"Binigyan ako noon ng guidelines eh, ng Inquirer. Ito yung mga guidelines na hindi mo io-overstep. Viniolate ko lahat yon. Kasi sinusubukan ko kung hanggang saan ako pwede lagi eh. Tapos pumapayag yung editorial staff ng Inquirer na ilabas. Kaya naging bold ako eh… aba okey ah, nailabas yung strip ko tungkol sa black comedy. Lumabas yung strip ko tungkol sa race. Tungkol sa religion. Eh open-minded naman pala. Sa kaka-push ko nang ganun, na-overstep ko yung threshold ng good taste. 'Yun yung nangyari dito talaga. Totoo to eh, inaamin ko."
Pol Medina, Jr. works from home, in his attic, a space that consists of just the right amount of clutter and order that one can tell it's been that way – and has worked well that way – for a while.
The attic is split in half by a bookshelf that runs across the whole space. Old "Pugad Baboy" issues line the shelves, mixed with books from other authors.
Pushing against one segment of the bookshelf reveals an inner workspace, where lies pitched a 2-man tent, for moments of exhaustion, or perhaps for battling bouts of writer's block. A pen here. A camera lens there.
In the outer room is Medina's worktable, where the obese characters of "Pugad Baboy" take shape and come to life. Scattered all over it are strips that have not even seen print. Half-finished drawings of Polgas doing martial arts. Of Mang Dagul, holding a pan in the kitchen. Of Brosia, pretending to sweep the floor, but is actually listening in on conversations in the living room.
But placed on top of these drafts was a worn-out book, that seemed to say more about Pol Medina, Jr.'s current predicament than any other piece of writing in the room.
The book's title is"What If… You Broke All the Rules" by Liz Ruckdeschel and Sara James.
For 25 years, Pol Medina, Jr., the satirist and creator of Pugad Baboy, toyed with the limits of propriety, in order to find its breaking point. On June 4, 2013, he found it.
"Pugad Baboy" (literally meaning "Pig's Nest") is a comic strip series about a community of fat people, a community that mirrors every other community in the country, except that they’re all fat, and none of them seem to go hungry.
"Despite yung times na naghihirap ang Pilipinas, meron palang isang grupo na name-maintain nila yung kanilang katabaan," Medina said.
Through his characters, Medina discusses tongue-in-cheek the many issues that affect the average Pinoy, from politics to gossip, from what Filipinos think of themselves, to how Filipinos actually are.
There is someone in "Pugad Baboy" that everyone can relate to: whether it be Mang Dagul, a former overseas contract worker who is now master of his home and kitchen; Bab, the kind-hearted village "tambay"; Brosia, the opinionated househelp; Tomas, the "ander de saya" military man; or Polgas, known as the "asong hindi," who is Mang Dagul’s pet dog but walks and talks like a man, and is known to possess better judgment than the rest of the characters (with hidden skills in weaponry and martial arts when needed).
Before Pol Medina, Jr. ever crossed paths with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he was an architect by profession.
He first dabbled into cartooning during Martial Law, and almost immediately knew that political satire would be his brand of comedy. He also realized, the hard way, that satire did not sit well with everyone, and that if he kept at it, his comedy at the time would most likely get him killed.
"May experience na ako dati sa cartooning, pero para lang sa newsletter ng village namin. Nasisante ako don… kasi pina-parody ko yung parish priest namin. (laughs) Ganun na talaga yung style ko noon pa. Kaya sabi ko hindi uubra kay Marcos ‘to. Dudukutin ako ng sundalo nito."
Medina took off and worked in Iraq, where he followed the progress of the People Power movement on Voice of America. When his car radio crackled that Marcos fell, Medina headed for home.
Known to many readers as "PMJR" because of his signature along the side of every "Pugad Baboy" strip, Medina has earned a cult following for his sarcastic take on everyday life. He has published 24 "Pugad Baboy" comic books, with the 25th already in the works.
The St. Scho Strip
The first "Pugad Baboy" comic strip came out in the Inquirer in 1988, and has stayed comfortably in the Comic Relief section since then.
But on Thursday, Pugad Baboy bounced from the inner pages of the Inquirer, to the headlines of every other local news agency. A scathing, livid statement by the St. Scholatica's College triggered the controversy, drawing public attention to a Pugad Baboy strip that saw print on June 4, 2013.
