Manila and Cebu: Eternal Rivals?

Note: The blog was not written to further hatred between Manilenos and Cebuanos, it is the author’s perspective on the “rivalry” between both camps. There is a difference when referring to each other as “rivals” and “enemies.” The author aims to create understanding of the usage of pejoratives that create superiority and inferiority complexes.

Historical Background

Cebu and Manila are the oldest cities in the Philippines. They have rich historical legacies that became the foundation of the country’s existence. Significant events that helped shape who we are were rooted in both cities. As both cities grew, certain forms of rivalry and animosity began to take shape. Many historians cannot agree on the origins of the love-hate relationship of Manila and Cebu.

Cebu, Sugbu as it was known then has a rich and bustling economy centered on maritime trade with other kingdoms especially China. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Chinese junks frequented the small settlement to trade with local products. Ferdinand Magellan reached the area in 1521 and eventually fought Lapulapu of the island of Mactan. It was the first recorded Filipino victory against the Spaniards. Forty years later, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi reached the island and established a settlement in Cebu. However, the settlement was destroyed as the Spaniards ran out of provisions and decided to attack the native population.  And so the Spaniards transferred their seat of power to Iloilo and finally to Manila.

Manila, which eventually became the capital of the archipelago in 1571, was ruled by Muslim chieftains like Rajah Lakandula, Rajah Matanda and Rajah Sulayman. The shaky alliance of the three rulers enabled the Spaniards to defeat local resistance. And on June 19, 1572, Manila became a Spanish city. The Spanish governor-general and the highest of the officials of the archipelago have transformed the once-mosquito infested settlement into a Spanish city in the Far East. The imposing Intramuros is overseeing the growing city dotted by churches, bridges and magnificent stone houses.

Sporadic rebellions and insurrections happen from time to time, the Spanish answer this situation by using native troops of different province to quell any hostile activities in another province. This way, a divide et impera approach would have been the root cause of ethnic animosity and rivalry. The Dagohoy revolt for example was helped keep in check by Tagalog troops while uprisings in Luzon are quashed by Visayan troops.

The establishment of the profitable galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco in New Spain (Mexico) has raised the status of Manila as the most magnificent European cities in Asia. The wealth brought about by the galleon trade helped made the city as the center of trade, commerce, culture and politics. Political patronage became the hallmark of political participation and because of this, Manila is now dictating the trends in every aspect of life. People who wanted political and religious favors go to Manila to seek audience with Archbishop or the Governor-General. And all these decades and centuries, Cebu remained in the backwater. An added insult to injury, Cebu only became a city on February 24, 1937 — 700 years too late!

Even history was never been kind to Cebu because of the fact that after 1521 history books have ceased to mention important developments and historical events related to Cebu and a mere footnote on the activities of Arcadio Maxilom about Cebu’s “participation” in the Revolution against Spain. It seems nothing important really happened in Cebu as the monopoly of historical significance revolved around Manila and its neighboring provinces.

What are the basis for this rivalry?

There have been many reasons as to why Manila and Cebu have a rivalry or animosity for that matter. One of the main reason why this rivalry existed is the fact that both speak different languages. Manilenos speak Tagalog and its variances while Cebuanos speak Visayan and its variances and Tagalog as well. When Manilenos go to Cebu they speak Tagalog without bothering to learn Visayan while when Cebuanos visit Manila, they are forced to speak in Tagalog. Since Cebuanos speak Tagalog with a hard accent, they are often ridiculed. We may laugh on TV shows wherein the stereotypical Visayan “yaya” or house helper speak in typical “katulong”-type Visayanized Tagalog. We laugh at Michael V or other comedians imitating how Cebuanos or Visayans speak. But an interesting twist of fate, “national” TV news now use Visayan loan words like “kawatan” (thief), “bana” (husband) and “boang” (crazy) when referring to criminals and scalawags in crime news. What a blatant display of blasphemy of the Visayan language.

Most major events whether political, entertainment and cultural are always held in Manila and to name a few are the following: The Thrilla in Manila (the greatest boxing match held in the Philippines); concerts of the most important entertainers of our time (e.g. Michael Jackson), inauguration of the President (though Cebu held President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s own inaugural here), state visits of prominent heads of states, etc.

In the economic aspect, Metro Manila houses the headquarters of the country’s largest companies and multinational corporations. Makati City is the richest city in the country and also houses the Philippine Stock Exchange. In other words, the heart of the country’s economic activity is dictated by Manila.

Blatant stereotypes of arrogant Manilenos invading Cebu and taking away jobs local Cebuanos are based on a certain degree of truths and half-truths. As Cebu is becoming the country’s center of tourism and BPO industry, many people are attracted to go here. Certain people in Manila find Visayans as despicable because many urban poor residents in Manila came from Visayas and Mindanao. No wonder, most criminal groups are named not because of their ideologies but on ethnic lines like the Waray-Waray or the Ozamis groups.

