Palace still hopeful as search for Robredo, pilots continues

The government remains hopeful that Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots, whose plane crashed off the island of Masbate late Saturday, will still be found alive, as it noted that aircraft and divers continue to search for the victims as of Monday afternoon.

"We are still in search and rescue," Transportation Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas said in a 2 p.m. press briefing broadcast over dzBB radio.

"Lahat ng hanay ng gobyerno, national, local, tulong-tulong para dito (All government agencies at the national and local level are helping in this effort)," Roxas said.

He added that divers are concentrating on the site where the flight manifest, the last physical evidence of the crash, had been found.

Surface search operations are also ongoing, Roxas said, even as he noted that two sorties deployed earlier on Monday returned with negative reports on sightings.

"May isa pa pong sortie ang Philippine Navy at papasimula pa po lamang ito (Another sortie led by the Philippine Navy has also been launched)," Roxas said, adding that a fourth sortie will also be sent out late Monday.

A special deep-diving volunteer group, which went underwater at about 1 p.m., reported a "dispersed debris field" 180 to 210 feet deep at roughly 2.5 kilometers from shore, Roxas said. He said debris in the area reportedly included metal pieces and what could have been parts of the plane cockpit's fiber glass.

This was confirmed by a four-man team of technical divers from the Philippine Navy, Roxas said.

He added that officials are currently studying underwater footage to determine the next stage of the diving search operations.

"Volunteer divers are in good coordination with authorities leading the search and rescue operations," he added.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, and Philippine National Police are leading the surface search alongside local fishing boats.

Three sonar equipment are currently being used to locate debris underwater, Roxas noted, adding that the U.S. has also offered a remote-operated vehicle to search depths beyond 250 feet.

A debris believed to be part of its plane's right wing had been found about one kilometer away from the Masbate shoreline on Sunday.

President Benigno Aquino III, who flew in Sunday morning to oversee the operations, left Masbate City at about 3:40 p.m. Monday.

Before flying to Manila, the President dropped by Naga City to brief Robredo's wife Leny on the ongoing search and rescue operations, Roxas said.

He declined to provide details on what Aquino discussed with the Robredos, however.

"Wag po tayong mag-speculate. Gusto lamang pong makausap ng ating pangulo si Mrs. Robredo (Let us not speculate. The President only wished to personally speak with Mrs. Robredo)," Roxas said.

In a separate press briefing at the sidelines of the ongoing vigil for Robredo at the La Salle Greenhills in Mandaluyong City, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda assured the public that the President is not abandoning his official duties.

An officer in-charge for the Department of Interior and Local government has meanwhile yet to be appointed, Lacierda said.

"We assure the public that the normal operations of the DILG, and its attached agencies, continue, and are unhampered by the ongoing rescue effort," Lacierda said in a statement.

This, even as he noted that the search and rescue operations for Robredo and his companions remain the priority of the DILG and other related agencies.

Lacierda added the President will be making further announcements concerning the Department "at the proper time."

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