Divers gear up as rescue operations for Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and his companions continue. Photo from]

MANILA, AUGUST 21, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Karen Boncocan - A message by a Facebook user wishing death on President Benigno S. Aquino III so the nation would have a new leader has sparked anger from a Palace spokesman.

He longs to find Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo alive and even accompanied rescue teams in scouring the waters off Masbate and its nearby islands but the brother of the missing Cabinet official on Monday said that what was important to their family now was just to get him back.

Butch Robredo, the older brother of the Department of Interior and Local Government chief, was emotional when he admitted over a television interview that there was still no sign of the missing passengers of the ill-fated Piper Seneca plane.

“We’ve scoured the place already. Naikot na namin lahat sa totoo lang po, wala kaming nakikita. Napakahirap aminin [pero] yun na ho siguro talaga ang totoo,” he said in a television interview.

“Siyempre gusto kong makuha ang kapatid ko. Okay na po yun sa akin na makuha lang namin siya, yun na po ang consolation. Mabigyan lang namin siya ng—kung hindi na siya maibabalik sa amin—sana proper burial man lang sana,” he said.

Task Force Kalihim has been formed to look for Robredo and President Benigno Aquino III himself oversaw the ongoing search and rescue operations in Masbate. Butch said that several American deep sea divers have also joined local divers in searching for his missing brother and two pilots.

“I still wish that we find him alive, yun po ang sa akin. We still wish to find him,” he added, thanking friends and even strangers who offered prayers for the DILG chief.

“Kami po ay nagpapasalamat sa mga tao.”


Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda has cried foul at the “supreme uncouthness and insensitivity” made by a certain Ar Neil Villanueva who claimed the President should have attended the Cebu event instead of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo to suffer the latter's predicament.

Robredo and two pilots remain missing after their light airplane crashed off the coast of Masbate last Saturday. Robredo came from Cebu where he represented the President in an assembly of law enforcement officers.

“Sayang si PNoy sana instead of DILG jr ang dumalo sa Cebu. Meron sana tayong bagong presidente si Jejo Binay," Villanueva wrote on his Facebook page last Sunday.

Informed by Villanueva's online remarks, Lacierda used Twitter to lash out at the Facebook user for his insensitive comment against the President.

“Ar Neil Villanueva – Words cannot describe your supreme uncouthness and insensitivity 2 d Pres. and Sec Robredo. Do not wish death upon others,” Lacierda said in his Twitter account.

Another tweet was posted by Lacierda which read: “Mr. Ar Niel Villanueva – I hope and pray you will take down your insensitive comment on your Facebook page.”

At present, Villanueva did not heed Lacierda's appeal to take down his comment against the President.

A massive search for missing Robredo and two pilots has been launched with President Aquino personally monitoring the operations. The Palace has remained hopeful that they will be found alive and safe.


Hopes fade for Robredo, 2 pilots Published on 20 August 2012 Hits: 1,024

[PHOTO -Members of a search and rescue team carry a part of the Piper Seneca plane recovered by divers]

HELICOPTERS, sea vessels, divers and fishermen continued the search for Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and the two pilots who were with him when their plane crashed into the sea on Saturday but the search teams only found parts of the Piper Seneca and the flight manifest.

The search and rescue operations kicked into high gear as 25 ships of the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy and the Philippine National Police scoured the sea for the three victims.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd rushed to Masbate to oversee the search and rescue work.

However, Air Force Col. Augusto Gaite of the Tactical Operations Group 5 said that there was no sign of Robredo or of the pilots—Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Kshitiz Chand, a Nepalese.

“No signs of life as of today, search and rescue efforts are being done by navy, coast guard and all government forces. Fishermen are also helping us out since day one to find Secretary Robredo,” Gaite told The Manila Times.

The Philippine Air Force has brought in five helicopters, including its most modern assets, while the United States government has also joined by deploying a US Fleet Survey team based in Cavite province.

Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd said that special sonar equipment had been flown to Masbate to help in the search operation after some debris, including one wing of the missing plane, was recovered.

“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—one of them a Nepalese student pilot—went down after developing engine trouble.

Robredo’s aide, Jun Abrazado, survived.

Abrazado said that when the plane hit the water, he unfastened Robredo’s seatbelt and tried to help him out but water quickly filled the aircraft, ABS-CBN television reported.

No let-up Gaite’s group is among the composite military teams that joined the ongoing massive search for Robredo and the two pilots.

