MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine nongovernment organization accused by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) of falsifying receipts for grants has been a key aid recipient of US funds to fight human trafficking, sex trade, and abuse, according to diplomatic memos published by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
The Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF), which has been charged with falsification for irregularities in an audit of around P300 million in donations that the USAID gave to the group since 2005, is mentioned in at least 38 cables sent by the US embassy in Manila to Washington.
Three of the cables that are marked confidential highlight the role that VFF plays in going after human traffickers and helping trafficking victims, who are mostly women.
"It is a unique feature of Philippine law that NGOs are allowed to bring trafficking cases, with the permission of the [Department of Justice," according to cable 05MANILA1618 dated April 7, 2005 that was sent to Washington in the name of then Chargé d'affaires Joseph Mussomeli.
A February 17, 2010 report by the US embassy said the VFF gave "significant input" on information on the status of human trafficking in the Philippines.
Cable 10MANILA293 said said that in the same month, the VFF, the Office of the Ombudsman, the International Justice Mission, and the Ateneo Human Rights Center signed a memorandum of agreement to jointly prosecute corrupt government officials and train government employees in agencies vulnerable to trafficking-related corruption.
It said the VFF has also partnered with the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), the Philippine Ports Authority, and even public affairs program the "PROBE Team" in the campaign against human trafficking.
The VFF, in partnership with the Manila International Airport Authority, also runs an airport halfway house for trafficking victims, the report said.
"VFF focuses on the promotion of child welfare, especially migrant working children, and is active on the issue of domestic trafficking of women and children. It provides 24-hour services for victims, including the operation of several temporary shelters, counseling, employment referrals, training, and advocacy," the embassy cable said.
"[VFF] staff positioned at ports identify and intercept probable victims of trafficking as they disembark ships," it added.
"Through funding assistance from The Asia Foundation and the USG, VFF spearheaded the creation of the Multi-Sectoral Network Against Trafficking in Persons (MSNAT), a national network committed to provide immediate and appropriate response mechanisms to prevent trafficking, investigate and prosecute offenders, and protect, rescue, recover, and reintegrate victims, especially women and children," it added.
The cable said that the VFF has rescued more than 2,650 potential victims of human trafficking in the Philippines.
A March 16, 2010 document published online by the US State Department shows that the VFF has received large amounts of money from the USAID through the years to pursue its work.
USAID gave VFF $288,495 in fiscal year 2005, and an additional $149,000 in the same year. The initial grant covered 2 years and 8 months, or from October 2005 to May 2008.
In fiscal year 2008, USAID gave $896,000 to VFF for its expansion program in Mindanao, which covered 2008 to 2011.
The group was also given $466,361 for the expansion of its advocacy with MTV EXIT, a multimedia initiative produced by MTV EXIT Foundation (formerly known as the MTV Europe Foundation) to fight human trafficking. The grant covered 2009 to 2011.
A separate grant program showed that the VFF received $300,000 for the period of September 2008 to September 2010 for the operations of the halfway houses for trafficking victims in Manila, Davao, Sorsogon and Batangas.