MANILA, March 17, 2004
(STAR) By Delon Porcalla - Vice presidential candidate Sen. Noli de Castro was charged with extortion before the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday by a group claiming to have exposed his illegal activities during his stint as a broadcast journalist in the television network ABS-CBN.

Businessman Andrew Gonzales, along with five other officials of Bagong Lahi Pilipino Development Foundation Inc. (BLDFI), claimed De Castro attempted to extort P3.5 million from foundation president Alvin Almirante sometime in January 2002.

In their two-page complaint, the group alleged De Castro used his "Magandang Gabi Bayan" program to destroy the reputation of the foundation after its offficers refused to shell out the money.

"To those who betray public trust and prostitute media institutions just so they could enrich themselves, let this be a warning that the victims would not suffer in silence and cow in fear. Enough is enough. We are fighting back," Gonzales said.

De Castro was on the campaign trail in Davao City and was not available for comment, but a staff at his Manila office said they would issue a statement as soon as they received a copy of the complaint.

His legal officer is studying the complaint, De Castroís office said.

The other complainants are BLDFI officials Lydia Carandang, Benjie Esprigante, Premin Formaran, Santiago Estrada Sr. and Leonardo Reyes.

They all claimed not giving in to De Castroís demands to pay P3.5 million as "membership fee" in exchange for prominent media mileage in "MGB" and in his radio program over ABS-CBNís dzMM . The group said De Castro claimed the money would be used to buy "medicines and wheelchairs" for the indigent.

Asked to comment on the timing of the charges, Gonzales said it was only recently that they were able to gather evidence to back up their accusations against the senator.

Gonzales claimed other charity groups and non-government organizations were also victimized by De Castro.

He said other charity groups are set to join them to press charges of extortion against the senator.

"This is not to get back (at De Castro). In fact I voted for him in the last elections," he said. "This (complaint) serves as a warning to Filipinos who still believe that he is clean."

Gonzales said De Castro has put them in a bad light in his programs.

Because of the media attacks, Gonzales claimed they have to change their corporate name from East Pacific AAA Foundation to Bagong Lahi.

He claimed De Castro has even accused him of raping his daughter and of being involved in several swindling rackets.

Gonzales said proof that East Pacificís charity work is aboveboard is the recognition given by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to allow it to change its corporate name.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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