"He will forever remain as the symbol of the quintessential editor."
The Philippines’ oldest practitioner of the daily grind of professional journalism is dead.
Crispulo Julio “Jun” Icban, Jr. died early evening of Monday, April 5, from pneumonia after a heroic two-week bout with COVID-19. He was 85. He was my colleague, boss, mentor, and idol.
I met Jun Icban at the old Manila Times of the Roces family in 1971 when I joined the then largest daily (70 percent of the market) in April that year. I was visiting a friend and schoolmate of mine at the Times on Florentino Torres Street in Manila when its business editor, the late Alfio Locsin, offered me a job. “Would you like to join the Manila Times,” he asked me. “Sure,” I said promptly, and asked “When?” “Today,” he snapped.
Right there, I sat on a chair and pounded an old Underwood to deliver. I wrote three stories that afternoon. All were published the next day, with the first made into a banner of the Times business section, with my first byline for the paper.
My boss at the defunct The Manila Chronicle was aghast to see my byline. “We had wanted you to help us produce the best paper,” lamented Rod Reyes, the Chronicle editor and himself an alumnus of the Manila Times where he won the equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize for penetrating, as a police reporter, a drug den and busting it. I was on a per column-inch basis at the Chronicle because I figured I could earn more than the pitiful salary at the Lopez-owned Chronicle near Intramuros. Alfio Locsin offered me a senior business reporter position with three times the salary for junior reporters at the Chronicle which had just won the Newspaper of the Year Award under Rod.
Alfio Locsin won the Rotary Journalist of the Year Award a year after I joined his business section for writing about the implications of the peso devaluation on the economy. In early 1972, Alfio had a kidney transplant. The assistant business editor, Satur Ocampo, a closet communist, went into hiding. The other senior business reporter, Jake Macasaet, went on a US tour grant. That vacuum made me an acting business editor instantly, while serving at the same time as editor of the Construction and Real Estate Section. With two reporters and two researchers, I produced what I believed was the best business section (eight pages) of a daily in those months of crisis.
Ten meters from the Business Desk was the Central News Desk which produced the next day’s headlines and the Nation stories. It was manned by Jun Icban as news editor.
Barely 19, Jun finished English, magna cum laude, at the University of the Philippines, in 1954. He was the Collegian editor from 1953 to 1954. He also took up a Master of Arts in Journalism course at Syracuse University, New York State, USA in 1958 on Fulbright and Smith-Mundt grants. Jun won the coveted Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, 1965 to 1966. He was a journalism blue blood, at a time when grizzled newsmen did not need to finish college to become professional journalists. They included Blas Ople, Kit Tatad, Adrian Cristobal, Alfio Locsin, Jake Macasaet.
In top command at the Times was his brother-in-law, Joe Luna Castro. JLC and Icban conveyed the competence, intellectual conceit, power and authority of the Fourth Estate. The duo decided the tempo and fate of the nation, the careers of politicians, and fortunes of businessmen. JoLuna was dapper in pale suits, ties and leather shoes. Jun Icban dressed simply, talked little. He exuded quiet competence and authority. Under the tandem, the Times grew bigger by specializing in crime and political stories.
In awe of that power, the Times received each day a steady stream of visitors—cabinet members, senators, congressmen, other politicians and sometimes, businessmen. One frequent visitor was a guy named Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. He hobnobbed with the gods of the Central Desk led by JoeLuna and Jun Icban. The three spoke a common language, Pampango. Jun and JoLuna were grooming the boyish-looking Ninoy for president. However, in September 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. The Times was padlocked.
The three of us, JoLuna, Jun Icban and me were suddenly jobless and powerless. In two months, I got a job as a local stringer of the Mainichi, Japan’s oldest newspaper. By October 1972, a new paper, The Times Journal was set up, with JoLuna at the helm, as editorial consultant. I joined it as a per-column inch business reporter. Jun Icban, meanwhile, became editorial consultant (actually news editor, but since he came from the anti-FM Times, it was not a good time to be ubiquitous). Under Jun, a more sedate Bulletin became the largest newspaper—in revenues and profits.
Jun Icban stayed with the Bulletin, 47 years, until the day he died. When a newsman dies, he is supposed to write “30”, because in the old days, newsmen ended their stories with the number 30—meaning end of the story.
Jun’s passing is not the end of his story. He will forever remain as the symbol of the quintessential editor—with a hard nose for compelling news, an overriding sense of fairness and balance, and a passion to produce stories the old-fashioned way—through hard and honest work.