Philippine daily sorry for lesbian comic strip joke

Illustration of a Manila newspaper vendor. One of the Philippines' most influential newspapers said Thursday it had suspended a popular comic strip for a homosexual joke that angered some conservatives in the mainly Catholic country

A leading Philippine newspaper made a public apology Thursday over a homosexual joke in a popular comic strip that angered some conservatives in the mainly Catholic country.

The Pugad Baboy (Nest of Pigs) comic strip in the Philippine Daily Inquirer had triggered heated social media debate after suggesting that nuns and students at Manila's all girls' St Scholastica College were lesbians.

"The Philippine Daily Inquirer apologises for the offensive Pugad Baboy cartoon by P.M. Junior on June 4, 2013," publisher Raul Pangalangan said in a statement on the Manila daily's website.

He said the cartoonist had not been fired but the strip would not appear in the paper until an internal investigation had been carried out.

The paper's internal ombudsman Elena Pernia had found that the particular strip "had been rejected for its insensitivity when it was submitted in April", Pangalangan said.

However, he said a mix-up later led to its publication.

"The Inquirer confirms its commitment to the highest standards of accuracy, fairness and good taste," the publisher said.

The Philippines is Asia's bedrock of Catholicism, with more than 80 percent of its population following the religion. While homosexuality is largely tolerated in the democratic country, the church remains a powerful force.

The Pugad Baboy comic strip has been running in the Inquirer, which is normally regarded as a liberal newspaper, since 1988.

The cartoon offers stinging commentaries on life in the Philippines seen through the eyes of a community composed of obese characters.

In the controversial issue published on Tuesday, characters criticised the hypocrisy of homophobic Christians, while suggesting that all the "beautiful" students and some nuns at St. Scholastica were lesbians.

Founded in 1906, St Scholastica's College is one of the country's most prestigious schools for girls.

The school's president, Sister Mary Thomas Prado, sent a letter of protest to the Inquirer threatening to sue it unless an inquiry was launched.

Earlier Thursday, Pernia indicated that the paper was acting to placate those angered, rather than because it believed the cartoon was wrong.

"I am not very comfortable saying that certain ethical lines were crossed, but one thing that is certain is that certain groups were offended," she told AFP.