Where to, Pugad Baboy?

Posted at 06/11/13 7:03 PM

Pugad Baboy cartoonist Pol Medina Jr. at work. -- Photo by Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Call in the moving trucks -- the biggest ones you've got. The famous pigs are moving out of the nest.

In a letter so sparsely worded that it could have been tweeted with characters to spare, the embattled cartoonist Pol Medina, Jr. inked the punchline on probably the unfunniest joke Pugad Baboy has ever told: "Ma'am. Sorry I dishonored you. I resign."

At 9:57 p.m. on June 7, these 7 words and 14 characters were sent to Inquirer editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, irrevocably ending Pugad Baboy’s 25-year occupancy in the paper's comics section.

When news of it broke the following day, social media erupted in a wave of indignation, reminiscent of movie scenes where the protagonist drops down on his knees, throws his hands to the heavens, and screams at the top of his lungs, "Why?"

Cries of free speech and undying support for Medina poured out on Facebook.

On Twitter, the link to the story was tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times, occasionally introduced with a stab against hypocrisy, of bigotry, or of simple rage over the end of an era. On Instagram, under the photo of his resignation letter, the sad face emoticon was posted again and again.

Very few people saw this coming. Those who did didn't expect it to come this soon.

But for Pol Medina, Jr., the 3 days prior were enough to make up his mind. And the size of his signature leaves very little doubt as to his conviction.

"Hindi ako wasted nung tina-type ko yan, ah. Very lucid ako nun. Wala na. Talagang nakapag-decide na ako," he said.

By his own admission, Medina's decision to end his relationship with the Philippine Daily Inquirer was the result of a volatile mixture of disappointment, self-pity, pride, and suddenly having far too much free time to think.

He did, however, highlight two things, that he said stung enough for him to quit.

The first reason appeared to Medina on Friday, June 7, the day he resigned.

Violating the parking space

By this time, the Inquirer had already stopped printing Pugad Baboy, and was already probing into the infamous "St. Scho strip."

St. Scholastica's College had given both Medina and the paper an ultimatum, to meet with them within that week, or face a lawsuit. By this time, Medina had also already apologized to the school, and everyone else he might have offended.

Medina opened the Comic Relief section that morning, to see which cartoonist had been published in his place. He was surprised to find his name and the Pugad Baboy title still printed on his usual spot.

A notice to readers occupied the Pugad Baboy comic strip's space on May 7. -- Photo by Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

But where there should be his strip, there was blank space, broken only by the words "Pending investigation by the Reader’s Advocate of the comic strip published June 4 (Tuesday), the Inquirer is pulling out the Pugad Baboy series by Pol Medina, Jr."

To a reader, it looked like the bosses were just stating a fact.

But to an artist like Medina who lives in the visual realm, it was like someone had spat on his face.

"Tagos sa puso yun eh," Medina said. "Sana pinalitan na lang ng iba, hindi yung ganung bakante siya. Alam mo yung pakiramdam na lumabas yung litrato mo, tapos 'Notice, Mr. Medina is no longer connected to…' Ganun yung feeling ko nung nakita ko yung bakanteng [slot]. Parang 'Ito yung parusa namin sa kanya. Dahil sa kalokohang ginawa ng taong ito, bakante ito ngayon.'"

Medina said a cartoonist's space on the paper was considered his turf, his "parking slot." People in their field would often get territorial, if, for instance, a junior cartoonist should "park" in their designated space.

But in this case, Medina realized that finding a replacement there would have been the more dignified option.

"Napahiya, atsaka naawa ako sa sarili ko."

Neither here nor there

That problem was in print. The other problem, was what was not on it.

Medina's second reason for resigning was that for him, the Inquirer did not properly communicate to him what his status was, during the 3 days that Pugad Baboy wasn't in the paper.

In an official statement released on June 6, Inquirer publisher Raul Pangalangan said, "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."

In an interview, Pangalangan said the Inquirer was following procedure in temporarily pulling out Pugad Baboy, and that the move was not meant to punish nor harrass Medina.

"Dapat lang naman na habang iniimbestigahan, huwag munang ipagpatuloy [ang Pugad Baboy]. Dapat isipin din na may mga readers ang Philippine Daily Inquirer. Kapag mayron silang nireklamo na offensive, dapat ding tingnan. We have to be fair to the readers as well. But at the same time, we aim to be fair as well to our contributors. That is why for me yung hakbang na huwag muna ipagpatuloy habang nagkakaroon ng imbestigasyon, sa akin napaka-reasonable lang noon. Napaka-reasonable."

Medina thought it meant a suspension. And by his account, so did his colleagues at the Arts Section.

Pangalangan, however, said that wasn't the case. "Hindi totoo na fired siya, hindi totoo na suspended siya, and he continues to be a contributor. Napakalinaw naman po ng statement na yon."

It was not clear, though, to the man in question.

And in the three days that he was made to stop working, the uncertainty in Medina's mind fermented into far more sinister ideas .

"Siguro parang sinasabi nila, parang floating status. Kaya lang 2 days ago, guilty as charged na ako eh. Ano yung imbestigasyon? Ano pa yung gusto nilang imbestigahan?"

"So yung statement ng publisher namin na 'pending investigation,' ang basa ko parang dine-deliberate na lang nila kung kailan ako sisipain. Ang basa ko tuloy, hindi sila kuntento na suspension lang. Kasi dinishonor ko sila eh. Siguro kailangan nila talaga na mag-resign ako."

The endless wait

One could argue that this all could have been resolved with a few more email exchanges between contributor and paper.

