BACKSTAGE, the organizers of last Saturday’s Cebu Literary Festival, or CebuLitFest, at The Gallery of Ayala Center Cebu told us to keep the discussion lively. I was with Merlie Alunan and Bambi Beltran to lead a panel discussion on the topic “Writing in Tongue,” or writing in the Cebuano language.

Ma’am Merlie was invited for her Cebuano poetry and Ms. Bambi for her involvement in Cebuano filmmaking. Me, I was invited because I sing in a Bisaya rock band that plays Bisaya rock songs and get drunk on stage the Bisaya rock ‘n roll way. I was also invited because I write a Bisaya column that talks about humba, inun-onan, Lapulapu’s diaper and the benefits of having kuto.

Meaning, among the three of us, my art is the most noble topic-wise, the most exalted and the most literary; thus, the task fell on me to keep the discussion going nowhere while my two co-panelists talk about how Cebuano Art can solve global warming and topple regimes.

I don’t have problems with lively. Something’s so wrong with my psyche that whenever I’m in front of a crowd I transform into a clown, disgusting my audience in the process. Go ask my students who have to endure hours listening to a stand-up comedian discuss the Beginnings of Cebuano Journalism.

“Oh, please, Sir,” exclaimed my students when I entered the classroom in costume one day, “you don’t need to wear bahag to discuss pre-Hispanic Cebu.”

I wasn’t like this before. My mother trained me as a little boy to play in the backyard whenever there were visitors in the house, effectively cultivating in me shyness and a general hatred for earthworms. My college education in the seminary taught me to wear a perpetual frown because salvation was not a laughing matter and religion involved a lot of weeping, gnashing of teeth and second collections.

But while all these were taking place, I had books for companion. These books led me to write, in English first, then in Cebuano, then in both languages quite confidently. And the rest, as they say, is cliché. And this cliché brought me to the CebuLitFest last Saturday.

The advice to keep the discussion lively and engaging was necessary. Most of those in the audience were students, that sector of society we call the youth who are nourished by the values of One Direction, Justin Bieber and Kpop.

This was the same age sector that mocked me and my band when we started in 2003. During gigs I’d go, “Ipaagi lang og lakbay-lakbay, patid, labay-labay/ Sa lata nga gamay…” And they’d leave the bar saying eewww, yuuckk, asking what the hell a Bisaya band was doing in Cebu’s sophisticated music scene. With tears in my eyes, I looked “sophisticated” up in the dictionary.

It took a year for our haters to finally admit that in fairness, yes, our band really sucked big-time. But at least we had them debating on the merits and demerits of using the Cebuano language in music. The debate continues to this day.

I told the audience last Saturday that whenever Cebuano is used in art– literature, film, music – a wall automatically rises between the young people and the language. “Who’s to blame?” someone from the audience asked.

When I said it’s the writer’s responsibility to tear down the wall and attract readers to the Cebuano language, a writer friend in the front row said, “Sus, pagkadako ana nga responsibilidad.” I said not really if we know how to speak the language of the youth.

I was about to say, “For example, I can actually make Justin Bieber wear bahag in my column,” when a student raised her hand and asked, “Sir, where do you find those hugot ideas in your writing?”

Our writer friend asked, “What’s hugot?”

Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

(@insoymada on Twitter)