At past 3 p.m. last Feb. 10, my cellular telephone rang. Registered as caller was “Jun Icban of MB.”
I grabbed my phone and answered: “Good afternoon, Sir. Why, po?”
Mr. Icban said: “Rey, I am planning to write an editorial on your front page story on Supreme Court directing PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) employees to return what they received for efficiency, medical, education, other benefits 13 or 14 years ago.”
I told him: “Yes, po. They should return the money to PhilHealth per SC decision.”
Then Mr. Icban said: “Alam mo Rey (you know Rey) naaawa ako sa mga empleyadong eto (I pity these employees). Hindi nila hiningi, ibinigay tapos ipasasauli (they did not ask, it was given, and now they have to return).”
“Our editorial would be an appeal to the government to be considerate and to look into the plight of these employees,” he told me.
I told Mr. Icban: “Yes sir, I also pity them but the law is the law. The SC declared the disbursement of funds illegal.”
For many many years, I had received numerous calls from Mr. Icban, most of them pertaining to the news stories I wrote for Manila Bulletin as justice and courts reporter. Since then, he had guided me in my coverage of the courts.
In many instances, he had to tell me: “You are writing court stories. Always be careful. Do not interpret decisions or resolutions. Better to quote from what the courts say.”
The telephone call last Feb. 10, ended this way:
“Saan ka? (where are you?” Mr. Icban asked. I said: “Sa bahay po. (At home, Sir).”
“Mag-ingat ka lagi ha. Senior ka na rin di ba? (Stay safe always. You are also a senior right?),” he told me as parting words.
That was the last time I heard the voice of Mr. Icban — my great tutor, my guidance counsellor, my compassionate editorial boss.
My endless gratitude, Mr. Icban. I will see you again.
Portions of Manila Bulletin’s editorial last Feb. 12 read:
“In its decision, the Supreme Court ordered the officials who approved the monetary benefits to return P16.2 million. It also ordered the employees to return the amounts they received.
“This is the law and it must be upheld. But the administration might want to assist the thousands of small employees who received benefits over the last 13 to 14 years from educational, medical, birthday and other gifts approved by PhilHealth officials. The small ordinary employees were grateful for this assistance, especially the medical and educational aid, which seemed legitimate at the time.
“These decisions of the PhilHealth board have now been declared illegal. The law is indeed clear – the money must be returned. But so many employees may need help, which the Duterte administration, which has become known for its concern for such small people in need, can give, perhaps with a special loan program.”