THE HOSTAGE-taking of 24 young schoolchildren and their four teachers by Armando “Jun” Ducat and an accomplice for ten hours on Wednesday in front of Manila City Hall was downright bizarre and uncalled for.
Scenes of the 3 to 5-year olds, imprisoned on an air-conditioned bus, occasionally waving from behind drawn window curtains, were beamed around the world as CNN kept showing live coverage of the breaking news. What was scary was the fact that Ducat and his accomplice were armed with two hand grenades (later found out to be without detonators), an Uzi submachine gun and a .45 revolver. Ducat’s brandishing of weapons, whether live or not, could have resulted in the killing or injury of several children.
What started out on Wednesday morning as a field trip to Tagaytay for the deprived children attending Ducat’s daycare center in Tondo, Manila, turned out to be a 10-hour nightmare of tension and worry, especially for their parents.
Reports say that the children had enough food and water to last for two days, that the air-conditioning of the bus was kept on the whole time and that the children had toy guns themselves. Parents of the some of the children said that since their kids knew Ducat well and liked him, many of the children thought the whole hostage situation was just a fun game.
Ducat demanded that the media broadcast his appeal for free education for these children on the bus all the way through university, and that the government also give them decent homes to live in and jobs when they graduated from college. The media readily agreed to do so upon advice of the police that this may help defuse a tense situation.
Two administration politicians running for election in the May polls were called in to help negotiate a solution to the hostage drama. Sen. Bong Revilla was first on the scene. It turned out that he was a friend of Ducat for the past 10 years and is even the godfather of one of Ducat’s children. Revilla managed to take a young boy off the bus who was ill from an upper respiratory infection that had caused a fever.
Illocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson was next on the scene, strangely enough handing out P500 bills to each of the children on the bus. This made me wonder: Was this a real hostage situation, or a made up scenario to help Revilla and Singson campaign for the upcoming elections and gain public sympathy (and hopefully their votes) once they were seen on television trying to resolve the drama?
It was hard not to think that perhaps this whole drama was something that Ducat had cooked up in advance with administration candidates and some of the parents of the children. TV interviews showed some of the parents saying that Ducat was nice and should not be charged with any offense as he was only trying to help the plight of his poor wards.
But President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and police authorities made it clear that they didn’t agree with Ducat’s methods and the police said that he may be charged with illegal detention and possession of weapons during an election period.
Ducat has a long history of pulling such publicity stunts, having held two priests hostage in 1989 in a Manila church after not being paid for work he done for the church as a contractor. He was never really punished for that because his charisma has always been able to convince the authorities to drop any charges against him. Indeed, former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim was on the ANC channel Wednesday explaining why he thought Ducat had been “justified” in holding the two priests hostage after not being paid for work he done.
I feel nothing justifies holding people hostage, especially young daycare center children. What if some of the kids had died on the bus if police SWAT teams had been forced to storm the bus? How would Ducat have explained that to their parents?
Ducat should be punished once and for all for risking the lives of children that parents in Tondo had trusted him to take care of. He may be a smart manipulator of the media and authorities, but what he did is unjustifiable and should be punished so that less-accomplished people do not decide to try such a dangerous stunt themselves.
Because if Ducat is just released without any punishment, someone else could try a similar stunt and perhaps then the outcome wouldn’t be so happy and so blood-free.