Part of the statement reads:
"We protest in the strongest possible terms the way the school was singled out and our Sister-administrators accused of allowing homosexual relationships between its female students."
The strip in question showed Tiny – Mang Dagul’s daughter – talking to a lesbian character named MeiMei, who was ranting about the hypocrisy of some Filipino Christians. Meimei questioned why many Christians were so angry over gays and lesbians in society, but were silent on the homosexual relationships brewing inside exclusive all-girls Catholic schools – relationships that are “condoned” by the very nuns that run the school, MeiMei said.
The character Tiny then agrees with MeiMei, musing that in St. Scholastica’s College, one would be hard-pressed to find a pretty student without a girlfriend.
The character MeiMei dishes the final blow, ending the strip with the question, “’Di kaya tongril din yung mga madre?”
Tongril is street lingo for lesbian.
St. Scholastica’s College - one of the more prestigious all-girls Catholic schools in Manila – would have nothing of it.
“If we will not hear from PDI this week, the lawsuit will be filed. If the dialogue will be arranged, we will be inviting administrators, faculty and students who care about this issue to join us. The entire Sisters community will be present,” the school said in its statement signed by the school president, Sister Mary Thomas Prado, OSB.
An onslaught of angry tweets and Facebook posts from the St. Scho community followed, calling the strip insulting and offending. In response, the Inquirer posted a series of tweets via its Twitter account, announcing the pullout of the Pugad Baboy strip from its pages:
“The Pugad Baboy comic strip will not appear in Comic Relief Section starting Friday, June 7.”
“Pending investigation by the Reader’s Advocate on the controversial June 4 comic strip, the Inquirer is pulling out Pugad Baboy by P.M.Jr”
“The controversial June 4 Pugad Baboy comic strip was removed from the comics section of inquirer.net on June 5 (10PM).”
And so the battle on cyber space began.
Pol and friends retaliate
This time, using Facebook as his weapon of choice, Medina fought back, questioning why he was being criticized for the strip now, when the strip had been submitted for publishing months earlier.
“If you zoom in on that particular strip that got me fired,” Medina posted, “you’ll see that the strip first appeared in MARCH. No reaction then. It was re-issued after I made a series of anti-Marcos strips, then BOOM! Nag-trending sa Twitter. I smell a consPIGracy…”
Fans of PMJR flocked to his side, flooding his Facebook account with words of support. Some supporters began a petition on change.org called “Philippine Daily Inquirer: Do not fire Pol Medina, do not remove Pugad Baboy.” As of posting, the petition already has 953 supporters and 750 signatures.
It was under this impassioned air that we came to the house of Pol Medina, Jr.
We expected to hear more about the “consPIGracy” that he believes was engineered to ensure his downfall. We expected to hear him echo the call of many for freedom of speech and expression. We expected PMJR to tell the nuns to lighten up.
But what we found was the opposite of his earlier, online combative self. At 8 p.m., with Pugad Baboy at the center of a brewing social media war, Medina came out from his attic workspace, wiped sweat from his brow, smiled, and said sorry.
"Hinimay ko, yung mga sinabi ko [sa strip],” began Medina. “Nandun yung word na ‘condone’ eh. Kino-condone nila… hindi nila kiko-condone ang lesbianism eh. Hindi lang nila ma-police. Hindi nila mapigilan. Kasi andaming estudyante eh. Saka once they step out of the gates, wala na silang alam kung anong gagawin ng mga estudyante nila sa mga homes nila.
"So dun sa last panel na yon, nung nakita ko yon, sabi ko oo nga, kailangan kong mag-sorry. Kasi dun sa black and white na strip, may makikita ka talaga na hindi mo pwedeng ikaila eh. At yun yung word na iyon."
Medina also apologized for the use of the term “kulasa” to refer to students of St. Scholastica’s college, saying he only learned belatedly that it was derogatory.
"Ang nag-coin niyan yung mga madre mismo. Kaya lang may negative [meaning] pala yan, kasi sa probinsya ang kulasa eh yung babaeng madali eh. O kaya number 2. Kulasisi. Kaya daw pinigil na yung pagtawag nila ng kulasa. Dapat ang tamang term, Scholastican. So yung paggamit ko pa lang nung derogatory word na yon, ayun foul na yon."
