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Extreme measures
by Asa Butcher
2007-03-29 10:46:52
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Yesterday’s news of a busload of pre-school children and their teachers being finally freed after being held at gunpoint for nearly 10 hours in the Philippine capital of Manila can hardly have failed to catch your attention. The story had a strange twist since the 32 children and two teachers were taken hostage by their day care centre owner, who had one demand: better conditions for the children.

The first thought that came to mind was ‘You stupid bastard!’, yet the more I read about the situation my initial reaction changed to sympathy as this truly seemed to reflect the adage: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Just how desperate can a situation become that you are willing to undertake such dramatic measures to bring attention to your demands, plus risk everything for which you stand.

Jun Ducat, the day care centre owner, certainly catapulted his campaign onto the world stage and into the media, so his actions were not without some form of success. Ducat insisted his aim was to demand better housing and education for the 145 children at his centre in Manila's poor Tondo district and stated, "I am so sorry I took these children in a violent action to call the attention of the Filipino people to open their minds to the political reality."

Your heart can’t help but bleed for this man’s good intentions, especially when you read quotes made by some of the local residents and even parents of the children held hostage. “I know him as a very good man. I know he will not harm my six-year-old daughter," “In our own eyes, he's a real hero. He has been helping a lot of people in our community without expecting anything in return," and even Manila's Mayor Lito Atienza described Mr Ducat as a "very, very passionate individual who has his own kind of thinking on the solutions to our problems."

How can they charge this man? Somebody surely will, but in a country with 40% of Filipinos, more than 30 million people, living in abject poverty and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo acknowledging that the poverty situation was hopeless in her first State of the Nation address back in 2001 somebody has to do something, no matter how desperate it may appear. What else could this man do to attract the interest of Manila’s media…perhaps write another strongly worded letter to government.

I couldn’t help but smile at the support he received from some of the parents, especially if you imagine the same situation in your own country. Could you really picture British, Finnish, American or Greek parents saying that the man holding their child hostage with an Uzi is ‘a very good man’? For this reason I am glad that my attitude towards his actions altered once I researched more about the poverty situation in Manila and I was forced to consider how far I would go to ensure better conditions for my daughter – I’d stop before the Uzi though.

Sadly there is a larger story than one man holding a bus of children hostage, but I fear it will become relegated as the globe spins on producing new fresher stories leaving the situation in Manila unchanged and forgotten. Perhaps next week, as President Arroyo celebrates her 60th birthday, somebody will suggest a viable idea that will bring hope to the Phillipines’ hopeless poverty situation.

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