CEBU CITY—Since her husband’s death last year, Camarines Sur Rep. Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo had refused to ride a plane.
But the widow of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo took her first commercial flight to Cebu on Thursday when she retraced her husband’s last trip that ended in a tragic plane crash in Masbate that killed him, pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and student pilot Kshitiz Chand, a Nepalese, on Aug. 18, 2012.
“I had to play games on my mobile phone to calm my nerves,” she told reporters in Filipino.
Leni later told Councilor Margot Osmeña, wife of former Cebu City Rep. Tomas Osmeña, a good friend of the late Cabinet secretary, that her flight to Cebu was her first since her husband died.
“We are very honored that she came. She (Leni) said it was her first commercial plane ride after her husband died,” Osmeña told the Inquirer.
Osmeña said that after the crash, Leni took the eight-hour bus ride from Naga City to Manila and back because she had developed a fear of flying.
Leni had to overcome her fears after she decided to retrace her husband’s last trip during his first death anniversary—from the time his plane was reported to have crashed in the waters off Masbate, the three days of frantic search that led to his and his two pilots’ remains on the downed plane to Robredo’s state funeral and beyond.
Leni described the journey as emotional.
A year ago on Sunday, Robredo took a four-seater chartered plane from Cebu, even as he was already booked in a commercial flight to Manila, because he wanted to be home in Naga City in time for his youngest daughter Jillian’s swimming competition at the Naga City Science High School. The plane, a Piper Seneca, eventually crashed due to engine trouble.
Leni and two companions arrived at Mactan Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City around 8 a.m. on Thursday.
They were met at the airport by the widow and daughter of Captain Bahinting, owner and pilot of the ill-fated Piper Seneca plane that crashed off the waters off Masbate on Aug. 18, 2012.
She said she never blamed the pilot for the tragedy that claimed her husband’s life.
“I have long sympathized with them (Bahinting family) because we both lost a loved one. We were all in mourning. But as far as my husband is concerned, the public response was very overwhelming. But in their case, there was blame. I wanted to go to the family to give them comfort because I know how difficult it is to lose a loved one,” she said.
Leni and Margarita Bahinting, widow of the pilot, talked for two and a half hours over breakfast at Waterfront Airport Hotel and Casino Mactan in Lapu-Lapu, exchanging stories about how their respective families coped with grief and loss.
“We wanted to get in touch with her, but I think the time was just not right to do it. We had common friends, acquaintances, but it was only now that we managed to meet,” said Sarah Lynn Bahinting, the youngest daughter of the Bahinting family.
Sarah said they received a call from the secretary of Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu’s 3rd district that Leni wanted to meet them on Thursday during the launching of a photo exhibit in honor of her husband at SM City Cebu.
After breakfast, Sarah said they toured the Aviatour hangar in Lapu-Lapu City, where they stayed for less than an hour to check the planes.
Sarah described their first encounter as “more personal than professional,” adding that she saw a very sincere Leni, who took the time to check the Aviatour’s hangar and planes.
She asked to view a Piper Seneca plane, the same model that her husband took when it crashed last year.
“She said, ‘Ah gamay diay (Oh, it is so small).’ Our mechanic also talked to her and told her some information about our planes,” said Sarah.
Sarah said they exchanged apologies about not being able to send flowers during the wake. “The funeral was a sensitive time for both families,” said Sarah.
No tear was shed during the brief meeting, but Sarah said their family was relieved to have finally met Leni.
“Like Congresswoman Robredo, this is also part of our healing,” she said.
Leni admitted that meeting the Bahintings made her imagine what it was like during her husband’s last hours.
“In a way, it gave me the sense of his last hours,” Leni said. “I know that at one point or another, I have to face all the difficult moments and that was one of those.”
She said she and her husband believed in fate and destiny. “So, when it happened, I said, ’yun ang kagustuhan ng Diyos (it was God’s will),” she said.
Leni described as a “360-degree turn” the changes in her life and that of her daughters, having been thrust into the limelight—a very unfamiliar world that Jesse used to shield them from.
Her daughters—Aika, 26, Tricia, 19, and Jillian, 14—who were once low-key figures, have learned to engage in roles that thrust them into the public eye, she said.
“Aika, for a very long time, was working in a private corporation. Her Papa had been encouraging her to try government service, but she did not like it. But all of a sudden when her Papa died, she changed her mind and entered government service,” Leni said.
Aika is now an executive assistant to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.
“We were surprised when Tricia told us she auditioned as a courtside reporter of the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) and made it. I was amazed because among my three children, she was the reserved one,” said Leni.
Leni said Jillian, the youngest, has fully recovered from the loss of her father at a young age and is doing well at the Philippine Science High School in Manila.