Minister's body found in wreckage

The body of a Philippines government minister has been found in the sea three days after his small plane crashed, officials have said.

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo's body was pulled out from the overturned fuselage of the twin-engine Piper Seneca, about 180 feet underwater and around 800 yards off Masbate province, said transport secretary Mar Roxas.

Mr Roxas said the bodies of the plane's Filipino pilot and Nepali student pilot were jammed inside the cockpit and would be retrieved later. "At 7.25 this morning, our volunteer divers found the fuselage with bodies inside," an emotional Mr Roxas, his voice breaking, told reporters in Masbate.

Mr Robredo, 54, was heading to his hometown of Naga City on Saturday from central Cebu City, where he had met with local officials, when one of the plane's engines stalled 30 minutes into the flight.

The plane crashed as it attempted an emergency landing at the Masbate airport, about 235 miles south east of Manila. An aide of Mr Robredo made a dramatic escape from the plane as it sank and was rescued by fishermen and later helped in the search, said Mr Roxas.

The massive search involving 600 coast guard, police and military personnel backed by dozens of civilians ended after a foreign deep sea volunteer diver saw the wreckage.

Mr Roxas said the divers would have to retrieve the bodies of the pilot and student pilot later because they needed time for decompression after diving that deep. He said the diver was able to retrieve Mr Robredo's body because it was close to the plane's door.

President Benigno Aquino III informed Mr Robredo's wife only after "absolute confirmation" of his identity from a personal friend of Mr Robredo who had coordinated the volunteer divers, Mr Roxas said. Mr Aquino later flew to Masbate.

As interior secretary, Mr Robredo was in charge of the national police and provincial governments. Mr Robredo was popular for his reformist views and policies and clean image that were prominent since he entered politics as Naga City's mayor in 1988, deviating from the political patronage and corruption that characterised traditional politicians. He won a Ramon Magsaysay award - regarded as Asia's version of a Nobel Prize - in 2000 for good governance.

"Jesse has passed. The nation has lost one of her finest servant-leaders. Join us in mourning and tribute," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda wrote on his Twitter account today.