( AP ) -. A day-care center owner hijacked a busload of his students and teachers and drove them to Manila's city hall Wednesday to demand better housing and education for the children.
Jun Ducat and at least one other hostage-taker scribbled in large letters on a sheet of paper, taped to the bus' windshield, that they were holding 32 children and two teachers and were armed with two grenades, an assault rifle and a pistol, officer Mark Andal said.
One child with a fever was released after four hours, and then was driven away in an ambulance.
They said they were demanding improved housing and education for 145 children in a day-care center in Manila's poor Tondo district where the incident, televised live around the world, appeared to have begun. The driver was released soon afterward.
"I love these kids; that's why I am here," Ducat, identified by police and parents as the day-care center owner, told DZMM radio by cell phone. "We have a field trip. 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."
A standoff mounted as dozens of police surrounded the bus near Manila's city hall, and bomb squads and SWAT teams also were on the scene.
TV footage showed the young children, one in sunglasses, waving from the windows. A woman with her arm around a child could be seen making a hand signal asking for a phone as one of the gunmen held a grenade at her shoulder.
The woman reassuringly massaged the shoulders of one boy as she walked away from the front of the bus and the curtains were pulled shut. The children were allowed to wave again later, apparently to show they were OK, before the curtains were closed again.Mothers of some hostages went on radio to tearfully appeal for their children's safety.
"We are asking him to free the children, to let our kids out," said Dema Arroyo, mother of 6-year-old hostage Angelica. "We will forgive him if he will free our children. We have no ill feelings toward him. He is a good person."
Ducat said he was asking in the children's interests.
"To the parents of the kids I am with ... 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.
There were no details released on the ages of the children but the ones that could be seen through the bus windows appeared to be in early grades or preschoolers.
About 2 1/2 hours after the standoff began, Sen. Bong Revilla, who said he knows Ducat, was allowed to board the bus for negotiations.
Revilla emerged 45 minutes later and reported that the children were in good shape. He said Ducat was holding a grenade with the pin pulled out, and that his hands were shaking.
The engine of the purple-and-gray bus continued to run, providing air conditioning as midday temperatures reached 93 degrees. Ice cream was being brought for the hostages, Revilla said.
A police officer, standing about 15 yards away, held up a cardboard sign offering a telephone land line as another officer held up the handset. A third officer used a bullhorn.
Ducat, who claimed to have food for two days, refused to take the phone, saying he was afraid it would explode.
Ducat was involved in a 1989 hostage-taking with two priests in which he used fake grenades, but the priests did not press charges in what was described as a contract dispute.
In 1998, he climbed to the top of a tower to protest against the candidacy of a politician who he said was not a real Filipino citizen.
He was disqualified as a congressional candidate in 2001. It was not immediately clear why, but he was well known to local officials.
"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."