Philippine interior secretary Jesse Robredo is among three people missing after a small plane crashed at sea off a central island on Saturday, officials said.

The Cessna crashed near the shore of Masbate island while trying to make an emergency landing after suffering an unspecified engine problem, Colonel Generoso Bolina,  a regional military spokesman, told reporters.

"Secretary Robredo was in a light aircraft en route to Naga from Cebu. There was an engine problem so they sought permission to make an emergency landing at Masbate, but the plane did not make it there and crashed," Bolina said.

Four people were on the plane.

Robredo's aide was rescued but Robredo and the two pilots remain missing, according to Bolina.

Manuel Roxas, the transport secretary, said President Benigno Aquino had been informed of the accident and was keeping track of the ongoing search and rescue.

"Let us all pray for his safety," Roxas said over Manila's Radio Inquirer. Roxas said the crash occurred at 4:30 pm (0830 GMT) about one kilometre off shore. 

Source: Agencies