A straightforward question, maybe, and a straightforward answer. What am I? Until when? And why?

He didn't have to quit, one could say. He could have just waited a bit longer, and things would have become clearer for sure.

But something happened to Pol Medina, Jr. during those three days of waiting.

With no deadlines to meet, no reason to make new strips, and no paper to accept them anyway, there was nothing else to do but wallow in his own dismay.

On day 1, he was still asking how long was supposed to wait. On day 3, he was already questioning what he was waiting for.

"Naawa ako sa sarili ko eh. Para akong naka-abang sa computer ko ng email, 'Uy ibalik niyo na ako,'" Medina said.

"Nung unang dalawang araw na wala akong ginagawa, sabi sakin ng wife ko, 'Ano ba ang ginagawa mo? Nakakaawa ka naman. Para kang naghihintay ng wala. Mag-resign ka na lang, kung ganyan ka rin lang na naka-tanga ka. Mag-makaawa ka na lang sa iba na tanggapin ka, kaysa yung nagkaka-ganyan ka.'"

With the wife's counsel ringing in his ears, Medina typed the letter, and hit "send".

Irony of it all

But on the day that he resigned, Pol Medina, Jr. received an email from the Arts Section.

The investigation had been wrapped up. He had been cleared of accountability by the Reader's Advocate.

Pugad Baboy was returning to the paper on Monday.

The paper's publisher said the same.

"Hindi namin nais tanggapin yung kanyang resignation," said Pangalangan in an interview. "Dahil po para sa amin, nabuo na namin ang aming imbestigasyon. At batay sa aming mga resulta, malinaw naman na ang pinakamabigat na responsibilidad ay hindi kay Pol, ngunit doon sa mga humawak, yung nagkamali na nag-upload ng kanyang cartoon. Batay po roon, nais po naming ipagpatuloy niya ang kanyang pagiging contributor ng Inquirer."

That's good right? That solves everything, right? You're coming back, right?

Wrong. On all three counts.

"Sabi ko, huwag niyo na ituloy. Kasi di ko na babawiin yung resignation ko."

 "Siguro may tampo rin ako. Kaya na-decide ko. Siguro, may konting tampo," said Medina slowly, briefly looking away, as though he had only realized this himself.

"Kasi hindi mo matatawaran yung loyalty ko eh. Loyalty tawag doon, iyung 25 years kang nag-tiyaga na magtrabaho. Tingin ko napaka-loyal ko talaga eh. Kaya siguro nagtampo din ako. Pinilit mo kong sabihin," Medina laughed, amid what was becoming a difficult conversation.

But he kept on.

"Sayang. Kaka-silver anniversary ko lang nung May eh, May 18. Sabi ko, sayang. Kasi dito ako nagsimula eh. Dapat dito rin matapos yung [career] ko. Kaya lang hindi natin masasabi kasi eh."

Until the bitter end, Medina refused to meet, not just with the St. Scholastica's College community, but also with his bosses and friends at the Inquirer. Higher-ups would send him their numbers, hoping he would call. He never did. Not out of rebellion, but out of a breaking heart.

"Lungkot eh. Nalulungkot ako. Baka maiyak lang ako."

Still sorry

To date, the St. Scholastica's community has kept quiet about Medina's resignation. There has been no pronouncement yet as to its next move against the cartoonist and the Inquirer. But Medina makes it clear that his resignation is not an act of defiance against all who caused him trouble. In fact, he says, it is quite the opposite.

"Iyung pagre-resign nga ang ultimate expression nga ng regret eh, na may ginawa ka," explained Medina. "Sa Hapon nga, nagse-seppuku. Yung Yakuza, nagpuputol ng daliri. My mga pulitikong nagre-resign dahil may nagawa siyang mali. Ito pa nga ang makapagsasabi na sincere yung pagso-sorry mo. Nilagay mo sa line yung profession mo eh."

He also hopes that by his resignation, he would have cleared the Inquirer of all accountability over the controversial strip.

"Pagka hinabla nila ako, hanggang sa akin na lang, ako na lang yung makukulong. Wala na silang pananagutan. Kaya parang tama lang na nag-resign ako," Medina said.

"The buck stops here. Teka, tama ba yung pagkasabi ko?" he chuckled softly again.

New comic strip at Inquirer

On Monday, the day he was supposed to return, a new comic strip was found parked on Pugad Baboy's former slot at the Inquirer's Comic Relief section.

The paper carried the story of Medina's resignation, written by Agence France-Presse.

A final email to Medina, in so many words, said okay, and goodluck.

What is next for Pol Medina, Jr.? Where else can he find a space that fits him and his growing posse of highly insightful, yet too-fat friends? Have we seen the last of Polgas, of Sgt. Sabaybunot, of Honeycured, and Sweetham?

Definitely not, said Medina.

"Kung concerned sila kung paano na, hindi pa naman ako patay eh," he laughed. "Hindi naman ako baldado para di ipagpatuloy ang pagdo-drawing. Buti na lang hawak ko yung copyright nung title. Gagawin ko pa rin. Pero sa ibang medium na."

And so ended a chapter of Pugad Baboy. A strip famous for bringing to fore the many things we don’t like to talk about -- the awkward, the uncomfortable, but true nature of the Filipino.

It was still a social commentary until the very last strip. Sexuality is still a touchy subject. Homosexuality is still taboo. Religion is still dominant, religious groups still domineering. And even veteran artists still make mistakes.

What is his next move, you ask? Suffice it to say that he has one. And the comic gods willing, he might tell us soon enough.