Philippines: Child hostages released unharmed

Kidnapper, Jun Ducat, uses 10-hour standoff to denounce corruption and demand better lives for impoverished children.

phillippine hostage 298. (photo credit: AP)
phillippine hostage 298.
(photo credit: AP)
A man who took a busload of children and teachers hostage from his day-care center in Manila on Wednesday freed them after a 10-hour standoff that he used to denounce corruption and demand better lives for impoverished children. Clutching dolls and backpacks, the children began filing off the bus shortly after 7 p.m. (1100 GMT), as Jun Ducat had promised in a rambling message delivered via a loudspeaker hours earlier. Ducat, a 56-year-old civil engineer who has staged other attention-grabbing stunts in the past, then put the pin back in a grenade, handed it to a provincial governor and surrendered. The man took a busload of his students and teachers hostage and drove them to Manila city hall to demand better housing and education for the children. Ducat and at least one other hostage-taker scribbled in large letters on a sheet of paper, taped to the bus windshield, that they were holding 32 children and two teachers and were armed with two grenades, an Uzi assault rifle police and a .45-caliber pistol, police officer Mark Andal said. They said they were demanding housing and education for 145 children in a day-care center in Manila's poor Tondo district where the incident, televised live around the world, appeared to have begun. "I love these kids; that's why I am here," Ducat, identified by police and parents as the day-care center owner, told DZMM radio by mobile phone. "I invited the children for a field trip. "You can be assured that I cannot hurt the children. In case I need to shed blood, I will not be the first to fire. I am telling the policemen, have pity on these children." One child with a fever was released after four hours and was driven away in an ambulance. Police surrounded the bus, its emergency lights flashing, near a monument to Andres Bonifacio, one of the leaders of the Philippine revolution against Spanish colonial rule in 1896. Ambulances, fire trucks and crisis teams from the Social Welfare Department also were on standby. TV footage showed the kindergarten-age children, one in sunglasses, waving from the windows, and a woman could be seen making a hand signal asking for a phone as one of the gunmen held a grenade at her shoulder. The woman reassuringly massaged the shoulders of one boy as she walked away from the front of the bus and the curtains were pulled shut. The children were allowed to wave again later, apparently to show they were OK, before the curtains were closed again. Mothers of some hostages went on radio to tearfully appeal for their children's safety. "We are asking him to free the children, to let our kids out," said Dema Arroyo, 29, mother of 6-year-old hostage Angelica. "We will forgive him if he will free our children. We have no ill feelings toward him. He is a good person." Ducat said the hostage-taking was for the children's benefit. "To the parents of the kids I am with ... I am asking for justice so they can have continued education up to college," Ducat said. Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral talked with Ducat and offered assurances that the children would get a good education. About 2 1/2 hours after the standoff began, Sen. Bong Revilla, who said he knows Ducat, was allowed to board the bus for negotiations. Some were broadcast live on radio, the sounds of the kids playing and talking in the background. Revilla emerged 45 minutes later and reported that the children were in good shape. He said Ducat was holding a grenade with the pin pulled out, and that his hands were shaking. Revilla said Ducat claimed he planned to surrender later. Ice cream was being brought for the hostages, the senator said. The engine of the purple-and-gray bus continued to run, providing air conditioning as midday temperatures reached 34 degrees C (93 F). Traffic ground to a halt around the normally busy area. Ducat, who claimed to have food for two days, was involved in a previous hostage-taking about 20 years ago with two priests in which he used fake grenades, officials said. Revilla said he had no doubt that the grenade this time was real. A DZMM radio reporter said Ducat, who was seeking safety assurances, asked him to call his doctor, saying he had an angioplasty two weeks ago and that his chest was feeling tight. Ducat was disqualified as a congressional candidate in 2001. It was not immediately clear why, but he was well known to local officials. "I know him as a very, very passionate individual who has his own kind of thinking on the solutions to our problems," Manila Mayor Lito Atienza said. "But we cannot agree with his ways."