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Bus siege ends peacefully

Published March 29, 2007


MANILA, Philippines - Dozens of children were taken hostage on a bus Wednesday by a day care center owner armed with grenades and guns, but the youngsters took the ordeal in stride, eating pizza, smiling and waving from the windows throughout the day.

The crisis ended after 10 hours when 56-year-old civil engineer Jun Ducat, who staged the incident to denounce corruption and demand better lives for impoverished children, released the children, put the pin back in a grenade and surrendered to police.

Authorities said Ducat would be charged with 32 counts of illegal detention and abduction - each count is punishable by up to 12 years in prison - along with illegal possession of explosives and firearms.

"I accept that I should be jailed because what I did was against the law," Ducat said shortly before the standoff ended.

The students thought they were going on a field trip when they boarded the bus early Wednesday. Instead, Ducat had the driver take them to City Hall, where a handwritten sheet of paper taped to the windshield said he was holding 32 children and two teachers and was armed.

Bus driver Deogracias Bugarin said they had loaded up with bottled water and eaten breakfast at a fast-food restaurant. Ducat said he brought along three chamber pots for use as toilets.

Ducat, who has staged attention-grabbing stunts in the past, railed against the failure of politicians to make good on promises to provide free education and housing for the poor and called corruption in the Philippines the worst in Asia.

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

Parents at the scene, although afraid for their children, expressed sympathy for Ducat's demands and had kind words for his work in their slum, particularly the free day care center he founded where he pays the teachers' salaries.

"I don't know how to feel," said Jasmine Agabon, whose 5-year-old daughter was on the bus. "Mr. Ducat was good. He helped people in our slum get jobs. He helped our children get good education.

As Ducat was led away, dozens of slum dwellers yelled his name like a hero.

[Last modified March 29, 2007, 02:03:49]

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