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Daycare Owner Took Kids Hostage to Help Them
Manila bus siege ended peacefully, gunman said he should be punished
Alex Argote (alexphil)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-29 13:08 (KST)   
A harrowing bus siege in the capital city of Manila ended with no blood being spilled yesterday evening after a gunman, "Jun" Ducat, who held 32 pre-school children and some teachers hostage peacefully surrendered.

Ducat, who runs his own daycare center for about 145 kids from low-income families, shocked the whole nation and the world when he took a busload of his own students and their teachers as unwitting hostages in order to air his grievances on corrupt politics in the Philippines and to demand educational benefits for the youths.

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According to initial reports, Ducat chartered a sleek, air conditioned passenger bus supposedly to take the children on a field trip to nearby Tagaytay city to mark the end of school and the start of the summer vacation. But the planned excursion never materialized as Ducat was entertaining ideas other than just sightseeing.

Ducat and two cohorts, reportedly brandished grenades and Uzi assault rifles and forced the driver to drive the bus in front of Manila city hall, the nerve center of the sprawling metropolis of more than 8 million.

Ducat then scribbled a message on a piece of cardboard and taped it to the glass front window of the bus saying that they had hijacked the bus and taken the students and mentors captive to demand airtime so that he can make his opinions heard by the public.

Speaking haltingly into his wireless phone, Ducat begged for forgiveness from his fellow Filipinos in committing the brazen act of holding hostage innocent children. He was heard saying over the radio and television carrier waves that his love for his poor students made him do this because it was the only way that officials could listen to his pleas for political reform in the country.

With elections for lucrative national and provincial political posts only a month away, Ducat appealed to aspiring politicians to end graft and corruption and for everyone to support the unity government of President Arroyo.

The day care center head said that he would never harm the kids and told the policemen who had surrounded the hijacked bus to have mercy on the children and not to provoke shooting. He was quoted as saying that he would not be the first to draw blood.

To prevent law enforcers from storming the bus, Ducat let everyone know that he was holding a grenade with a safety pin removed in his hands. In his message to the public, he demanded that his more than 145 kindergarten students be supported in getting a higher education so that they will be disciplined and stay off drugs. He also requested that their families be provided with better housing and living conditions. His students live in the drug and crime infested slums of Manila. He said he wanted them to escape such destitute life through quality education.

Malacanang palace officials designated MMDA or Metro Manila Development Authority chaiman Bayani Fernando to diffuse and peacefully end the hostage crisis that has gripped the impoverished Filipino nation where poverty is endemic as corruption eats at the highest rung of society and government.

The gunmen pulled the bus curtains and closed them tight to prevent anyone from seeing the goings-on inside the vehicle that was the center of a tense stand off that gripped millions of Filipinos and held the attention of the globe.

Police cordoned the immediate area of hostage taking to prevent the curious onlookers from wandering into the explosive scene. Outside the perimeter, distraught and hysterical mothers worried over the safety of their kids, and cried at the policemen and the passers-by to do something.

As the summer sun poured heat on the cloudless sky of Manila, taking ground temperatures to soar to a dizzying 93 degrees celsius, the bus engine was kept running to provide continuous air-conditioning for the children and four teachers.

In the afternoon, one of the pre-school kids, Zynhon Pacheco, was freed by his well-intentioned captors because of a high fever. The boy was immediately brought out and taken for treatment to a hospital.

Jun Ducat then requested Ramon Revilla jr., a popular movie actor and senator in the country's congress, to come to the scene and facilitate the negotiations to end the standoff that had dragged through the day as an anxious nation waited with baited breath.

Arriving promptly at the hostage area, the movie icon then promised Ducat over the airwaves that he would pay for the future academic pursuits of the day care center students, adding that he and the hostage taker were friends. On behalf of his friend, Revilla ask the authorities to give more airtime so that Ducat could express more of his ideas.

Ducat continued his harangue. "Aren't we ashamed of ourselves? We are a country who believes in God and yet we are ungodly in our actions," he said.

"President Arroyo is fighting corruption, we should unite with her," he added.

The one-time contractor said that he was willing to accept punishment for what he did. He also warned the Filipino voters to be wary of scheming politicians who claim to help the needy for their own heinous ends.

One of Ducat's henchmen, Ogie Carbonel, then reportedly asked for the presence and assistance of Ilocos province bigwig Chavit Singson, an aspiring senator who is running under the banner of President Arroyo's Unity Team political party.

In 2001, Singson became instrumental in the impeachment of disgraced former President Joseph Estrada that catapulted Arroyo to the presidency. The second woman chief executive of the Philippines is campaigning hard for her team's candidates to ensure that her political allies win most of the congressional seats and various local positions in the provinces

For his part MMDA Exec Fernando vowed to improve the housing conditions of the slum where the hostage children are residing, and promised in the local dialect of Tagalog that he will make the area comfortable to live in.

Before surrendering to the authorities, Ducat asked the growing crowd to light white candles and pray for the enlightenment of all political candidates throughout the country to work for the eradication of poverty and end the corruption in the government.

The nation heaved a sigh of relief that no one was hurt in the ordeal, but authorities said that the kids will have to undergo extensive counseling.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alex Argote

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