Leni Robredo remembers: The day Jesse died

Vice President Leni Robredo

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'When I put down the phone, my knees turned jelly and I didn’t know what to do. I asked Jillian if we could pray together because something might have happened to her Papa’s plane'

REMEMBERING ROBREDO. Robredo's family grieves at his state funeral. Photo from Malacañang/PCOO

MANILA, Philippines – Two years ago, on August 18, the plane carrying then Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo crashed off the coast of Masbate. Three days later, his body was found.

Robredo, an ally of President Aquino, was praised for his ‘tsinelas’ leadership. Robredo’s favorite footwear shows his brand of leadership, said his colleagues in the Cabinet – he was for and with the ordinary man.

Constituents loved him as 6-term Naga City mayor, but valued his role as father and husband the most. Below is a full account of the day he died, as written and posted by his wife, now Camarines Sur congresswoman Leni Robredo, on Facebook:


August 18, 2012

It was a Saturday and a big day for Jillian because she was competing for the swim events of the Naga City Meet, which was a sort of a qualifying race for her to be able to participate in the Palarong Bicol. I woke up earlier than usual to prepare all that we needed to bring to the Sports Complex.

Jess was usually home in Naga on a Saturday morning, but that particular Saturday, he was flying to Cebu to represent the President in an event. He called me up very early, telling me he felt bad that he wouldn’t be home for the competition. It was the first time that Jillian will be competing without him. Jillian was still asleep the first time he called and he said he’d call up again a little later.

Jillian and I left the house at 6:00 in the morning. I was driving the car when my phone rang again. It was Jess and he asked to talk to Jillian. The two talked over the phone and, I presume, he just wished her good luck. He asked to talk to me again and I told him I’d call him when we’re settled already.

I did call him up about half an hour later and he said he was also about to leave the condo for a breakfast meeting with some congressmen and a senator before he flies to Cebu. He made me promise to call him up once the competition starts and give him a blow-by-blow account of how Jillian was performing. I guess Jess was a bit anxious because Jillian was then a First Year High School student and would be racing with swimmers much older than she was.

When Jillian’s first event came up, I texted him to pray with me and he called up again a few minutes after to check how it went. He was ecstatic that our daughter was faring much better than we expected her to. That was the just the first of a series of phone calls and text messages that went on between us the entire day.

The swimming competition ended earlier than expected. I found myself driving home with Jillian before 3:00 in the afternoon. Jess was scheduled to leave Cebu at about that time by Cebu Pacific to Manila and he was set to take the bus that same night with Aika and Tricia. The girls were going home to Naga for the long weekend.

When we reached home, I saw Jess’ driver and some members of his staff getting ready to leave for the airport. They told me Jess was arriving from Cebu that same afternoon. I was surprised because that was not what he told me. So I texted him asking if it was true that he was arriving that same afternoon. He sounded pissed that we learned of his plan because he wanted to surprise us by coming home early.

After a while, he texted me saying “Boarded na.” That was just a few minutes after 3 pm. I told him “OMG. Hindi pa ako ready. Maliligo palang sana (Was planning to shower).” Even if he had a driver in Naga, I fetch him from the airport myself using our trusty old Innova. I wanted to shower first after a long day at the pool. But he texted me back saying, “Take your time. ETA Naga is 4:20 pa.

That was the first time that it hit me that he was taking a private plane because there was no commercial flight then that arrives at that time. So I texted him back asking “Nag-private plane ka? I thought we agreed already that you will desist from taking private planes.” He texted back saying, “Gusto ko lang habulin anak ko (I just want to catch my child).” I let it pass and he texted me again asking if I can bring Jillian with me to the airport so he can treat her out when he arrives. I told him that Jillian’s team will have a celebration that same afternoon at Starbucks, so he said we’ll just pick her up there from the airport.

