Anti-human trafficking group cleared of estafa charges
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has dismissed the charges against anti-human trafficking group Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. over the alleged misuse of funds from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
A resolution released recently by the DOJ cleared VFFI founding president Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda and nine other members of the organization of estafa charges due to lack of sufficient evidence.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation in 2012, which probed the organization for allegedly falsifying documents to hide the misuse of $2.1 million USAID grant for Visayan Forum's project of building halfway houses for human trafficking victims.
Former employees of the VFFI turned into "whistleblowers" claimed the organization falsified documents for the liquidation of funds worth P1.756 million it received from the USAID from June 2008 to July 2008.
However, the DOJ said the NBI failed to present sufficient evidence needed to conduct a further preliminary investigation on the complaint.
"Other than the bare allegations of the NBI operatives that the VFFI received such funds from the USAID for the said period, not a single document was presented to substantiate and prove their claim that funds were received by VFFI from USAID," the resolution read.
No document was also presented to prove that VFFI submitted these documents to the USAID to liquidate the funds it received.
"Other than the bare allegations of the complainant and their witnesses no document was presented to prove that these alleged falsified documents were indeed the supporting documents used to liquidate the funds purportedly advanced by USAID for the period June 2008 to July 2008," the DOJ said.
"Thus, 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," it added.
"There is no gainsaying that the complaint filed against the herein respondents has no leg to stand on.”
Apart from Oebanda, the DOJ also dismissed the complaints against lawyer Joaquin Garaygay, Sofia Arce, Roland Romeo Pacis, Ma. Luisa Zuniga-Carmine, Luzviminda Panes, Ben Nibalvos, Eda Betita, Maria Fatima Barbosa and Julio Flauta.
“I’m thankful to DOJ that after more than four years of patiently and humbly waiting to allow the justice system to take its course, we can put this allegation behind us," Oebanda said in a statement.
"We thank 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.
Dated July 29, the resolution was prepared by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Merba Waga and Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva and approved by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano.
The VFFI has been considered the leading Philippine group in the fight against human trafficking.
Oebanda has also been tapped as an adviser to the Philippine government in its effort to remove the country from the international watchlist of states where human trafficking remains rampant. —KBK, GMA News