Activist priest asks Congress to investigate NGO fund scandalBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes on Friday called on Congress to conduct a serious investigation on the operations of so-called ”non-government organizations” in the country following the fund scandal that involved the founder and president of Visayan Forum Foundation Inc., a group known for its campaign against human trafficking.
“A congressional hearing is in order to assess the state of Philippine NGOs today,” Reyes said over the phone.
He said the fund scandal involving VFFI president Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, accused by the US Agency for International Development of failing to account for P210 million in US aid, is an opportunity for NGOs to reexamine their existence.
“The case is a wake up and conscience call for complacent NGOs to reexamine their raison d’être and the fake or fly-by-night NGOs to consider just closing shop before the state catches and prosecutes them,” said Reyes, popularly known as the “running priest” for initiating marathons to raise public awareness about social and political issues.
He noted that the Edsa People power revolution was helped propelled by NGOs and people’s organizations which were motivated by “clear ethical and political principles.”
Reyes lamented that after the peaceful revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, “the ethical and political transformation just vanished.”
“Everything went into relax mode. Ideals, activism, vigilance and unfortunately, even ethical principles,” Reyes observed.
Reyes also bewailed that even the NGO officers and workers no longer worked and died for their ideals. “And worst, we even hear of funding-driven NGOs,” he said.
Based on the complaint of USAID, the National Bureau of Investigation has recommended the prosecution of Flores-Oebanda, VFFI directors, finance officers, bookkeepers and other employees on charges of falsification of documents.
The charges were based on the complaint by Daniel Altman, special agent in charge of the Europe and Asia Office of the Inspector General-USAID, the testimony of two “whistle blowers” and boxes of falsified documents seized in a raid on the VFFI office in Cubao, Quezon City.
It was alleged that VFFI fabricated the receipts and contracts to justify the expenses charged against the P300 million donated by the USAID.
Laurence Arroyo, lawyer of the VFFI, denied the NBI findings and said that a former VFFI employee could be behind the falsification of documents.
The VFFI provides education, shelter and psychological help to victims of trafficking. It receives funds from international donors such as the USAID, the US Department of State, Bill Gates Foundation and Starbucks.