• Arrest warrant out for audit firm worker

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    A Quezon City court has issued a warrant of arrest against an employee of a private firm commissioned by the United States Agency for International Development [Usaid] to audit a well-known non-government organization involved in anti-human trafficking campaign.

    Judge Joel Socrates Lopena of the Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 33 issued the arrest warrant dated December 2, 2013 against a certain Celestina Medina Aguilar of 938 R. Santos Street, Caridad, Cavite City.

    Visayan Forum Foundation [VFF] through its counsel Joaquin Garaygay said Aquilar committed perjury when “she clearly lied under oath . . . used the word ‘we’ in order to convince the trial court that she had personal knowledge of the safe houses of VFF.”

    Caraygay said “was it not for the testimony, the application for search warrant could have been denied.”

    VFFI is the subject of audit by Usaid after it allegedly could not account for the $1.6- million (P70 million) halfway house projects it should have built from 2005 to 2011.

    The judge set a P6,000 bail. VFF President Cecilia Flores-Oebanda said the warrant has been served, but she was not aware if Aquilar was able to post bail.

    The Manila Times tried to call the office of Aguilar, but it could not be reached as of press time.

    The case stemmed from the allegations of a certain Maria Analie Villacorte, a former VFF bookkeeper, who said that she was instructed by her superior to falsify records in connection with the halfway housing project.

    VFF has been a recipient of several international awards recognizing its contributions in the apprehension of human traffickers, rescue of victims and the prevention of the so-called modern day slavery since its establishment 22 years ago.

    Among its awards are the 2005 anti-slavery, 2008 Skoll award for social entrepreneurship, named by the US State Department as one of its heroes acting to end modern-day slavery in its 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, first recipient of the Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor in Jan. 2009, honorary awardee of the 2011 World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child, and the 2011 Prix Caritas award.

    It was sometime in August last year when a team of National Bureau of Investigation agents raided the office of VFF in Quezon City and confiscated 35 boxes of documents, including computers and laptops.

    VFF maintains that the raid was illegal.

    “We are looking forward to see her [Aguilar] in court,” Oebanda said in a text message.

    Despite the legal battle, VFF remains a good friend of United Nations.

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