Several years ago, I went through a series of training that aimed at helping journalists report incidents of trafficking in human, women and children particularly. It was the first time that I have heard of the nongovernment organization Visayan Forum. I could not exactly remember if it was the Visayan Forum that sponsored the training but I am sure that the Visayan Forum was involved or somehow connected with the NGO that trained us. They were a network, perhaps.
In the training, I learned that we can actually tell–or scare–a white man, who is tagging along a brown-skinned Filipina who looks like 13 or anything not 18 or over, that he is a pedophile. The trainer, of course, taught us to be a little polite by telling a suspected pedophile that “I think you are with a minor.”
But you cannot be polite with a pedophile and speak to him with a smile and spark in your eyes. That was a lame instruction, of course, because if one really is out to scare and stop these pedophiles, one must be brave enough to tell this to the suspected pedophiles face: “I think you are with a minor and that is something that we cannot tolerate so I am calling the cops for you to go to jail, pedophile!”
Now, the Visayan Forum is in limbo. Its Number One feeder–alright, funder–the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has accused the organization of fraud. This is an accusation so serious it will cause the crumble of an NGO that, over the years, built an untrashable reputation not only in the Philippines and in the ASEAN region but also around the world. It is a very serious accusation that deserves palms on the face. Very shameful—whether the accusation is true or not.
This Philippine Daily Inquirer article said the Visayan Forum doctored receipts and falsified documents. The report added that “P210 million of P300 million from USAID remained unaccounted for.” That’s big money, hello.
Following this scandal, what will happen now with the other engagements of USAID with other NGOs in the Philippines? If anything, this will certainly elevate to a certain high the demand for transparency and accountability of civil society organizations spending of foreign funds. I do no think USAID will look all NGOs in the Philippines with the kind of eyes that it has now with, well, the Visayan Forum.
But some NGOs must better wake up now. And fix their papers well. Like, fix it clean. Really clean.
In a statement, the Visayan Forum said–”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.”
And it begged for its partners to vouch for them. It said: “Partners, you are aware of what we have done together and it would help if you come out to testify about our shared successes.”
Well, for me, successes in the advocacy will never spare you from any kinds of sins. In the case of the Visayan Forum, it has been successful in its fight against trafficking in human but it faces fraud and corruption. Success and fraud or corruption, of course, are different things.
And it would be a totally different thing if Visayan Forum’s partners, and donors maybe, will come out and testify against what is hurled against the organization. Sadly, the organizations leading partner is saying that the organization is not “white clean” as it wants to say it is.
I agree that Visayan Forum has been on top of other NGOs in terms of successes. Apparently, USAID is saying now that Visayan Forum has also been successful in other field–defrauding USAID and the American people.
What’s next is the US government wanting revenge. What’s next is for the Visayan Forum to pay for the “blood and sweat of the American people.”