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Dozens of children play with dolls, lick ice cream during Manila hostage crisis

A young girl waved a Barbie doll in the air while a boy licked an ice cream cone. Another girl casually finished a bottle of water while chatting with a classmate. It seemed the only ones unfazed by a hostage-taking in the Philippine capital were the young captives themselves.

Dozens of children, some as young as 5, were taken hostage Wednesday by Jun Ducat, the founder of their Manila slum day-care center and who used the standoff as a forum to demand better education and housing for the poor.

It was the latest crisis to plague President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who scrambled to organize a negotiating team. SWAT teams took up positions behind trees and a pro-democracy monument near Manila's city hall where Ducat had parked the busload of children. Stunned mothers waited nearby, horror and confusion on their faces.

The standoff ended about 7 p.m. (1100 GMT) when Ducat allowed all the children off the bus and surrendered to police.

The excited students had thought they were going on a field trip when they boarded the bus early Wednesday morning.

Instead, they spent the next 10 hours, singing, playing games and waving to police, reporters and their families from the windows of a bus. Ducat said he brought along three chamber pots for use as toilets.

Housewife Shiela Malabo was relieved when her 6-year-old son Fred appeared at a bus window and waved to her. She waved back frantically and gestured with her hands to ask if he had eaten.

Fred replied by raising an empty box from a popular hamburger chain.

"When I was walking him into the bus, I told him to behave and not be unruly," Malabo said as she sat waiting with other worried parents. "This excursion was postponed twice and he was really very excited to go."

Jasmine Agabon, said her 5-year-old daughter, Joanne, was so excited that she put on her swimsuit, then topped it with her school uniform.

"They were told they would go swimming, and she really was thinking about this for days," Agabon said.

She was relieved when she saw Joanne happily waving at people from the bus.

"I cried in our house when I found out about the hostage-taking," Agabon said. "I don't know how to feel. Mr. Ducat was good. He helped people in our slum get jobs. He helped our children get good education.

"He said there will be a field trip. It will be his gift to the children, but it seems this is not a gift anymore," Agabon said.

Geraldine Regalado, a 30-year-old housewife, said she had not wanted her son to go on the field trip but that he insisted.

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

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chief Bayani Fernando, appointed "incident commander," said the government has been working on most of Ducat's demands.

"He is impatient over his dreams, which I think is also the dream of all of us. But we can't have all of these in a wink," he said.

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