Dearest Jill Robredo

My dearest Jill,

 I wear two hats as I write this letter — one, as a grief educator and counselor, and second as a child who lost her father at a very early age.

I lost my dad very suddenly when I was 16. I will not even dare say that I know how you feel because one child’s grief is always very different from another. We continue to pray that your dad will be found, that he is still alive somewhere, we hang on to that glimmer of hope. We storm the heavens with our prayers, but as your older sister said, we also have to manage expectations.

I believe your family is doing a wonderful job and I am glad to see you all being supported by family and friends at this very difficult time. The President himself, who knows all about grief many times over, together with key members of his Cabinet, loves him dearly both as friend and colleague. They are exerting every effort to find him and the two pilots.

Jill, what I want to tell you for now is this — do not ever think for one moment that you caused your father’s accident. You did not. I know that media has not been very helpful over the last few days in the sense that they keep using the headline that your dad was in a rush because he was on his way to you. That is too much of a burden for a 13-year-old to bear and I am truly sorry. It is, as you say, unfair that they are singling you out. I suppose the intent is to show what a great dad Jesse was. However, in doing so, and perhaps in the rush to produce a story, your feelings were not considered.

The truth is that your father was on his way home because he wanted to be with all of you for the long weekend, because you, your sisters, and your mother were the most important people in his life. That is what you need to believe and keep in your heart.

It’s a very difficult, sad, and confusing time, and all the glare from the cameras invading your private space does not help at all. The support of people who truly love you and care for your father and your family is a good thing to be surrounded with at this time. Everything and everyone else is a different story.

Let me tell you about another young girl whose father went missing when she was 10. He was in the same plane with President Ramon Magsaysay, and he was also coming in from Cebu, on his way home to return to his family, just as your dad was because it was a weekend. He was supposed to take a boat, but instead their party decided to take the plane so that they could get back to their families earlier.

Very early on a Sunday morning, his plane slammed into a mountain and it took a while before they found him. My friend Paulynn remembers the day, like it were yesterday, and recalls in vivid detail how in the midst of all the chaos and phone calls, and all the people coming into their house (this was in 1957) she felt “so invisible.”

Ironically, her father’s name was Jess, too, and he was a part of the Magsaysay Cabinet. So many similarities. And although their grief is now 55 years old, the circumstances of your dad’s accident has brought back all the memories and emotions of that day. Jill, there are days we will remember all our lives, days that change us, and shape us into the people we eventually become. This weekend, however, it turns out, will be life-changing for you and your sisters and that is why my prayer is that you navigate this part of your journey very well.

My friend was more fortunate in the sense that in 1957, media did not have any access to them. The adults took care of everything, and all the children were protected from the news reporters that swarmed their home and that of the others who perished in the crash. Today it has become so much harder to find that personal space because grief is sensationalized and made public no matter the emotional cost to those who are in pain.

You are only 13, and I feel terrible how people seem to keep forgetting this fact when they speculate and report about the events surrounding the plane crash. When they show photographs of you and your sisters with your faces buried in your hands, when they upload photographs of you sobbing into the arms of your classmates and teachers who have come to bring you comfort. These visuals do not help at all and only show a lack of respect for your private pain.

I was in awe of your sister’s amazing grace as she spoke to the press today, and I marvel at your mother’s composure at such a distressing time.

It’s apparent that you have two great parents and I have no doubt that you and your sisters all make your father proud. I know that Jesse is a great public servant, a kind and compassionate man to everyone whose lives he touched both in the public and private sector. His heart is pure and imbued only with the desire to serve honestly to the best of his ability.

However, even more important to me is that he is exemplary as a dad – hands-on and always present for all the moments that matter. You are all so very blessed to have that, you have many memories to draw from whenever you think of him. You know in your heart that he has always put you, your sisters, and your mother above all else. And this is why after the course of his duties last Saturday, August 18, he was coming home to all of you, where else would he go?

The next few days will become longer and even more difficult, and I pray that my colleagues in media will allow you children the private space to be just that — children. To allow you the private space to deal with what needs to be dealt with by yourselves, away from the public glare and only in the presence of family and trusted friends.

Your dad is so well-loved by everyone, including members of the media with whom he had a bond and a very good relationship with. In this time of crisis and ambiguous loss, in spite of the pressure to produce a story, I am hoping that they will take pause, and remember the kind of man your father was to them. The best way that they can return the favor to him, would be by allowing his family, and according you, his children, the respect, kindness, and privacy that you will all be needing at this very difficult time.

There are no waters too deep where God’s love is not deeper still. And so we continue to pray unceasingly and wait, dear Jill, and keep in our hearts that no matter what happens, God is with us always in the waiting and that He will see us through.

Author: Cathy Babao

A grief educator, Cathy Babao wrote this piece on August 20, a day before the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo's body was recovered in Masbate. She addressed this open letter to Robredo's youngest daughter Jill and her colleagues in media. A newspaper columnist, Babao originally posted this piece on her blog, Stories by Kate.

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