By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
“Salamat, Jesse Robredo” coverage log
NAGA CITY, CAMARINES SUR—“Are you sure this is it?”
The Manila-based media came looking for a mansion inside a gated subdivision. What they found was an apartment compound just a few turns from one of Naga City’s main roads.
A vacant lot of trees and untouched greenery fronted the compound. The neighbors were gated houses you would find in middle-class areas.
There was no tell-tale marker. No posters, and aside from a Couples For Christ tile, no name-plates.
Beyond the police checkpoints (likely put up during the previous nights) and waiting tents nearby, no one would think it the residence of a VIP.
The attention around it still made clear this was indeed where Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, pride of Naga, lived.
A three-floor brick-and-granite building dominated the compound—the Robredos’ unit.
Outside its door, bars enclosed a small receiving area where pictures of Sec. Jess hung. Here and there getting awards from four Philippine presidents, one a blessing from Pope John Paul II, and the biggest, a group pose with President Benigno Aquino.
Five adjacent flats faced the building–houses the family was renting out.
Our news team arrived there two days after Robredo’s plane crashed off the coast of Masbate City.
We were to keep tabs on the secretary’s family and the supporters that poured in as they waited for news.
Hope against hope
Every hour, a chorus of Hail Marys welcomed visitors. Novenas were prayed to the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia, patron of this part of the country and of Robredo himself.
The smell of garlic rice, meat, and eggs met TV news crews prepping reports for the morning shows. Each meal, the table was set and open for anyone. And in between, volunteers offered bread, snacks, coffee, or drinks.
One rarely saw Jesse Robredo’s immediate family go outside in the first few days since he went missing.
Except for day 3, when his eldest, Aika responded to a reporter’s request for an interview and faced the throng of waiting cameras.
Aika expressed the feelings of many whose thoughts were with them—hopeful for good news yet realistic about the worst.
Nearly forty-eight hours of no news from sea, and yet those there and throughout the nation hoped against nagging hope that all was not lost.
It came out in conversations, in wishful thoughts that borrowed from overused plot lines in TV dramas.
Maybe Sec. Jesse escaped the crashed plane, washed off on an island, was struck with amnesia, or was harbored by locals who were cut off from civilization.
A number of us journalists still hoped to report a positive ending to this story–a hero’s welcome, maybe?
Anything, even the unreasonable, just to avoid the unthinkable.
The compound was packed during the final Mass that night. Speaking in Bicol, Robredo’s wife Leni thanked the nation for its prayers.
With no news, all the well-wishers could hope was for some quick development. No matter what kind, just to end the uncertain wait.
Masbate City, the next day. Since 5 a.m., our news team there had been going live from the coast covering the search and rescue operation for Robredo and the two pilots on board.
The team had a camera trained on the ships the entire time, recording and sending it live to ANC.
Past 8 o’clock, the telephoto lens caught a black body bag being brought up a rubber boat, and then carried onto a ship.
Those who saw the extreme close-ups first could not yet confirm what it was, but they became more observant at the command center.
Our other camera spotted Transportation and Communications Sec. Mar Roxas pick up his phone and leave the conference table, looking shocked. Later, he was with another Cabinet secretary and rubbing teary eyes.
The Masbate team tipped us in Naga that something was up.
At the Robredo residence, people huddled around video monitors to watch Roxas announce that that body bag indeed contained Sec. Jesse Robredo.
A subdued murmur followed. Senior ladies were shedding tears. Some reporters noticed and began asking them why.
The receiving area was already guarded by a police officer. Inside, Marikina Vice Mayor Jose Fabian Cadiz, a friend of Robredo, sat silent while fiddling with a red cap printed with “I ♥ Jesse Robredo.”
Aides and family members soon went out, but no one spoke. They boarded a crew of vans headed for the airport. Robredo’s remains would arrive that afternoon and go first to a funeral parlor.
A welcome back
Our TV technical crews left the house for the Good Shepherd Convent, known better here as the Archbishop’s Palace. Our Naga-based reporters first learned that a public viewing would happen there.
It took almost all night before the casket arrived. A crowd of Nagueños gathered outside the funeral home. Other eager locals already formed a line along a cordoned area leading to the gate of the Archbishop’s Palace, a number wearing yellow.
Naga City was already littered with yellow ribbons tied to posts or branches hours before Robredo’s body was found.
It reminded Manileños of the anticipation for Ninoy Aquino’s return, as well as the gratitude for Cory Aquino’s inspiration.
Naga City was set to welcome back its favorite son.
To think he never entirely left his home town. When he answered the call to manage the affairs of the Department of Interior and Local Government, Robredo still made time to ride back to Naga on weekends for his family.
That fatal plane ride was no different.
Naga would no longer see him in his trademark shorts and slippers. They would not get to see what he looked like in death.
But for at least two weeks, his image has been on tarps and posters all over the city. An ironic tribute for a politician who steered away from marking his district with his face or name.
As the flag-draped casket entered the chapel of the Archbishop’s Palace, Jesse Robredo had completed his final trip. He returned home.