Court lets NBI keep evidence against Visayan Forum
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A lower court has sided with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in its bid to keep evidence it had seized from the Visayan Forum, a nongovernment organization, based on a complaint by the United States government.
In a four-page decision, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Ma. Lourdes Giron ordered the NBI’s Anti-Graft Division (AGD) to retain custody of the boxes of evidence against VFFI president Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda and its other officials.
The AGD headed by Rachel Angeles filed falsification of documents charges against the VFFI officials based on the complaint of Daniel Altman, special agent in charge of the [Europe and Asia] Office of the Inspector General-USAID, the testimony of two whistle-blowers and the boxes of falsified documents seized in a raid on the VFFI office in Cubao, Quezon City.
Angeles said at least P200 million of P300 million that came from USAID remained unaccounted for.
“There are no valid grounds for the quashing of the subject search warrant because it has complied with the requirements laid down by law,” Giron said.
Giron said “the judge who issued the search warrant found that probable cause exists to issue a search warrant and that violation of Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code has been committed.”
Giron said that before issuing the search warrant, “the presiding judge personally examined under oath the applicants, lawyer Dennis Villasfer and lawyer Erickson Donn R. Mercado of the NBI-AGD, together with their witnesses”.
Giron said that after serving the search warrant, a return of search warrant with motion to retain custody of seized items was filed by Mercado and Villasfer.
The judge said that along with the motion corresponding receipts and an inventory of the property seized were submitted.
Giron also denied the motion to quash the search warrant filed by VFFI against the NBI.
“In view of the foregoing, the urgent motion to quash the search warrant is hereby denied,” Giron said.
The VFFI filed a motion to quash the search warrant for the raid on VFFI headquarters in Cubao in September and asked the court to order the NBI to return all the documents taken in the raid.
The NBI has recommended the prosecution of Oebanda and other VFFI officials in the Department of Justice after its investigation showed that around P200 million in donations funneled to the VFFI could not be accounted for.
The NBI also recommended the filing of charges against VFFI directors, finance officers, bookkeepers and other employees.
The VFFI provides education, shelter and psychological help to victims of trafficking.
It receives funds from international donors like USAID, the US Department of State, Bill Gates Foundation and Starbucks.
Angeles said the NBI probe established that the order to manufacture the fake receipts came from the VFFI president.
Oebanda has denied the accusations and pointed to the whistle-blowers as the real culprits of the fraud. Nancy C. Carvajal