Philippine NGO faces fraud charges

Ma. Cecilia Flores Oebanda, president and executive director of the Visayan Forum Foundation. The organization has been accused of faking receipts related to a $300 million project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Photo by: Skoll World Forum

The U.S. Agency for International Development has filed fraud charges against officials of an anti-human trafficking nongovernmental organization in the Philippines. The money in question: 210 million Philippine pesos ($5 million).

The charges, filed Sept. 6 against the Visayan Forum Foundation, stemmed from a complaint from USAID’s Office of the Inspector General. The donor agency has accused the NGO of faking receipts related to its $300 million donation to the organization’s port project, which covered the period 2005-2011. Based on evidence, 41 million Philippine pesos of the unaccounted money “had been faked,” National Bureau Investigation anti-fraud chief Rachel Marfil-Angeles told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

NBI, which is leading the investigations, raided the foundation’s office in Cubao, Quezon City, where they seized 32 boxes of receipts. Marfil-Angeles said “tampering and the alterations [in the receipts] were very obvious and scotch tape marks were visible based on our analysis.”

Amounts in the receipts were allegedly “altered” using clear adhesive tape, one of the whistle-blowers, a former bookkeeper, said in a sworn statement. The same person accused the foundation’s president and executive director, Ma. Cecilia Flores Oebanda, of ordering the manipulations.

Meanwhile, an auditor hired by USAID said funds had been disbursed “without real beneficiaries,” PDI reports.

In statement released Friday (Sept. 14), the foundation denied the allegations, which it says are “false and unfounded.” The NGO also said it was not given copies of the final audit findings and were “not given a chance to clarify and explain our side.”

Oebanda, the foundation’s head, has garnered international recognition for the foundation’s crusade against human trafficking. She received the first Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2009.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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