pilitaEVERYTIME Mr. Ryan Cayabyab opens his mouth, the country’s music buffs listen. They know that if they don’t, there’s no more reason left to respect each other.

“Hey, we just snubbed Ryan Cayabyab. Now let’s snub Levi Celerio, too, and Jose Mari Chan, and Rey Valera.” And so on, and so forth, until the younger generation follows suit and murders Ely Buendia, Vennie Saturno, Ogie Alcasid and Rico Blanco, in that order. It’s going to be the Stupid Noontime Show of the Philippine music industry. Imagine listening to Lito Camo songs all your life.

That’s why it came as a surprise that the Cebu media ignored Cayabyab when he said in a visit to Cebu that the country’s songwriters are found in Manila while the country’s balladeers are found in Cebu. “Yes, OK sir. Sir, how is it working with the Philippine Dream Academy scholars?” Topic changed.

Cebuanos are quick to defend their dignity against the slightest sign of aggression, especially if the attack traces its origin in Manila, be it Cayabyab or “Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo.” Maybe Cayabyab’s gentle manner of speaking prevented the Cebu entertainment press that time from violently insisting that Cebuanos are as gifted in writing songs as in singing them. But then again, maybe it’s because the Maestro was speaking a truth. And the truth was that while Manileños are the better songwriters, Cebuanos are the real belters.

The Cebuanos’ talent for singing, however, may not have happened naturally. They could have developed it over time for lack of choice, maybe they were plain bored. Few pop-crazy Cebuanos would disagree that for the past three decades or so, the radio has been filling the airwaves with nothing but songs made in Manila, so much so that Cebuanos born between 1970 and 2008 virtually share the same musical awareness (which theoretically means that a 38-year-old man and a one-year-old infant can snap up a Christian Bautista-Rachelle Ann Go duet right any minute).

This 1970-2008 generation of Cebuanos may have realized that it won’t get them anywhere if they choose a career in songwriting. The country’s music capital is in Manila. It’s Manila who controls the country’s music industry. It’s the Manila-based music labels that dictate the radio stations in the provinces what songs to play and how often. It’s pure business necessity that the songs have to be written and recorded there.

Cebuano singers could have started out as passive radio listeners until they decided they had enough, and started asking their grandpas to buy them a karaoke set, and include a lyrics sheet, please. By then, their familiarity with all the right notes had been so polished they could tell if their pet dog was barking off key. The rest is musical history with Sharon Magdayao (Vina Morales) as heroine.

What about the Cebuano songwriter? We have nothing but love and respect for Ben Zubiri (Matud Nila), Nitoy Gonzalez (Usahay), Vicente Rubi (Kasadya), and many others of their era. But for sure they would now want us to move on and write songs that speak of today’s generation. If they were born of this generation, they wouldn’t definitely be writing Balitaw. They would probably be cranking up an electric guitar and smoking grass. (And quit that stupid grin, Mr. Bisrocker, because they would rather shift to ballet than be caught writing the kind of crap that you feed us with today.)

That’s why any songwriting competition that aims to produce the next “Sa Kabukiran” (Manuel Velez) had better escape the time warp because the 1970-2008 Cebuanos are really laughing at them.

Speaking of which, why is it that the songs of the Apo Hiking Society and the Eraserheads seem like they were written just yesterday?

Well… Ok. Can we just talk about our singers? We have Susan Fuentes, we have Pilita Corrales, we have Vernie Varga, we have our call center agents doing videoke on weekends. We have them and they are all in the Capital Manila. Well, except for the call center agents.