As for statistics, ever wonder why you can’t find any official government survey from the National Statistics office on the total number of Visayan and Tagalog speakers? Is it because there are more Visayan speakers than Tagalog speakers? We may never know.

“Imperial Manila”

Though there has been a huge disparity between Manila and Cebu in all aspects, the term “Imperial Manila” was just recently coined. According to Wikipedia, Imperial Manila is a pejorative epithet used by certain sectors of Filipino society to express the idea that all the affairs of the Philippines—whether in politics, business, economy, or culture—are decided by what is happening in the capital region Metro Manila without considering the rest of the country, largely because of its centralized government. It is unknown when it was first used, but there are political writers, particularly those living outside Metro Manila, who associate this term with the People Power Revolution because it was believed that the country’s former president, Ferdinand Marcos, was toppled from his position without the participation of Filipinos living in areas outside of the capital region.

In Amando Doronilla’s article “Time for Paradigm Shift” posted in the August 28, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he said that People power movements have been an Imperial Manila phenomenon. Their playing field is EDSA. They have excluded the provincianos from their movement with their insufferable arrogance and snobbery…ignoring the existence of the toiling masses and peasants in agrarian Philippines.

The overused term and the endless utterances of “taong bayan” by politicians and media when referring to their political programs and ambitions or simply dispensing their favors are seen as annoyances by people outside of Manila. They simply think that term only refers to the people in Metro Manila and not the country as a whole. To make it worst, local opinion polls only sample people living in the Metro Manila area such as the case of the last election, the late Fernando Poe Jr. overwhelmingly topped the “national” opinion poll but lost big-time to the “solid” Cebu vote. Many Manilenos believed that the Cebuanos were paid to vote for Arroyo and that there was rampant cheating here. Again and again, they failed to realize that not all people think the same way as the people in the capital. No wonder, most presidential candidates have been in Cebu quite often.

Marketing and advertising practices are Manila-centric and so many promotions are only for people their. Crime stories and celebrity scoops, which is centered in Metro Manila, are always updated in the news rather than calamities happening in the provinces and significant political developments in Cebu.

In an article posted at ABS-CBN News, economists from the University of the Philippines and the World Bank made statements encouraging the Philippine government to further concentrate national economic activity within Metro Manila rather than disperse it around the country.

“Republic of Cebu”

Because of the Cebuano defiance, the term “Republic of Cebu” was coined because of Cebu’s growing economic self-reliance. Wikipedia stated that the term refers to the political idea of separating the province of Cebu from the rest of the Philippines, and a cultural reaction to what a number of Cebuanos view as “Tagalism” in the current curriculum of the government’s Department of Education.

During EDSA 2, the failed attempt of loyalists to the deposed President Joseph Estrada to unseat President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Cebu officials boldly said that they will secede in the Republic if they unseat Arroyo.

Historically, Cebu has been branded as “opposition country” because it usually goes against policies initiated by Manila authorities. During the Philippine revolution, Cebuano illustrados supported the Spanish authorities and even hampered the activities of the Manila revolutionaries. Though General Arcadio Maxilom eventually pledged their allegiance to General Emilio Aguinaldo, Cebu remained virtually autonomous. And as the revolutionaries began to falter and surrender, Cebuano revolutionaries only surrendered to the American authorities in 1906.

During the governorship of Emilio Osmena in the 1990’s, the province was hit by Typhoon Ruping, one of the most destructive typhoons in recent memory. Severe food shortages occurred because Cebu is heavily reliant on the rest of the Philippines when it comes to food production. Desperate pleas to the national government for help was met with outright refusal since it was also busy rebuilding Luzon. The motto “Cebu is down but not out, and we can stand on our own” became a battle cry for Cebuano leaders.

But years later, Cebu experienced an economic boom dubbed as CEBOOM. Right now, Cebu has become the tourism nerve center of the country. International flights have connected the city to other countries. Foreign consulates have began to sprout and hotels have been built in increasing numbers.

As a sign of political protest, Cebuano officials boldly opposed national authorities by having the national anthem sang in Cebuano instead of Tagalog. The Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines punishes the singing of the national anthem in languages other than Tagalog with fine or imprisonment. No wonder Martin Nivera was criticized for his “unusual rendition” of the national anthem during Manny Pacquiao’s fight.

Parting Shots

No one can resist of being a nationalistic through linguistic lines than being a Filipino first. I can agree more that I myself say proudly that I’m Cebuano first and Filipino second. Manilenos and Cebuanos maybe different in various things but there is one thing that we need to work on — that is cooperation and understanding.

This entry was published on August 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm. It’s filed under Filipiniana, Geography, Social History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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