Thursday, 9 April 2009

Philippine President Arroyo weeps for dead aides

Joel Guinto
Reports by Vincent Cabreza, Desiree Caluza and EV Espiritu, INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 2) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo led a tearful salute Thursday to her eight aides who died in a helicopter crash in the northern highlands, as Malacañang vowed a “very thorough”inquiry into the incident.

“We mourn the death of our friends and colleagues who died while serving their country. I will miss them so much in my official family,” Arroyo said in a brief statement she read at the Mansion, her official residence in Baguio City.

Finding parallels between the death of her aides, and the Holy Week, the President said: “Like His only Son, whose martyrdom we commemorate this week, what is required from us is our prayerful acceptance of and unshakable faith in the life after death.”

At 10:15 a.m. Thursday, Arroyo saw off the remains of seven of the fatalities at the Loakan Airport.

The caskets bore the remains of Press undersecretary Jose Capadocia, appointments secretary Marilou Frostrom, director Perlita Bandayanon from the Presidential Management Staff, Senior Military Aide to the President, Brigadier General Carlos Clet; Clet’s aide, Petty Officer 1 Demy Reyno; pilot Major Rolando Sacatani, and co-pilot Captain Alvin Alegata, the Inquirer Northern Luzon Bureau reported.

Arroyo was in tears during a brief religious service for the late Palace staffers, as she condoled with their families, state-run dzRB radio said in a separate report.

Three military helicopters and a private chopper flew in at 9:15 a.m. the remains of Capadocia; Frostom,Clet,Bandayonan, Sakatani, and Alegata, the Inquirer report said.

Towards noon, the remains of Perez was flown in at the Baguio airport, and was eventually shipped home to Manila, it said.

Ms Arroyo was accompanied at the airport by the grieving families of the deceased Palace employees and military officials, including Clet’s widow.

After the service, the remains were flown to the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Ms Arroyo cut short her Lenten vacation to supervise a common wake for the advance team at the Palace’s Hall of Heroes on Thursday evening.

When asked at a news conference, Remonde said the President has yet to discuss with the Cabinet about her scheduled Good Friday flight to Thailand to attend the 14th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation Summit.

“We are still consulting the Department of Foreign Affairs,” Remonde said.

He said the President tried to maintain her composure at the Mansion during the hours running up to the discovery of the partially charred helicopter, although Ms Arroyo soon became "emotional."

Remonde, Trade Secretary Peter Favila; PMS Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr; Internal Affairs Secretary Edgardo Pamintuan; Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III; and Bayani Fernando, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) joined the President at the Loakan Airport.

They later met with the President, after she delivered the short statement.

Secretary Conrado Limcaoco of the Philippine Information Agency and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita were also expected to join Ms Arroyo here before she would travel by land to Manila.

The presidential helicopter crashed amid bad weather Tuesday evening while on a flight to Banaue, Ifugao ahead of a visit by Arroyo, which was cancelled following the tragedy.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) will be leading the investigation, Presidential Management Staff Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.

Esperon said the eight were “practically recognizable,” six of who were found inside the wreckage, one was seen nearby, while Perez’s body was found on a cliff, 60 meters from the helicopter wreckage.

“The weather must have played a lot, just be assured the result of the investigation will be very thorough, [the results will be out] in duetime,” he said.

On Wednesday, PAF Chief Lieutenant General Oscar Rabena ruled out the possibility of a sabotage, saying the presidential helicopters were under heavy guard.

Meanwhile, Press Secretary Remonde pledged the Palace’s “all-out support” for the families of the late staffers.

The presidential helicopter had been grounded at the Mansion’s lawn as a precaution, because of the Tuesday accident.

The advance team’s chopper is of the same make and model as the President’s flagship helicopter.


You don't often see her cry. The stern-looking President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had in fact crushed rebellion against her administration sans shedding a single tear. But on Thursday, the chief executive failed to hide her soft side as she grieved for her Palace aides killed in an air tragedy.

Mrs. Arroyo emerged misty-eyed from a religious service held at the Loakan Airport in Baguio City in honor of the three Palace officials and four millitary personnel who died on a thickly forested mountain in northern Philippines on Holy Tuesday.

It was supposed to be a short, safe flight, just over 30 minutes from Baguio to Banaue, Ifugao to check on the security of a site that would be visited by the President the next day.

But the weather was rough. Amid thick fog and heavy rains, the Bell 412 presidential chopper boarded by Mrs Arroyo's aides fell down the mountains of Ifugao and Benguet provinces.

It was an unsual, dreadful sight for the President. She sent off her people who had always assured her of her safety in metal caskets. Their remains, mostly charred, where loaded into a Hercules C-130 and flown to Villamor Air Base in Pasay City and later brought to the Loyola Memorial Chapels in Makati City for internment procedures.

Despite her despair, Mrs. Arroyo has kept her faith. All will eventually go back to their Creator, thus she believes that there will be life after death.


The United States has extended its condolences to the families of the eight passengers who were on board the ill-fated presidential chopper that crashed in a mountainous area in northern Philippines last Tuesday.

The US Embassy in Manila hailed the dedication of the passengers who died in the line of duty.

“The U.S. Embassy expresses its sympathy and deep sorrow at the loss of our Philippine friends... They were dedicated public servants and will be greatly missed," its statement released to media on Thursday said.

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