Indeed, I had time enough to take a quick shower and bring Jillian to Starbucks. I was on my way already to the Naga Airport when Jess texted me with this message “Babalik ang plane sa Cebu.” I texted him back asking “Why?” but instead of answering my question, he texted again saying “Babalik ang plane sa Cebu.”

At that time I was just about 5 minutes away from the airport. I decided to pull over at the shoulder of the road to wait for his instructions. I didn’t know if I should wait at the airport for him or go home first. I tried calling him up, but his phone could not be reached. I tried calling several times, to no avail. I decided to go home first and wait for him to call again. His driver and staff were already at the airport waiting for him.

While I was driving home, I kept on trying his phone but it still could not be reached. I got back home about 4:30 in the afternoon. Just as I stepped in, his phone finally rang and he answered. He just told me “ Ma, tatawagan uli kita. May inaasikaso lang ako (I’ll call you again. I’m just taking care of something).” I just said okay and even felt relieved deep inside that I was finally able to get to him. I presumed that his plane was able to land safely back in Cebu and he was busy trying to get a seat at a commercial flight to Manila.

Jillian called me up asking if I could fetch her already from Starbucks which was very near our house. I left the house again, picked Jillian up, and brought one of her swimmates home. She asked me where her Papa was and I told her he was in Cebu and might just go home by bus with her sisters that same night. When we got back home, my phone rang again. It was almost 5 pm already.

That time, it was from Paul, his security detail in Manila. He was asking me if I was able to talk to Jess and I said yes, about 5 minutes ago. He seemed surprised so I checked my watch and told him that it must have been about 10 or 15 minutes ago. I asked him why he was asking. The conversation was a bit hazy but he told me that Jess’ plane was supposed to do an emergency landing in Masbate and he was already able to make arrangements for such. I was surprised because Jess didn’t tell me about Masbate. He just told me their plane was going back to Cebu.

Apparently, the plane couldn’t manage to go back to Cebu so they requested for a Masbate landing. Paul was struggling with his words but he told me that just a few minutes before he called me up, there was a sighting of a small plane going down the sea near the Masbate Airport. I asked him if he thought it could be Jess’ plane and all he told me was, “Sana Ma’am hindi naman (I hope not, ma’am).” But I knew deep inside that it was. I made him promise to keep me updated. 

When I put down the phone, my knees turned jelly and I didn’t know what to do. I asked Jillian, who was playing on our bed, if we could pray together because something might have happened to her Papa’s plane. She started crying and asked me if we could go to church instead. I told her I was in no state to drive so we attempted to pray but I couldn’t concentrate. I tried calling Aika but she wouldn’t pick up her phone so I just left a message asking her to call me ASAP.

She called me about 2 minutes after. I asked her where she was and she told me she was at the Araneta Coliseum with some friends, watching the Ateneo vs FEU basketball game. I told her that something might have happened to her Papa’s plane and she started crying, telling me that it cannot happen. I told her there was nothing we can do at that time except pray. I asked her to be strong and to go home to tell Tricia herself.

I asked her not to drive in that state and if she can ask one of her friends to drive her home instead. I was concerned that Tricia would learn about it from TV or social media so I wanted Aika to be with her as soon as she can. I didn’t want to break the news to Tricia on the phone. Of my girls, Tricia was Jess’ forever baby and I was totally unprepared on how she would take the news.

I called up Butch, my brother-in-law, next. He calmly took the news and just asked me what I want him to do. When I learned he was in Manila, I told him to be with my girls and make sure they are okay.

I called up two more family friends and asked for prayers. Then Jillian and I started praying the rosary.

Paul called me up again saying that June, Jess’ security aide who was with him on the plane, had been rescued, at sea, alive. I became hopeful that Jess will be okay because he was a very strong swimmer.

A few minutes after, Mayor John Bongat and the other city officials came over. We tried to keep our spirits high, hoping for the best. In about an hour, our house was filled with so many people already and the vigil for Jess’ safe return started. That was the start of a 3-day wait. The longest 3 days of our lives.  Rappler.com

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