Since the onslaught of the Coronavirus pandemic in our country early last year, we have lost relatives, old friends, and former colleagues in the House of Representatives either due to COVID-19 or to other causes.
We earlier mentioned in this column that we felt bad that we could not personally pay our last respects to them because of the restrictions being imposed by our authorities, which are necessary in order to curb the spread of the raging deadly virus. Several times, we paid tribute to departed friends and colleagues in this column as our modest way of honoring their life and legacy.
Indeed this plague has changed many ways, in life and in death.
Last Monday, April 5, another old friend, Crispulo Julio “Jun” Icban Jr., former press secretary, veteran journalist, and long-time editor-in-chief and publisher of this paper, passed away. He was 85.
Jun and we met in the early1960s when we were both young journalists. He was a foreign affairs reporter and editorial writer in the Manila Times while we were Manila bureau chief of the Pan-Asia Newspaper Alliance, an Asian wire agency, and weekly columnist on Asian affairs in the now defunct Philippines Herald.
Over the years, Jun and we became friends. When we were Speaker of the House, Jun was a highly-respected and influential editor of Manila Bulletin but he was the same man we met in the 1960s – – soft-spoken, down-to-earth and witty.
Jun would occasionally serve as panelist at news fora, where he would probe lawmakers (this columnist included), government officials, business leaders, and other stakeholders on issues and challenges besetting our country. He asked inquisitive questions, but he was always courteous. He was never rude.
Jun performed his duties as a newsman with utmost dedication, professionalism and integrity, which earned him the respect and admiration of his peers and our country’s leaders.
Truly we lost a journalist par excellence, a gentleman, and a good friend. Jun Icban will surely be missed.
Last April 6, Tuesday, our wife Gina and we joined our fellow Pangasinense senior citizens and the medical frontlines at the astrodome in our beloved hometown Dagupan City to receive our first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Getting vaccinated ourselves was our humble way of assuaging the fears and encouraging our constituents in the fourth district of Pangasinan and the Filipino people to get inoculated as it is crucial to our health and well-being and for our country’s economic recovery.
As we have tirelessly emphasized in this column, we Filipinos need solidarity and cooperation if we are to win the battle against this invisible and virulent enemy.
We share the hopes of many in the international community that the meeting several days ago in Vienna among the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran on the Iran nuclear deal will usher in a renewed engagement between the United States, under President Joe Biden, and Iran.
The Vienna talks is a diplomatic breakthrough and a necessary first step toward salvaging the deal which imposes limits on Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against the Middle East country.
The flashpoint of conflict between the US and Iran has been a mounting concern for Europe and Asia, indeed the global community since then US President Donald Trump withdrew from the multinational nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 after years of negotiations with the European and the US, the latter then led by President Barrack Obama, with then Vice President Joe Biden.
It will be recalled that in May 2018, Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), popularly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was reached between Iran and six world powers – – the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany. Except for Germany, the five signatories to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran are permanent members of the UN Security Council.
The nuclear pact was a result of two years of intense, long drawn-out negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting the crippling economic sanctions imposed on the Persian Gulf country.
Succeeding events in the Persian Gulf since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal have drawn Washington and Tehran closer to a direct military confrontation, which has become a continuing, ever-increasing anxiety in the Middle East and the international community.
We know that the US-Iran engagement would not immediately put an end to the decades-long mistrust and hostility between the two countries, but it would at the very least be a major first step towards a settlement that hopefully would lead to an absence of constant tension and threat of war, and indeed towards a sustained peace, security and economic development in the Middle East.