For some precious moments every day in my almost seven years with the Manila Bulletin, I was able to spend in the office of our Editor-in-Chief Mr. Jun Icban.
Tasked with writing the front page captions for the next day’s edition, I would go to his room – located at a far corner of the MB newsroom – and respectfully ask the “maestro” to edit my work.
“Point of inquiry, Boss!” I would holler as I approach his secretary Nida, who would promptly usher me in.
Hunched over stacks of paper, including the dummy pages for the next day’s edition of MB, Tempo and Balita, Mr. Icban would readily oblige with a thumbs-up sign, before going through the captions with sign pen in hand, scribbling an array of editing symbols that only writers of old would actually be familiar with. Fortunately, I am a writer of old.
Be it a mere comma, or a whole sentence or phrase deleted and changed with Mr. Icban’s own magical input of words, I appreciated and learned from those valuable minutes spent with MB’s “guru.”
Mr. Icban was a master of prose, a strict grammarian, who would not entertain any compromise even with a mere punctuation mark. He would underline, underscore, and explain what had to be edited or corrected.
And to think I only had a few sentences to offer up for editing every day.
I never considered coming to him to edit my work as a chore. I always considered my daily visit to Mr. Icban’s office as a chance to learn.
At MB’s central desk of senior editors, Mr. Icban’s word or decision on literature or grammar was law. In fact, MB’s Style Guide is mostly composed of terms, nomenclatures, types and other considerations that Mr. Icban mandated.
But my story about Mr. Icban does not end there.
In all those short minutes that I spent in his room, while having the captions edited, I would saunter around, looking over the stacks of books (mostly thrillers by Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy) piled knee-high across and behind his desk, or the more formal literature like former President Fidel V. Ramos’ books, or a world leader’s memoirs filed on the shelves.
I remember asking Mr. Icban if he had read all the literature that was in his room, and he answered: “Marami pa sa bahay (There’s more at home).”
There, too, were some items in his room that reminded me of jaded veterans of the media world I also had the privilege to know. Like an abstract painting from his National Press Club (NPC) buddy, the late Florentino Dauz, and a caricature of the Manila Times central desk where he used to work with such legends like Felix Bautista and Cip Roxas.
“Na-mi-miss ko lahat sila (I miss them all). They were all my close friends,” he would always say.
He had a grainy black and white photo of what looked like a class picture of the batch of Nieman fellows he belonged to at the Harvard University in Massachusetts in 1966. Mr. Icban was particularly proud of that photo. He always said that he was able to really hone his English skills while in Harvard.
I must have spent no more than 10 minutes each day in Mr. Icban’s room through all those years.
But, oddly, I always considered each visit a privilege, a chance to learn from a person whose dedication and love for journalism were beyond reproach. Always an enriching look-around through the books, the photos, out the window into the wall of Intramuros, or even his mini-ref, which was always full of snacks.
I remember always giving him a printed copy of MB’s frontpage captions for the next day, hoping – like an enthusiastic student – that I would finally get it back without any correction.
And it was only after more than a year that I got a set of captions not marked with any correction from Mr. Icban. I could still remember him, encircling the sheet of paper with a red sign pen while exclaiming: “Walang mali, 100!”
I darted out of Mr. Icban’s room, with that paper in hand, like I had just won a gold medal in the Olympics!
I will always remember those few minutes in Mr. Icban’s room, much like moments I would have spent with my own father or grandfather while I sat at their feet learning, enriching my craft, and basking at their skills, achievements, and honors.
From the bottom of my heart, Sir, thank you very much, Mr. Icban.