Hostage Standoff of Busload of Children in Philippines Ends Peacefully

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, toys and backpacks, the children began filing off the bus shortly after 7 p.m., 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, Luis "Chavit" Singson, and surrendered as Singson held his arm.

Ducat, who received assurances that his students would get a good education, apologized to them and to police.

"Let the candles be a warning," he said. "If the promises remain unfulfilled, you will see those candles again."

Jubilant parents were quickly reunited with their children while Ducat was led to a waiting police car and driven away.

"I accept that I should be jailed because what I did was against the law," Ducat said in an interview with The Associated Press shortly before the standoff ended.

White candles had been lit, in accordance with Ducat's request, and placed in yellow cups lined up under the yellow police tape used to cordon off the area. Police and other officials also held candles outside the bus, as did people in the crowd that went to watch the incident unfold.

Considering the circumstances, the standoff was fairly low-key, although Sen. Roman "Bong" Revilla Jr., a former action film star who boarded the bus for negotiations and later kept in contact with Ducat by cell phone, said the man had dangled a grenade, the pin pulled, from a shaky hand.

Dr. Leopoldo Orantia, spokesman for a government hospital, said the children would undergo checkups and psychological debriefings.

The incident virtually shut down the capital's main office building, drew thousands of onlookers and was beamed live around the world — drawing the type of media coverage that Ducat clearly wanted with midterm elections scheduled for May.

Ducat founded the 145-student Musmos Day Care Center about four years ago in Manila's Tondo slum district. He chartered the tourist bus for a field trip marking the end of the school year.

Instead, he and at least one other hostage-taker had the driver take them to city hall, where they taped a handwritten sheet of paper to the windshield, saying they were holding 32 children and two teachers and were armed with two grenades, an Uzi assault rifle and a .45-caliber pistol.

The driver was released soon afterward. A child with a fever was freed after four hours and driven away in an ambulance.

"I love these kids; that's why I am here," Ducat told DZMM radio by mobile phone shortly after the incident began. "I invited the children for a field trip. You can be assured that I cannot hurt the children."

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's office monitored the incident closely, and sympathy for Ducat's goals was high.

"I am happy for his concern even if what he is doing is against the law," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

TV footage showed the kindergarten-age children waving from the bus windows occasionally throughout the day, apparently to show they were OK, before the curtains were closed.

Mothers of some hostages went on the radio to tearfully appeal for their children's release.

Ducat insisted he was acting in the children's benefit.

"I am asking for justice so they can have continued education up to college," Ducat said.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral offered assurances that the children would get a good education, and a computer school offered them scholarships once they graduate from high school.

With the children chanting his name, Ducat made a long statement through a wireless microphone railing against the failure of politicians in the Philippines to make good on promises to provide free education and housing for the poor, and calling corruption in the country the worst in Asia.

"While generations of politicians change, we continue to suffer in poverty," Ducat said. "These politicians promise education, health and housing, but unless we stop corruption ... they will just feast on the budget."

Ducat, described by friends as a public-service oriented man who gives to the poor, was involved in a previous hostage-taking in 1989 involving two priests, but no charges were filed, police said.

Ducat was disqualified as a congressional candidate in 2001 for unspecified reasons. He once protested high rice prices by personally pulling a wagon loaded with sacks of rice about 100 kilometers (60 miles) to Manila. In 1998, he climbed 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."