Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, 53, the famous Kumander Liway who fought the Marcos dictatorship in the hinterlands of southern Negros during the martial law years, yesterday denied accusations that the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. which she heads, failed to account for P210 million in US aid.
“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 and the rush to judgment. The final audit findings were not presented to us and we were not given a chance to clarify and explain our side,” the VFFI founder and president told the DAILY STAR.
Oebanda, who is from Barangay Banago, Bacolod City, said she wept over the unjust charges filed against her group.
“I don’t know why they are doing this to us, we just worked to help others in need, especially the poor”, she said.
She said the accusations against the VFFI directors are false and unfounded.
“We will staunchly defend our integrity in court. Aside from the audit, there is also a parallel impact evaluation that involved multi-sectoral partners and beneficiaries all over the country, which articulates the impact of Visayan Forum’s work and which contradicts those allegations,” Oebanda added.
“The body of our work speaks for itself — from lobbying of Batas Kasambahay and the ILO Convention for Domestic Workers, to fighting trafficking syndicates in airports and ports, and rescuing victims from exploitation”, she said.
“They claim that we do not have children in our centers but there are success stories of the children from the halfway houses and the Center of Hope that could best testify to the changes we have made in their lives,” she said.
“We call on people not to prejudge us but instead look at the contributions we have made in the fight against human trafficking,” she said, stressing that they will continue their mission to help those in need of help.
Oebanda was a San Sebastian Cathedral catechist in Bacolod City who helped human rights victims when Martial Law was declared in 1972.
She also organized youth leaders and joined the New People’s Army in the 1970s.
She was eventually captured by the military in September 1982 in Hinobaan town, and was detained for five years. She was released after the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted then president Ferdinand Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino to the presidency.
Upon her release, Oebanda went to Manila and started a small business until she organized the VFFI in 1991.
Oebanda is a single parent with four children.
She studied at the Andres Bonifacio Elementary School, Negros Occidental Provincial High School and finished a commerce degree at the Colegio San Agustin Bacolod.
Former Bacolod Councilor Jocelle Batapa Sigue said she has known Oebanda and her group as the most committed and active organization working against human trafficking and the rights of domestic workers in Bacolod and Negros Occidental. The group has a program in Bacolod City that helps child prostitutes learn how to use computers as an alternative means of livelihood, she said.
“Oebanda is very dedicated to her work, very simple, humble, soft spoken and approachable,” said Sigue, who used to head the Bacolod Gender and Development Council and is presently the executive director of the Anti-Trafficking Legal Society.*CPG