Widow says Robredo will be buried in Naga CityBy Juan Escandor Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
NAGA CITY, Philippines—Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo would have wanted to be laid to rest in his hometown of Naga City in Camarines Sur.
For this reason, his widow Leni has declined the government’s offer to bury her husband in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in Taguig City.
“First of all, we feel very honored that the Libingan ng mga Bayani was offered but we are very sure that Jesse would prefer to be buried here. Naga has always been his home. He always tells me this is his happy place … Palagay ko (I think) we will be doing him a great disservice pag hindi siya dito nilibing (if he is not buried here),” Leni told the media in a press conference held here past 10 a.m. Thursday.
Accompanied by eldest daughter Aika, 24, and Secretary Ricky Carandang, Leni also revealed the thread of communication between her and the secretary in the hours before the 6-seater Piper Seneca plane carrying him, his aide and two pilots crashed in the waters off Masbate City on Saturday afternoon.
She said the text messages and calls between her and her husband that fateful day were more than their usual daily exchanges, which normally would be 10 to 20 text messages and calls.
Leni said they were exchanging information about their youngest daughter, 13-year-old Jillian, who received awards in a swimming competition that day.
“He was flying to Cebu, while we were having an event. I would update him on how the occasion was turning out. He was happy when he called; he wanted to talk to my daughter (Jillian) to congratulate her. All throughout, that was the tenor of our conversation,” she narrated in a mix of English and Filipino.
Leni said Robredo wanted to be home because he thought the event would end at 5 p.m.–but it ended at 2 p.m.
He knew that the swimming competition was finished so she thought he would not push through with his plan to come home that Saturday.
But she later learned from Robredo’s staff that he was still going home to Naga.
Leni said it was not unusual for Robredo to always surprise them because he was very happy when he did that, or when they thought he was not going to make it but he would be there.
She said that at 3:15 p.m., she texted her husband to confirm the information from the staff that he was still going home and he answered “yes.”
As she was always the one fetching Roredo from the airport, Leni left their house at about 3:40 p.m. and drove to Naga Airport in Pili town.
Leni said Robredo advised her to take her time because he expected to arrive at 4:15 p.m.
As Leni neared the airport, Robredo texted her to say that the plane was going back to Cebu, prompting her to ask why. He did not answer but later texted her, saying “balik ang plane sa Cebu (plane is heading back to Cebu).”
Leni said she was waiting for his instruction on whether she should stay and wait at the airport, or go home first and come back later. But there was no reply so she texted: “Tawag ako ng tawag sa iyo, di ka sumasagot (I kept calling you but you’re not answering).”
At that point Robredo replied, saying he was having difficulty with the signal. She then decided to drive back home.
Leni again contacted her husband at about 4:40 p.m.—based on the log on her cellphone–and he answered that he was busy with something and that he would call her back.
“It was a very calm voice, as if I was calling him while he was in the middle of the meeting. He said ‘I’ll just call you’ so I told him okay,” she narrated.
Leni said she did not call her husband again because she thought he had already landed in Cebu and was busy trying to find a ticket for a commercial flight.
She said that between 4:55 to 5 p.m., a call from Robredo’s security in Manila who informed her that her husband had called asking for assistance to clear Masbate airport because they were going to make an emergency landing.
Leni learned that Robredo was able to have the Masbate airport cleared with local government officials already there but news came that a plane was seen crashing into the sea.
She said she told the security aide on the phone that the plane that crashed might be Robredo’s.
By then, she was almost sure that the plane that crashed was carrying her husband and proceeded to tell Jillian, who was with her, to pray because “something might have happened to Papa’s plane.”
She also called her daughter Aika, who was then at Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City watching a UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) basketball game, and instructed her to pick up Patricia, their second daughter.
“… Jillian was already crying, and was asking can we go to church?’ I told her in my condition … I don’t think I can drive. It felt like my legs turned to jelly,” Leni recalled.
She called her brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law to inform them of what she feared had happened to Robredo.
Soon after, Naga City Mayor John Bongat arrived at her house, as did several local government officials until the crowd of concerned relatives, friends and political allies grew bigger, numbering over a hundred by nightfall.
Leni said that as of Thursday morning, Robredo’s elderly parents had yet to be told about their son’s death.
She said she also called up retired police officer Gil Abrazado, the father of lone crash survivor and Robredo aide Chief Inspector June Paolo Abrazado, to convey her thanks to the aide and express her family’s gratitude for his concern for her husband.
Regarding the move in Congress to posthumously confirm Robredo as Interior and Local Government secretary, Leni said her husband was not really bothered by whether or not he would be confirmed by the Commission on Appointment.
He also told her not to bother doing the nine-day novena to the Our Lady of Peñafrancia that she had intended for his confirmation hearing set on August 29 and instead told her to pray for one of their daughters, who was having her midterm exams.
For Robredo, what was more important was that he was doing his job well, said Leni.
She said she wanted her husband to be remembered by continuing his initiatives for reform and she wished that the seeds he had planted would grow.