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Hostage-taker ends crisis, releases 26 kid hostages

Hostage-taker Armando Ducat Jr surrendered at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday and released as promised his captives, composed mostly of children looking forward to a field trip earlier in the day in scenic Tagaytay City, to end nearly a 10-hour hostage crisis that was aired live by most TV stations. GMA's 24 Oras broadcast live the bus siege and one of its footage showed a service bus from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority being moved near the door of a rented tourist bus boarded by the captives to fetch the children and teachers shortly before 7 p.m. When the bus' door swung opened, TV cameramen zoomed in and the image of administration senatorial candidate Luis "Chavit" Singson and Ducat loomed larger on TV screens. The two, who were at the driver's seat, appeared to be talking. Singson earlier entered the bus that was parked at the Bonifacio Shrine in Manila to negotiate for the release of the children, who all looked oblivious about the situation. Then the footage showed Singson taking one of the grenades Ducat brought into the bus aside from high-powered firearms to signal that the crisis is all over. Clutching dolls and backpacks, the children began filing off the bus past 7 p.m., as Ducat promised when officials allowed him to air a long, rambling message on a loudspeaker hours earlier. Ducat, a 56-year-old engineer, kissed the children good-bye as they got off the bus. MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando clarified that 26 children were seized and not 31 as earlier reported. GMA's 24 Oras footage later showed Ducat leaving the bus along with Singson and Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla, who led him to a waiting police car. That was the time when all the hostages left the vehicle. 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. Ducat, described as a man with a history of attention-grabbing stunts, took a busload of students and teachers hostage from his day-care center and drove them to Manila City Hall to denounce corruption and demand better lives for the poor children. At about 2:30 p.m. Ducat parked the bus and spoke on a wireless megaphone reiterating his call for an end to corruption in the country. Ducat also looked for Revilla and asked him if he already reneged on his promise. The children were heard cheering for Ducat. The incident dragged on for more than six hours. It 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. The former contractor, who founded the Musmos Day Care Center about four years ago in Tondo slum district, reportedly 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 26 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, identified by police and parents as the owner of the 145-student day-care center, told a radio station 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." Police surrounded the bus, its emergency lights flashing. Black-clad bomb squads and SWAT teams watched from behind a nearby monument. Ambulances, fire trucks and crisis teams from the Social Welfare Department stood on standby. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's office monitored the incident closely. "I am happy for his concern even if what he is doing is against the law," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said of Ducat. "I am appealing to him not to do anything violent and he can be assured that the police will not do anything that will trigger violence." Ducat said the hostage-taking was for 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 talked with Ducat and offered assurances that the children would get a good education. 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 later emerged and said Ducat was holding a grenade with the pin pulled out, his hands shaking. About 5-1/2 hours after the standoff began, a man who was believed to be Ducat — surrounded by children in what appeared to be an effort to use them as shields — started to try to drive the bus away but was blocked by two fire trucks. With the children chanting his name, Ducat was given a wireless microphone and allowed to make a rambling statement in which he railed against corruption and politicians' failure to make good on promises of free education and housing for the poor. The engine of the purple-and-gray bus continued to run, providing air conditioning as midday temperatures reached 34 degrees C (93 F). Ducat was involved in a previous hostage-taking in 1989 involving two priests in which he used fake grenades, officials said. No charges were filed. Revilla said he had no doubt that the grenade this time was real. Ducat was disqualified as a congressional candidate in 2001 for unspecified reasons. He once protested against high rice prices by 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."