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Over 30 children held hostage in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines &

A day-care center owner armed with grenades and guns held more than 30 youngsters and teachers hostage on a bus Wednesday, then 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.

"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.

Manila police district chief Danilo Abarzosa said he will be charged with 32 counts of illegal detention and abduction, illegal possession of explosives and illegal possession of firearms.

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

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

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 situation unfold.

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

Ducat reportedly had chartered the tourist bus for a field trip marking the end of the school year.

Instead, he had the driver take them to City Hall, where a handwritten sheet of paper was taped to the windshield that said he was holding 32 children and two teachers and was armed with two grenades, an assault rifle and a .45-caliber pistol.

Earlier Ducat had made a long statement through a wireless microphone while the children chanted his name. He railed against the failure of politicians in the Philippines to make good on promises to provide free education and housing for the poor, and called 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.

He 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 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.