Child Hostages Released in Manila

  • Share
  • Read Later

Police stand by as a day-care owner holds some 30 children hostage on a bus in central Manila, March 28, 2007. The children were released later that evening.

Early Wednesday morning, the children of Musmos Daycare Center, in Manila's Tondo slum, were supposed to be headed on an excursion to the nearby resort town of Tagaytay. Instead they spent the day parked in their school bus near Manila's city hall — hostages in a nationally televised, eight-and-a-half-hour standoff between their daycare center's owner and Manila police.

"I invited the children for a field trip," daycare center owner Jun Ducat, told a local radio station via mobile phone. Ducat, along with at least one accomplice who wasn't immediately identified, took control of the bus at around 9 a.m., parking it illegally outside Manila's city hall. When the bus got the attention of police, the men announced they were holding two teachers and an estimated 30 children hostage. The men said they were armed with an Uzi submachine gun and hand grenades, although Ducat insisted that he didn't intend to hurt the children. "In case I need to shed blood, I will not be the first to fire," he told the radio station. "I am telling the policemen, have pity on these children."

Speaking through an amplifier to the reporters who soon gathered at the site, Ducat announced that he'd taken the children hostage for their own good, demanding that the 145 children at his daycare center receive a free college education and housing.

He also demanded that Philippines voters reject allegedly corrupt politicians during the upcoming elections.

According to media reports, Ducat has a history of quixotic protests. In 1998, he climbed a tower to protest against a politician whom he accused of being insufficiently Filipino. And in 1998, he reportedly held two priests hostage with a hand grenade (which later turned out to be a fake) because of a labor dispute. No charges were filed in either incident.

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered police to resolve the standoff peacefully, and officers throughout the day communicated with Ducat by holding up cardboard signs. Though he said he had enough food for two days, Ducat reached an agreement that afternoon to surrender by 7 p.m.

Throughout the day, onlookers and television viewers caught glimpses of the children, aged four to eight, through gaps in the bus' curtains as they periodically waved at TV cameras. One girl in a ponytail could be seen caressing a Barbie doll behind the front window. Another child, reportedly suffering from a fever, was released shortly after noon and taken to Manila hospital.

Although the temperature reached a steamy 93 degrees, the hostage-takers kept the bus idling in order to keep the air conditioner on. The children were even brought ice cream — though that may have been poor compensation for a field trip gone spectacularly awry.

At 7 p.m. — after an eight-and-a-half-hour standoff — the doors of the bus opened to cheers from the crowds and children began to pour out. In the door of the bus, Jun Ducat — with what looked like a submachine gun slung under his arm — and an accomplice could be seen delicately handling what appeared to be hand grenades and passing them out to police. The two men were rushed into a police van and immediately whisked away to headquarters. This time, officers say, charges will be filed against them.

Reported by Nelly Sindayen/Manila