PHILIPPINES: Philippine hostage drama live on TV

Police team operation to end courtroom hostage situation aired on national television

Straits Times
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Manila --- An elite Philippine police team yesterday stormed a government building and killed a former marine to end a 24-hour courtroom hostage drama caught live on national television.

After a series of explosions, black-clad police officers hauled out two of the four hostages held by Almario Villegas from inside the Hall of Justice in suburban Taguig city, south of Manila.

Two court employees who were among the hostages were later freed.

The suspect's girlfriend and alleged accomplice, Delia de la Cruz, was detained.

The Manila police commander, Chief Superintendent Reynaldo Varilla, said police were forced to fire when Villegas shot at one of them.

Two of the hostages were reported to have suffered bruises after being beaten by the hostage-taker.

Villegas, a former soldier and a movie stuntman, and his girlfriend had appeared in court on Tuesday over an eviction notice filed against him by Ms Gina Ramos, one of the four people he took hostage.

Villegas drew a handgun and a grenade and seized Ms Ramos -- who was claiming ownership of his property -- along with two court clerks and a lawyer, herding them into an upstairs room with his girlfriend's help.

The suspects threatened to kill the hostages unless Ms Ramos' family paid a ransom of 3 million pesos (S$95,000).

Scenes from the hostage drama were aired on national television, including dramatic footage of the final assault.