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Saturday, June 08, 2013

Weighing In On The Pol Medina Controversy

It's been an interesting week.

Along with the start of classes, a firestorm of discussion blew up over this comic strip by Pol Medina, Jr, the long-time creator of Pugad Baboy:


Apparently, it was a rejected strip back in March that somehow found its way into the June 4 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the long-time home of Pugad Baboy.

As a result of the publication of the  strip, Sr. Mary Thomas Prado, OSB, the head of St. Scholastica, wrote a letter of complaint to the Inquirer, threatening legal action against the newspaper. Pending an apparent investigation, the Inquirer then suspended Medina and his strip; in yesterday's paper, in place of the regular Pugad Baboy strip, the Inquirer placed a notice of suspension regarding the popular strip. 

The initial reactions were fiery. Medina himself posted on Facebook that he was being fired from the Inquirer, and speculated on whether the issue was because of his recent anti-Marcos strips (he would later backtrack on these statements after the issue was further clarified.). Gerry Alanguilan, the creator of the critically-acclaimed  graphic novel Elmer, weighed in on the matter, and castigated the Inquirer for suspending Medina, since the strip would have supposedly gone through editorial oversight before being published. Alanguilan also criticized the St. Scholastica administrators, and stated:

"... that does not change the fact that there are lesbians in an all girl school, and that relationships are bound to form, the same way relationships form with heterosexuals in coed schools. Whether these relationships are approved the admin or not, THEY ARE HAPPENING. And there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Pol simply pointed out the this fact, a fact that many people already know. Threatening PDI and Pol with a lawsuit will not stop lesbians and it will not stop lesbians from forming relationships. To me that reeks of denial, and denial will only make things worse for these students."
Later on, however, Medina and the Inquirer would apologize for having published the strip, with Medina offering to practice "self-censorship" in creating future strips. He acknowledged the use of the word "condone", which implied that the school officials approved of such behavior, could be seen as offensive. 

Apparently, the strip was a rejected strip that had been selected "at random by a layout artist". Despite this, Medina "took full responsibility saying, 'Para ding paggawa ng sex tape ‘yan eh. Kung hindi ka gumawa nu’n, walang ikakalat (It’s like making a sex tape. If you don’t make one, there’ll be nothing to spread).'”

As a result of the brouhaha, Medina has submitted his "irrevocable" resignation to the Inquirer, which raises the question of where he will transfer his strip; as of now, Medina has been posting new strips on Facebook. InterAksyon, the TV5's online news portal reports:

"Medina's departure from the Inquirer would end practically a quarter-century of mutually beneficial relationship between the artist and the paper. "Pugad Baboy's" daily publication on the Inquirer had made the artist a celebrity with mainstream following, and he had published consistently successful compilations of his works over the past two decades. At the same time, the comic strip, built around a community of overweight characters, was a genuine draw to the Inquirer, and arguably helped it attract a community of young, loyal readers."
There are two losers in this situation. One is the Inquirer. As Alanguilan stated, "To fire Pol and not stand by him is a gutless move from a newspaper that purports to have 'Balanced News, FEARLESS VIEWS.'" The newspaper is no stranger to controversy, and has resisted even former President, Manila Mayor-elect and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada's attempts to silence it. It's unclear why it decided to cave in to pressure in this situation. But, by suspending Medina, the Inquirer has shown that it may not be as fearless as it claims to be.

The second loser in this issue is St. Scholastica itself. While I understand the St. Scholastica school officials to defend their school's honor, by taking a rather public stand against Medina, it has left itself open to criticism and even ridicule, since the controversial strip has gone viral since the issue started.  I'm not sure, though, if there was another avenue wherein the issue could have been handled more quietly. As it is, St. Scho is now in the center of the storm.

The controversy has also brought the issue of homosexuality in same-gender schools to the fore. As it is, friends of mine, who are alumna of St. Scholastica, fail to see what the fuss is about, because, according to them, what Medina said in his strip rings true to them, sans the "condone" and the insinuation of the nuns' orientation. One of my friends, a Scholastica alumnae, even wrote about the issue in her blog, saying,
"Don’t I feel slighted that my school was singled out? Well not really. Maybe it was the girls’ school he was most familiar with. Maybe his sisters went to St. Scho. I don’t think it was personal. Although to be fair Pol, most of the other girl schools can claim similar experiences. It is a natural phase adolescents go through.

"Just what are we reacting about here? That some Christians or Catholics are hypocrites? It’s true. You and I included sometimes. That the prettiest girls have girlfriends? Well…nothing shocking that about that as well. I just found that last quip about the madres off. But well, part of his humor. So what then? Did he attack the school as an educational institution? Nope. It remains to be one of the more respectable girls’ schools. Did he say it was immoral? Nope as well."
Well said. On the bright side, the controversy has made people think about the issue of homosexuality, and maybe elevated it in the public eye.

I'm trying to see whether this issue is at the same level of Vice Ganda's offensive rape joke on Jessica Soho, but it isn't. Vice Ganda made a joke which advocated violence against women, while Medina simply made an observation about what actually happens in our society. However, it should be noted that Medina was suspended for his comic strip, while Vice Ganda was not even sanctioned for his joke; his boss at ABS-CBN, Charo Santos-Concio even laughed at the rape joke. The unevenness of the two situations should give us pause to think, and reflect on how we deal with offensive jokes.

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