Leaders of Muslim and Christian groups and government officials in Negros Occidental yesterday called for prayers for Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and his two companions who were on board a light plane that crashed into the sea about a kilometer off Masbate Saturday afternoon.
Transportation and Communication Secretary Manuel Roxas II said President Benigno Aquino, who was in Masbate yesterday to personally lead the search and rescue, remains focused and intent on finding Robredo and his companions.
Even as darkness fell last night, Roxas insisted that the operation was still “search and rescue”.
Only the flight manifest and one wing of the missing plane were recovered yesterday.
"We remain hopeful that Secretary Robredo was just carried by the current... and that he will be found," Roxas said, adding that Aquino is "very emotionally attached to Jesse and he is doing everything he can".
The twin-engine Piper Seneca, carrying Robredo, his aide, and two pilots -- Capt. Jessup Bahinting and co-pilot Kshitiz Chand, a Nepalese -- went down after developing engine trouble.
Robredo's aide, Jun Abrazado, was the only rescued survivor and Aquino said he was conscious and had sustained only a few injuries.
Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra yesterday called on Negrenses to pray for Robredo and the two pilots
“I am calling for prayers for the safety of the secretary and his companions,” he said.
“We are also sending our prayers to their families who must be very concerned at this time. Hopefully they are alive,” he said.
The Muslim community in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental is one with the nation in praying for the safety of Robredo, Iman Omar Betita also said.
Government Service Insurance System chairman Daniel Lacson Jr., a friend of Robredo, issued a similar call for prayers.
Lacson said he is saddened by what happened and hopes and prays the secretary is still alive and is found soon.
Let's all pray that he is still alive,” he said.
Lacson said he first met Robredo when he was presidential adviser for countryside development in President Fidel Ramos' Cabinet . Robredo was then mayor of Naga and was doing an outstanding job and had won various awards, he said.
He is a model for mayorship, said Lacson , who also worked with Robredo in the 2010 campaign of President Benigno Aquino.
Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia said he is saddened by the news of Robredo's crash, pointing out that the secretary was his first national president in the League of Cities of the Philippines.
Robredo, with his brilliance and his amicable ways, has shown us that he is a non traditional politician. “His record in Naga City and as national president of the League of Cities of the Philippines was excellent, I was not surprised when he was appointed DILG secretary,” Leonardia said.
“On a personal note, I find it ironic that when I had my inauguration in 2010 (as mayor of Bacolod) the airport in Manila had a problem and I tried arranging for (Ilocos Sur) Gov. Chavit Singson to pick him (Robredo) up from Naga to bring him to Bacolod. Singson was willing, but Robredo politely declined, telling me he is not comfortable with small planes,” Leonardia said.
Robredo told him he had a bad experience and his wife would not allow him to take small planes, Leonardia added.
“Perhaps it was the call of duty as a father that made him take the risk. We continue to pray for a miracle,” he said.
Robredo chartered a Piper Seneca plane, instead of taking a commercial plane from Cebu to his home in Naga City, because he wanted to attend the awarding ceremony for his youngest daughter who won in a swimming contest, Naga City Mayor John Bongat said.
The secretary, who is married to lawyer Leni Robredo, is a father of three daughters.
A MODEL LEADER
Former Negros Occidental Gov. Rafael Coscolluela, a friend of the secretary, said “true to form and consistent with our highest expectations, Sec. Jess championed local governance reform with vision and firm resolve. But more than that, he served with selfless dedication, was always humble and accessible to everyone. As the model for servant leadership, Sec. Jess will be irreplaceable. We can only hope that he is alive somewhere waiting to be found. We pray for him, his family and for the nation.”
As interior secretary, Robredo was in control of the country's 143,000-strong national police force which has long been dogged by accusations of corruption and abuse.
In recent months, he had ordered investigations into alleged financial irregularities over the construction of police stations and purchase of helicopters and rescue boats.
Robredo was also playing a key role in the dismantling of private armies allegedly deployed by some powerful provincial governors and city mayors ahead of congressional and local elections in 2013.
A former official at an ice cream company, Robredo was elected mayor of Naga City in the strife-torn Bicol region, south of Manila in 1988 at the age of 29, making him the youngest mayor in the country at the time.
His success in turning the once-sleepy city into a trading, housing and education centre won him many honors including a 2000 Ramon Magsaysay award, considered Asia's version of the Nobel Prize.
After serving nine years as a city mayor, he joined Aquino's successful campaign for the presidency in 2010, endorsing his reformist platform. Robredo was subsequently appointed to the Cabinet.*CPG/AFP