Leni's final chat with husband Robredo
NAGA CITY, Philippines - The late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo used to speak to his wife often, about 10 to 20 times daily.
On the day he died the number of text exchanges was doubled.
On Thursday, August 23, Robredo's wife Leni faced the media for the first time since the accident. She shared that she had been in constant communication with her husband while he was on the ill-fated plane.
He did not mention to her that the plane was experiencing engine trouble.
She said he was able to call him at around 4:40 pm, right before the crash. Robredo told her he would call her back.
"In a very calm voice, it was as if i was calling him in the middle of a meeting," she said, describing the call. "Basta sinabi niya tatawagan niya ulit ako." (He just said he would call me back.)
He never called her back.
The Piper Seneca plane carrying Robredo crashed off the coast of Masbate Saturday, August 18. He was on his way to Naga City to see his family.
Leni said they had been in constant communication throughout the day because their daughter Jillian had an "occasion."
"Tatawag siya masaya gusto niya makausap anak ko, ma-congratulate. All through the day, ganun and tenor ng aming usapan," she said. (He would call. He was happy. He wanted to talk to our daughter to congratulate her.)
Robredo had wanted to come home originally to catch the occasion, reportedly a swimming competition, thinking it would end at 5 pm. It ended at 2 pm however, at which point Leni informed him, "wala ka nang maaabutan."
Leni did not think he would still try to rush home but was notified by Robredo's staff member that he had decided to push through with an earlier trip. She said it wasn't unusual for him to do that as Robredo enjoyed surprising his family.
She texted Robredo to ask if it was true.
He replied, "Yes. Boarded na."
He told her however to take her time, because his estimated arrival time was not until 4:15 pm. Leni left the house for the Naga airport at 3:50 pm.
"Just before I reached the airport, he texted, 'Balik ang plane sa Cebu.' So I asked him bakit, but he didn't answer me. Instead, he said, 'Balik ang plane sa Cebu,'" she said.
Leni waited for further instructions on whether to wait at the airport or turn back around, but she could not contact him. She decided to go home.
She texted him to say she had been trying to call him, at which point Robredo replied saying, "Mahirap kasi ang signal."
When she arrived home, she was able to call her husband at 4:40 pm.
"He answered. Pero sabi niya sa akin, Ma, sandali lang, tawagan nalang kita," she said, his voice calm. "So I told him okay."
"I didn't call him, I thought for a fact that nag-land sila safely in Cebu, and kaya siya busy he was trying to find a commercial flight."
Because Leni was able to call Robredo at 4:40 pm as recorded on her phone log, she said she found it hard to believe that the plane crashed at 4:30 as widely reported, unless, she said, the time on her phone was wrong.
Around 15 minutes after their last conversation, at around 5 pm, Leni received a call from a security official from Manila who was part of Robredo's staff.
He told her he had received a call from Robredo, asking for help to clear the Masbate airport because they needed to make an emergency landing.
"I think the airport was already cleared for landing. Several officials were there. But may sightings daw of a plane na nag-crash sa dagat," Leni recalled.
She said that after she heard that, she hoped it wasn't the same plane her husband was riding.
"Hindi pa nagsisink in sa akin so sabi ko, sila Jess kaya 'yon?," she said. "Pero when I put my phone down, doon na. Naisip ka na siguro siya na nga 'yon."
Leni told her youngest daughter, Jillian, 12, of the news first because they were together at that time.
"I told her, 'Let us pray. Something may have happened to Papa's plane,'" Leni said. "[Jillian] was already crying."
Leni called up their eldest daughter Aika, 24, who was in Araneta Coliseum watching the UAAP Ateneo-FEU game at that time, after which she called her brother-in-law and sisters-in-law as well to tell them the news.
Upon hearing the news, Aika left the game and picked up her sister Patricia, 18. They went to church together to pray.
Leni said Jillian, who continued to cry, asked her if they could go to church.
"I told her, in my condition, I don't think I can drive. Kasi feeling ko parang nag-jelly and aking legs," she said.
After a few minutes, Naga City Mayor John Bongat and city council members started trickling into the residence. The house slowly filled up with people.
A vigil started in the Robredo residence Saturday night, August 18, as friends, family and Nagueños gathered in prayer for the safe return of Robredo.
Robredo's aide, Jun Abrazado, who was also in the plane, was rescued by fishermen that same night. He was the only one who made it out alive.
The 3 others on the plane -- Robredo and two pilots -- remained missing until Robredo's body was retrieved Tuesday, August 21, in the fuselage of the ill-fated Piper Seneca.
Capt Jessup Bahinting's body was recovered the day after along with the plane wreckage on Wednesday, August 22, while co-pilot Kshitiz Chand's body was found floating off Masbate early Thursday morning.
Leni said she knew her husband was gone after the first 24 hours with no good news. She said that while the accident was tragic, she knows that Robredo was ready. - Rappler.com
We keep you informed because you matter
We tell you the stories that matter. We ask, we probe, we explain.
But as we strive to do all this and speak truth to power, we face constant threats to our independence.
Help us make a difference through free and fearless journalism. With your help, you enable us to keep providing you with our brand of compelling and investigative work.
Joining Rappler PLUS allows us to build communities of action with you. PLUS members will receive our editorial newsletters and industry reports, get to join exclusive online conversations with our award-winning journalists, and be part of our monthly events.
Make your move now. Join Rappler PLUS.