Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo called his wife Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona Robredo at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday to say that the plane flying him from Cebu to Camarines Sur was having engine problems.
Leni, a lawyer, made this confirmation, adding that the call was immediately cut off and there was no contact with Robredo after that.
Malacañang has confirmed that the six-seater Piper Seneca plane that Robredo was on board with three others had gone missing after it crashed in the waters off the shoreline of Masbate City at about 5 p.m. Saturday.
The private aircraft was heading for Naga City, Robredo’s hometown, from Cebu when one of the pilots sent a distress call to the Masbate Airport, requesting permission for an emergency landing. That was the last contact with Robredo’s plane.
The plane crashed some 3 kilometers from the airport on Masbate Bay, Robredo’s head executive assistant Dominina Rances said in a phone interview.
Also reported missing were the pilot, identified as Capt. Jessup Bahinting, owner of Aviatour Flight School, and Nepalese copilot Kshitiz Chand.
Philippine National Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome said P/Senior Insp. Jun Abrazado, Robredo’s aide, survived after he unbuckled his seat belt and was thrown off the plane during the crash. He was later rescued by fishermen.
“But after he was given initial medical treatment, he returned to the site to join the search,” Bartolome added.
Abrazado suffered a fracture in the arm and was brought for emergency treatment at a hospital in Masbate City, according to Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan, commander of the Army 9th Infantry Battalion in Masbate now involved in the search-and-rescue operation.
Bartolome has directed the police in the area to join the search, even as he has deployed divers and volunteers to help the Coast Guard and Masbate local officials, led by Gov. Rizalina Lanete, who have mounted a search-and-rescue operation. But as of 7:30 Saturday night, inadequate equipment necessary for nighttime search underwater prompted frogmen to temporarily withdraw from the crash site, according to Ernie Delgado of the Philippine Information Agency in Masbate.
Robredo arrived in Cebu about 11 a.m. and attended the ground breaking of the Philippine Police Safety College in Consolacion town, northern Cebu.
Consolacion Mayor Nene Alegado said that during her lunch with Robredo, the Secretary commented about the humid weather in Cebu.
“Mainit dito sa Cebu. Sa Manila palagi umuulan. (It is very hot here in Cebu unlike in Manila where it is always raining),” Alegado quoted Robredo as saying.
From Consolacion, Robredo proceeded to the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City to deliver his keynote speech before the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Community Investigative Support national summit.
Robredo was supposed to leave Cebu on a Cebu Pacific flight but made last minute changes because he was rushing to go home to Naga.
Senior Supt. Erson Digal, who was part of the security escort of the secretary during his visit in Cebu, said Robredo was supposed to take a 2:40 p.m. flight back to Manila but changed his mind and decided to go home to Naga City instead.
Robredo took a chartered flight to Naga from Aviatour Flight School based in Lapu-Lapu City, Mactan Island. Capt. Bahinting agreed to pilot the Piper Seneca to Naga along with flight student Chand.
Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno said Robredo’s plane left Cebu at around 2:30 p.m.
Based on information gathered from Abrazado, the aide did not see Robredo get out of the plane when it crashed, according to Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan.
Digal said in an interview over dySS that he received a text message from Abrazado that their plane was having problems with the propeller while making a turn.
A few minutes later, Robredo’s aide sent another text message to Digal, saying they were about to make an emergency landing.
Amparo Perez, president of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) in Masbate, said in a phone interview that rescue operations have stopped between 7:30 and 8 p.m. “It is already dark but rescue will resume at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow, Sunday,” she said.
She said as of 6:30 p.m., rescuers were still scouring the sea and found the currents along Ticao Pass very strong even as the crash site was just two kilometers away from the shoreline.
At the Robredo residence at Bulusan Street, Dayangdan, Naga City, over a hundred people, including family, friends and political allies, have gathered and kept vigil.
The prayer for his safe return started at 8 p.m. at the living room while his wife Leni stayed inside her bedroom with some close relatives.
At around 7:30 p.m., the crowd cheered when they heard a radio report saying Robredo was found alive by fishermen.
The elation turned to gloom when they learned that the news was not true.
He won his first mayoral bid in 1988 at the age of 29, making him one of the youngest Philippine city mayors. He served as mayor of Naga City for six three-year terms—from 1988 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2010.
He became the president of the League of Cities of the Philippines, the national association of city mayors, in 1995. He was also elected chairman of the Regional Development Council, the regional planning and coordinative body of Bicol, from 1992 to 1998.
In recognition of his work, Robredo was cited in 1999 by Asiaweek magazine “for transforming Naga City from a lethargic Philippine city into one of Asia’s most improved.”
He also received individual awards for local governance including the 1996 Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP) Award, the Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM), 1998 Konrad Adenauer Medal of Excellence as Most Outstanding City Mayor of the Philippines and the first ever “Dangal ng Bayan ” Award of the Civil Service Commission.
In 2000, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service for “giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people.”
An Edward Mason Fellow and a graduate of Masters in Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, he completed his Masters in Business Administration at the University of the Philippines.
He obtained his undergraduate degrees in Industrial Management Engineering and Mechanical Engineering from the De La Salle University.
After his graduation from De La Salle University in 1980, Robredo joined San Miguel Corporation’s Magnolia division. He returned to Naga City in 1986 where he was named director of the Bicol River Basin Development Program, an agency tasked to undertake integrated area development planning in the region’s three provinces.
He finished high school at the Ateneo de Naga.
Born in Naga City on May 27, 1958, he is the third of five children of Jose Chan Robredo Sr. and Marcelina Manalastas. He and wife Leni, who is also from Naga, have three daughters.
Aquino’s emergency landing
On August 10, heavy rains and poor visibility also forced the President’s convoy of helicopters to make an emergency landing at the Luisita exit of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.
At the time, Mr. Aquino was on his way to an evacuation center in Paniqui.
Brig. Gen. Ramon Dizon, commander of the Presidential Security Group, said they decided to land before it started to rain “to be on the safe side.”
With the President on the helicopter were Joel Villanueva of the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority and Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara. With reports from Doris C. Bongcac and Cris Evert Lato, Inquirer Visayas; Juan Escandor Jr., Joanna Los Baños, Inquirer Southern Luzon
Sources: naga.gov.ph, rmaf.org.ph, Inquirer Archives, Inquirer Research
First posted 6:25 p.m., Saturday, August 18th, 2012