The body of Philippine Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo was retrieved early Tuesday from the sea off the central Masbate province where a small plane carrying the minister and three others had crashed three days earlier.
The five-seater plane carrying Robredo and others had crashed on Saturday near an airport in Masbate city. The minister was traveling from Cebu City in central Philippines to Naga City in Camarines Sur province when there aircraft encountered engine problems.
Although the pilot sought permission to make an emergency landing at Masbate airport, the aircraft failed to reach the airstrip and crashed into the ocean. One of the passengers managed to get out of the plane and was rescued by fishermen on Saturday.
Nevertheless, the aircraft's Filipino pilot and Nepali co-pilot were killed along with Robredo in the accident. It is not clear whether their bodies have also been retrieved from the sea bed.
Transport Secretary Mar Roxas told reporters on Tuesday that Robredo's body was found about 55 meters under water and 800 meters off the coast of Masbate province. The body was then flown to Robredo's hometown of Naga City, when it was handed over to his relatives.
President Benigno Aquino was present the airport in Naga city when a military plane carrying the deceased minister's body landed there, and personally delivered the minister's remains to his grieving family.
He was a close ally of President Aquino, and had played a major role in the 2010 presidential election campaign. Ahead of becoming the Interior Minister in President Aquino's government, Robredo was mayor of Naga City from 1988 to 2010.
As interior secretary, Robredo was in charge of the national police and provincial governments. He was a popular and well-liked statesman in the Philippines, and has received numerous awards for good governance, including the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award in 2000.
In wake of Robredo's tragic death, Philippines is observing a day of mourning on Tuesday. Flags at government institutions and police stations across the country are being flown at half-mast as a sign of respect to the deceased leader.
"The nation is united in grief and gratitude to one of her finest and most honorable servant-leaders," a spokesman for President Aquino said in a statement on Tuesday.
by RTT Staff Writer
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