Navy flag-officer-in-command, Vice Admiral Alexader Pama, also on Sunday, said that he has dispatched four ships, two islander planes, a helicopter, and two teams of the elite Navy seal to join the search.

“We will exert all efforts [whenever] possible to find the wreck and hopefully there will still be survivors,” Pama said, adding that his men were under strict orders from the commander-in-chief to conduct the search continuously without let up.

According to Pama, one of the ships has detected something underneath that could possibly be the missing plane wreckage but it was still being validated.

He added that the Navy is also coordinating with its US counterpart on hydrographic survey but the Americans were still awaiting approval from higher authorities.

Navy spokesman Col. Omar Tonsay said that the search is 1,000 to 1,8000 yards northeast of Baybay Point, Masbate which is near the airport.

Immediately deployed at the crash site were the BRGP Simeon Castro, BRP Hilario Ruiz, BRP Carlos Albert and a diesel fast craft.

Tonsay said that a Navy seal team has been doing underwater search since Saturday but encountered some visibility problems at night, coupled by strong undercurrent, which somewhat restricted the divers’ mobility.

Apart from the Navy’s sea and air assets, the Air Force has also sent their own separate assets to assist the ongoing massive search operation.

Air Force spokesman Col. Miguel Okol said that they have deployed three multi-purpose combat utility helicopters from the 505th Search and Rescue Group and two UH-1H choppers from the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing.

Search and Rescue President Aquino left Manila at about 5:45 a.m. on board an Air Force C130 aircraft together with Roxas, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Rep. Joseph Abaya of Cavite.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman also rushed to Naga City to be with Robredo’s wife, Leni.

Mr. Aquino has set up a command center at the La Villa Beach Resort in Masbate City.

In Manila, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said that a prayer vigil has been set at 5 p.m. at La Salle Greenhills in Mandaluyong City.

She said that the last time the President and Robredo met was on Wednesday. On Sunday afternoon, Roxas and local officials in Masbate said that divers have recovered the flight plan of the downed plane, a definitive sign of the plane’s location.

Roxas said that the manifest was found “150 feet alongside ‘tracks’ on sea bed along N-S heading.” A sonar equipment has been deployed in the area, looking for any aberrations on the seabed or marks of a plane crash.

“So far the paper flight plan is the only item recovered other than the wing part,” Roxas said.

Merien Esber public information office officer of Masbate said that the manifest was found complete. It was only damaged when divers rose towards the surface of the sea.

Holy Mass In Albay province, Gov. Joey Salceda offered province-wide masses for Robredo, who was the longest serving city mayor of Naga City before being appointed DILG chief.

“We’re praying for the safety of our friend. I ask every Albayano to pray for that miracle for Jesse Robredo and to storm the gates of heaven so every angel would descend to protect him,” Salceda told The Manila Times.

“At 4 p.m., Sunday masses in the parishes of Albay are being dedicated by the province for the safety of Secretary Jesse Robredo, the comfort of his family, the fortitude of the rescuers and the peace of ‘an entire nation in anguish’ in this period of uncertainty,” Salceda added.

Philipppine Public Safety College (PPSC) President Ruben Platon, who was with Robredo on Saturday in Cebu, said that there was nothing peculiar about the DILG chief when he attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the PPSC’s construction and development facility at Barangay Jugan, Consolacion town.

“Nothing except that he even convinced the control tower of Naga airport to let his plane land because he was informed that the airport is supposed to be closed by 3 p.m.,” Platon told The Manila Times.

“Also the tokens for President PNoy [Aquino] and SILG [Secretary for Interior and Local Government] were kept with me which they could actually bring. Even Capt. Abrazado left his iPad at the Cebu Convention Center and this was recovered. The iPad is supposed to contain important matters for SILG,” Platon added.

Earlier, Masbate Vice Mayor Allan Cos told ANC that it appears the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy “have detected something beneath the sea of about 200 feet.”

“May mga sonars na dito, technical diving na makakasisid sila hanggang sa about 100 to 130 feet. They are now focusing on that area,” he said.

Cos said that they are hoping that the debris will give them clues on the whereabouts of Robredo and the two pilots.

“Perhaps within an hour or two, we can get specific details on this spotted area,” he said.

Cos said that they are still hoping to find the three alive.

“We are hopeful that this [search and rescue] will carry on until this afternoon. Our President is here,” he said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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