And if only he could, Medina said he would take that strip back.
"Kasi ako talaga yung mali. Nananahimik sila eh. Yung estudyanteng nananahimik nang ganyan, i-poke mo nang ganon, ikaw may kasalanan diba? Eh na-poke ko sila eh. Yung sage advice nga ni Dolphy, hindi niyo kailangang manlait o manira ng kapwa para magpatawa. Eh ganun yung ginawa ko."
No 'ConsPIGracy' here
What happened to the fiesty PMJR from earlier in the day?
A private message from the Inquirer Arts Section happened, Medina said.
"’Pol! Basahin mo naman yung email!’ Yun pala nagi-email na sila sa akin,” said Medina. “Nililinaw na nila, na ‘uy, hindi ka naman fired eh! Suspended ka lang.” Eh 'di ba slap on the wrist lang yon?”
Seeing the miscommunication, Medina deleted his earlier, angrier posts, opting to wait for clarification from the paper. “Akala ko talaga. Kasi ang sabi, hindi muna ilalabas starting Friday.’ Yung words na yon, na ‘starting Friday,’ indefinite yan eh! Eh kung after 10 years pa ilabas uli, anong malay ko diba?”
What of the “consPIGracy” that he so boldly coined?
To this, Medina shakes his head, chalking up the paranoia to having too much free timein his hands, what without deadlines to meet anymore.
“By nature, paranoid ako eh. Mahilig ako sa conspiracy theories. kaya nung lumabas sa Twitter yon, naging defensive ako,” said Medina, referring to the Inquirer tweet announcing the pullout of Pugad Baboy.
“Nung time na yon kasi, kagagawa ko lang ng mga comic strips, series talaga, na anti-Marcos. Kasi nakakakita ako parati ng mga posts na pro-Marcos. Nagki-cringe ako, kasi naranasan ko first-hand ang Martial Law. Yung mga nagpo-post, hindi ko alam kung kailan sila pinanganak, o baka kinwento lang ng mga tatay nila yon."
"Ngayon yung paranoid self ko, sinabi ah, siguro ang behind dito yung mga pro-Marcos, baka may mga PR groups sila na inilabas sa cyberspace para tirahin ako, para hanapan ng [butas]."
But after doing some thinking, Medina realized he may have been reading too much into what he thought were signs.
“Farfetched eh. Yung mga tao sa arts, matagal ko nang kasama yan eh. Kaya nung huli, binabawi ko na.”
'I have to eat'
In a statement issued by Inquirer Publisher Raul C. Pangalanagan, the paper apologized for the controversial "St. Scho strip," and announced the suspension of Pugad Baboy pending investigation.
The statement reads:
''The Philippine Daily Inquirer apologizes for the offensive Pugad Baboy cartoon by P.M. Junior on June 4, 2013. In the words of the president of St. Scholastica's College, "our school was singled out and our Sister-Administrators accused of allowing homosexual relationships between its female students.
''Our Reader's Advocate, Elena E. Pernia, has begun an inquiry into this matter. Her 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. The Inquirer confirms its commitment to the highest standards of accuracy, fairness and good taste.
''Contrary to erroneous news reports, P.M. Junior was not fired and remains a contributor. Pugad Baboy will not appear in the Inquirer, however, pending further investigation.''
Medina respects the decision of the Inquirer to suspend him indefinitely. But he says this with the caveat the he cannot wait forever.
"Sa school pag gumawa ka ng kalokohan, sinu-suspend ka rin naman eh. Buti nga hindi ka kinickout. Kaya tatanggapin ko nang maluwag yung suspension… but to a certain point. Kasi siyempre, kailangan ko ring kumain."
"May mga offers naman din talaga. Na napakaganda. Kaya hindi ako nine-nerbyos eh. Yung wife ko at mga anak ko hindi sila concerned eh. Kasi alam nila na pwede naman akong lumipat. Pero kung tatanggapin ko naman, parang ang sama naman ng loob ko, dahil ito yung mga nakasama ko nang 25 years, parang wala naman akong loyalty kung yun ang magiging dahilan."
Pol Medina, Jr. urges his supporters to stay calm.
"Hindi ko na dadagdagan ng gasolina yung apoy. Ako rin siguro yung nag-umpisa nito, kaya ngayon, binubuhusan ko na ng tubig. Para matapos na ang lahat."