Busload of students and teachers hijacked in Manila

A day-care center owner took a busload of his students and teachers hostage and drove them to Manila city hall Wednesday to demand better housing and education for the children.

Jun 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 and a .45-caliber pistol, police officer Mark Andal said.

They said they were demanding housing and education for 145 children in his 4-year-old day-care center in Manila's poor Tondo district where the incident, televised live around the world, appeared to have begun. The driver was released soon afterward.

"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. Black-clad bomb squads and SWAT teams watched from behind 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 but wanted a hookup with a number of radio stations to deliver a message to the Philippine people. 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 in 1989 involving two priests in which he used fake grenades, but the priests did not press charges in what was described as a contract dispute, 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.

He once protested against the high price of rice by pulling a wagon loaded with sacks of rice about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Nueva Ecija province to Manila.

During an election campaign in 1998, he climbed to the top of a tower to protest against the candidacy of a politician who he said was not a real Filipino citizen.

"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."

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Author`s name Angela Antonova