BINIBINING PILIPINAS 2015: THE VINDICATION OF PIA (CONCLUSION)

BB. PILIPINAS – INTERNATIONAL: BINIBINING 11 – Janicel Lubina.  She garnered a double whammy of winning both Best in Swimsuit and Best in Long Gown in this pageant, so it’s obvious she was on-track of garnering a plum title.  Both wins were deserving and well-justified, though to be honest, we saw her dazzle better in evening gown when she competed at Miss World Philippines two years ago.  But then again, that edition of Miss Philippines World was such a Filipino haute couture showcase that any Cumbia collection, however improved as in the case of this year, would never keep up.  She was the only one who overshot her time limit in the Q&A round, when asked by congresswoman Leni Robredo what is more important to her, a successful career or a happy home.  Her response:  “For me, as a Filipina, we can have both.  Because we are Filipina as very strong . We can face a lot of challenges and we do not let challenges to stop us from reaching our goals in life. And to have that, like me I want to pursue my education and I want to have a better life my family and for us to have a happy family also.”  Albeit lengthy, it was sincere and if you know her inspiring rise-from-poverty story, you would clearly relate and empathize with her answer.  Sure, I was more impressed with the answers given by Hannah Ruth Sison, Win-Wyn Marquez, Justine Felizarta, Christi Lynn McGarry, Kimverlyn Suiza, and Pia Wurtzbach (more on her later), but the quality of her answer cannot be denied and it’s a given she’s guaranteed a title.

It’s interesting that Janicel is fielded in this pageant, as it seems physically she doesn’t seem to fit the “Miss International mold” with her native features and dusky complexion.  But then again, she makes up for defying the physical archetype with her superbly enviable figure, her indelible stage presence and the fact that she does surprisingly well with prepared speeches (as this has been part of the Miss International format since 2000 whenever this pageant is held on Japanese soil).  The typical Japanese resistance towards darker complexioned beauties actually seems to be wearing down as of late, what with last year’s Miss International featuring a Top Two consisting of dusky Latinas and Miss Universe Japan crowning the bi-racial Ariana Miyamoto.

Miss International 2014 Top 5: 3rd runner-up United Kingdom (Victoria Tooby), 1st runner-up Colombia (Zuleika Suarez), Miss International Puerto Rico (Valerie Hernandez), 2nd runner-up Thailand (Punika Kulsoontornroot), and 4th runner-up Finland (Milla Romppanen). (Image courtesy of Chinanews.com)
Miss Universe Japan 2015 Ariana Miyamoto (image courtesy of modelpress)

An hour prior to coronation night, I chatted with fellow pageant blogger/Bb. Pilipinas – Universe 1985 Joyce Ann Burton-Titular and she raised up an interesting proposal as a pageant fan in our group has speculated that Janicel could win International (which came into fruition)–Janicel can deliver her cultural speech in Filipino.  Joyce noted that the Bb. Pilipinas organizers initially proposed that Miss Universe 2012 1st runner-up Janine Tugonon deliver her interview answers in Filipino, and Janine was totally amenable to that idea.*2  Perhaps that proposal can be revived for Janicel, and perhaps she can be more eloquent and heartfelt when she gets to speak in her native tongue–as long as there are available translators to translate her speech from Filipino to Japanese, it could work wonders.  It helped Neil Perez clinch the Mister International*3 title last month.

*2 That ultimately didn’t push through, but then again, Janine never had any problems answering pageant interview questions in English–remember that in the three onstage pageant interviews we saw her in, she proved to be an exemplar of eloquence.

*3 Mister International is in no way related to Miss International.  Mister International is run by Singaporean Alan Sim, while Miss International is run by the International Cultural Association based in Japan.

MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES: BINIBINING 10 – Pia Wurtzbach.  The first word that came to my mind when she was announced the winner was “vindication”, and it has been long overdue, in my opinion.  Yes, there were those who bashed Pia’s seemingly voluptuous frame, but somehow it reminds me a bit of Venezuela’s Migbelis Castellanos at Miss Universe earlier this January, who was able to get away with it (for the most part).  Similarly, there are flattering and unflattering angles on Pia’s figure–there were angles where it seems she is actually in great shape, and there were angles where the bashers found kindling for their disses.

