborate.

“Sa ngayon mayroon kaming mga dokumento na hinahawakan na hindi namin pwede sabihin dahil hinahanda namin ito sa hearing,” she said.

However, Oebanda said she does not have a personal dispute with Villacorte.

VFF’s legal counsel Atty. Jake Garaygay, meanwhile, said the NGO is considering filing countercharges against Villacorte and Aguilar.

“The way I see it, it has been planned by them to make this appear that Visayan Forum has committed fraud and based on information that I have been getting, there have been plans before that to make it appear that Visayan Forum is engaged in falsifying documents,” Garaygay said.

Garaygay also said VFF, since 2005, has only received donations worth P97 million and not P300 million. -- With a report from Niko Baua, ABS-CBN News