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11:02 PM June 12th, 2013

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By: Conrado de Quiros, June 12th, 2013 11:02 PM

It’s a testament to how far Pol Medina’s “Pugad Baboy” has become part of our lives that its disappearance from the Inquirer has been hotly debated in both the mainstream and social media for some days now. Though “debated” is probably the wrong word: I’ve scanned the commentaries and the overwhelming consensus is support for Medina and reproach for the Inquirer.

I belong to that consensus.

The issue is fairly well-known by now. Medina’s June 4 comic strip went like this. One character tells another: “Kung hindi ba naman hipokrito talaga kayong mga Kristiano eh (Aren’t you Christians a hypocritical lot).” A second character asks why and the first answers: “Galit kayo sa mga gays and lesbians pero sa mga sagrado Katolikong all-girls iskul na pinapatakbo pa mandin ng mga madre e kino-condone ang pagka-tibo ng mga estudyante (You frown on gays and lesbians but in strict Catholic schools run by nuns themselves, you condone butches).”

The second character says: “O’ nga ’no? Sa St. Scho e wala nang makikitang magandang kulasa na walang girlfriend… (That’s right. At St. Scho you can no longer see a pretty chick without a girlfriend).” The first character says: “Di kaya tongril din ’yung mga madre (“Maybe the nuns are like that too)?”

Pugad Baboy disappeared the next day, and Medina thought he had been fired. He would learn later he had merely been suspended with conditions set on his comic strip’s reappearance. Medina apologized to editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, but decided to resign anyway. “Ma’am, sorry I dishonored you. I resign.”

Inquirer publisher Raul Pangalanan apologized to Pugad Baboy’s fans for what happened. Medina himself apologized to St. Scholastica’s College for the hurt he had caused them, and to the public for having overstepped the “threshold of good taste.” He vowed to be a little more sensitive next time.

All’s well that ends well?

Not really. The Inquirer has just lost the best comic strip in town. The only one who might have given Medina a run for his money in sheer prolific-ness, biting humor, and social commentary was Nonoy Marcelo. Marcelo is gone now while Medina still has his best years ahead of him.

Was Medina June 4 strip offensive?

Where I stand, there’s a lot of gray area there.

First off, the part about singling out St. Scholastica: The strength of Medina’s comic strip has always lain in its details, which are humorous in their startling juxtaposition. The devil is in the details, and quite literally so in this case: St. Scholastica’s officials have seen the devil in them and threatened to drive it back, or sue. The Concerned Artists of the Philippines itself argues it is artistic license, however licentious some people have taken it to be. And in any case, it says, its detractors miss the point: The point was to drive home the hypocrisy of the holy, or holier than thou, by showing them to not practice what they preach. St. Scholastica was just an example. It might have been Assumption or St. Theresa’s or Philippine Women’s University, and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Interestingly, I’ve read comments from people who professed to have kids at St. Scholastica but who found the particular strip hilarious.

I myself suspect St. Scholastica officials were pricked more in their pockets than in their conscience. Medina’s depiction of their school as a pugad not of baboy but of tibo stood to scare the more conservative parents who might fear that the school could expose their kids to victimization. Thankfully, enrollment was over and classes had begun. Or the school might have howled more loudly.

But here’s the part that’s gray. In apologizing for the offending strip, Medina said that after reviewing it he himself was troubled by his use of the word “condone.” It made it appear that the nuns who run St. Scholastica tolerated same-sex relationships. He promptly apologized for it.

But I don’t know that this doesn’t make things worse rather than better.  What Medina is saying is that he was wrong about a point of fact: St. Scholastica in fact does not condone same-sex relationships. Some detractors had earlier pointed out that these were isolated cases at best and weren’t as rampant, or universal, as Medina suggested. Agreed, now says Medina.

But the real problem with the word “condone,” which seems to have escaped Medina himself, is that it disparages, puts down, sees something wrong with same-sex relationships. What is condoned is un-condonable, what is tolerated is intolerable, what is glossed over ought really to be seen. The point is subtle, or indeed gray. The hypocrisy is well spelled out, the dig at tibo—a term that not quite incidentally resonates with unflattering meanings—is more subtle. But it is there. Reinforced by the lamenting, and lamentable, plaint that you can now barely see a pretty chick at St. Scholastica that doesn’t have a girlfriend.

What’s wrong with that? If the nuns are not hypocritical, they should be rooting out the affliction, or aberration, or deviance, from their ranks? You see how the thing is more complicated than it looks.

Medina’s apology to St. Scholastica, which looks truly meant to go by his own thoughtful recognition of having exceeded the bounds of good taste, along with word of advice from the Inquirer, should have been enough. Anything more does raise questions about freedom of expression and of the press. I myself am hoping the fallout, or falling out, hasn’t gone past being salvageable despite Medina’s assertion his resignation is irrevocable and that he can still find his way back to the newspaper he has been at for a couple of decades. To delight, amuse and enlighten once more. Or hold a mirror up to us to show our quirks and foibles and laughter in this bay of pigs.

In this pugad of baboy.

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