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In Philippines, cartoonist quits newspaper after suspension

A major national newspaper suspended a long-running comic strip series last 6 June 2013 after a Catholic school threatened to sue the publication, in protest over being “accused of allowing homosexual relationships between (sic) its female students” in the comic strip. Two days after the suspension, the comic strip author resigned from the newspaper, apologizing to the editor-in-chief for having “dishonored” her.

Cartoonist Apolinario “Pol” Medina Jr. took to social media on Thursday saying that the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer had “fired” him for a comic strip that appeared last 4 June 2013 in the said newspaper.

Medina's “Pugad Baboy” (Pig's Nest) Wednesday comic strip poked fun at Catholics for being against “gays and lesbians” when lesbianism is supposedly condoned in Catholic schools like St. Scholastica's College.

“Pugad Baboy” had been running for 25 years since 1988, after the suppression of the press during the Philippine Martial Law era, and had become known for its satirical take on politics and Philippine society. More than twenty compilations, at least three original works, and other merchandise have spun off from the comic strip.

St. Scholastica's College president Sr. Mary Thomas Prado wrote to the Inquirer on 5 June 2013 protesting being “accused of allowing homosexual relationships between (sic) its female students,” adding that the school would file a lawsuit if the newspaper would not respond within the week.

Inquirer responded the next day, 6 June 2013, clarifying that it had not fired Medina but had just “pulled out” the comic strip pending investigation by the newspaper's ombudsman.

“Preliminary findings show that this cartoon strip had been rejected for its insensitivity when it was submitted in April 2013 but, due to a mix-up in the comics section, was picked up for publication,” an Inquirer statement said.

On Saturday, 8 June 2013, ABS-CBN News reported Medina's resignation from the Inquirer, saying that the “final straw” for the cartoonist was the “empty space” that replaced the cartoon strip.

“They could've just replaced it with something else, not just (left it) vacant like that. When I saw that, I felt like, 'here's our punishment for him',” ABS-CBN News quoted Medina as saying.

On 7 June 2013, instead of a comic strip, the space for “Pugad Baboy” in the Inquirer contained a note that said, “Pending investigation by the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate on the controversial comic strip published June 4 (Tuesday), the Inquirer is pulling out the Pugad Baboy series by Pol Medina Jr.”

In his short letter addressed to Inquirer editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, Medina simply said, “Ma'am: Sorry I dishonored you. I resign.”

Talking to ABS-CBN News, Inquirer publisher Raul Pangalangan said that the paper does not wish to accept Medina's resignation. “We have already completed the investigation. The ultimate responsibility is not with Pol (Medina), but with whoever mistakenly uploaded his cartoon,” Pangalangan said in vernacular.

On 6 June 2013, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) lamented Medina's resignation calling Inquirer's “suspension and censorship” of Pugad Baboy a threat to freedom of expression.

“This can set a dangerous precedent for other publications and other media institutions under similar situations,” said CAP spokesperson Renan Ortiz in a statement posted on the CAP website.

CAP's board of directors' chair, Philippine National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, said the Inquirer should have spoken up for Medina instead of “panicking and disowning the artist.”

“Medina's strip was directed in general at what he calls the hypocrisy of Catholic institutions that condemn homosexuality and discriminate against lesbians and gays. St. Scholastica's College was cited only to give an example but is not the exclusive subject of the criticism,” Lumbera said.

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