But once the swimsuit round was out of the way, Pia was on fire.  In the evening gown round, despite sporting a dated metallic one shoulder number, she strutted with aplomb by applying the “Dayana Dervish” to it (so named after Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza’s signature evening gown move), that in my opinion she delivered the evening gown performance of the night.  The gown design itself was what prevented her from eclipsing Janicel as “Best in Long Gown”, if you ask me.  And once she made the final cut, she totally nailed her Q&A.  She was asked by congresswoman Leni Robredo what she thinks of internet censorship.  Her brilliant response:  “I think that we should be careful of what we post online, especially with our thoughts and our opinions that we don’t hurt anybody, especially selfies, we have to be careful with what we post, especially with our bodies and our faces, so always think before you click.”  It’s already an answer that I will give a grade of an “A”, but there is just one little thing that I would probably add to turn her entire answer into a Janine Tugonon-level “A+” answer:  simply preface everything she has said with the phrase, “Though I believe in freedom of expression…”

The “Dayana Dervish”

After her win there were these reports that perhaps her victory was influenced by the rumors that she’s President Noynoy Aquino’s new girlfriend, and with the presence of three political figures associated with the current administration in judging panel, one might speculate that there was “undue political influence” at play here.  I don’t really believe in those rumors, and whether they are true or not, we all know President Noynoy can’t sustain a serious romantic relationship anyway.  Perhaps those political figures may have helped, but I still believe Pia deserved to win on her own merits in the first place (and these merits had been at play in the previous two editions she competed in).

Just like Janicel, Pia flouts conventional wisdom on who should we field for Miss Universe.  Conventional wisdom has it that we should field brown-skinned native-looking beauties to make an impact in this pageant, and Pia is a fair-skinned, classically pretty mestiza.  But then again, we had made a major splash with fair-skinned mestizas before–think Miss Universe 1963 3rd runner-up Lalaine Bennett, Miss Universe 1973 Margie Moran (though my mom would never classify her as “classically pretty”), and Miss Universe 1994 finalist Charlene Gonzales.  Perhaps it’s about time for a pretty mestiza to bring forth glory to our nation.

Mestiza successes at Miss Universe:  1963 3rd runner-up Lalaine Bennett, Miss Universe 1973 Margie Moran, 1994 finalist Charlene Gonzales
Mestiza successes at Miss Universe: 1963 3rd runner-up Lalaine Bennett, Miss Universe 1973 Margie Moran, 1994 finalist Charlene Gonzales

For those bashers who would continue to harp on Pia about her figure, well, Pia has ample time with her physical trainer to fine-tune her figure in time for Miss Universe, and if she still remains in “voluptuous” mode?  Well, I think Janine Tugonon is only a Skype away as Pia can get priceless tips from her on how to make major impact with an imperfect figure during the swimsuit round. For the national costume, I would definitely prefer that Pia wears that white satin terno that she paraded during the official fashion show, as it’s a dreamy elegant confection that can be a great national costume contender.  Now I know Madame Stella Araneta’s current concession to allow Filipino designers is currently only extended to national costume, but I hope with more consistent clamoring, we can finally convince the top brass that it’s about time we tap into top-notch Filipino designers for the crucial evening gown–they had already made a convincing case for themselves at the Miss World Philippines pageant in the past two years, remember.  And based from the gown design, Pia can figure out if she’ll revive the twirls, dervishes, and Gucci flashes that seemed to be discouraged in this current decade (but we so miss that I feel it’s time for a comeback), or be ethereally elegant as she was back in 2014–the gown would speak to her and I’m confident that Pia will figure out what to do.

This should be her national costume. Who’s with me? (image courtesy of Bruce Casanova for Bb. Pilipinas)

I’m reasonably optimistic that we will be able to regain some lost traction in the international pageant arena this year with this batch of winners.  I’m so looking forward to seeing them in action as those international pageants are underway.  I’m certain legions of pageant fans will be rooting for them along the way in their international forays.  Congratulations to all the winners, and Godspeed as you embark on your journeys!

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

The royal court: 1st runner-up Hannah Ruth Sison, Bb. Pilipinas – Supranational Rogelie Catacutan, Bb. Pilipinas – International Janicel Lubina, Miss Universe Philippines Pia Wurtzbach, Bb. Pilipinas Tourism Ann Colis, Bb. Pilipinas Intercontinental Christi Lynn McGarry, and 2nd runner-up Kimverlyn Suiza.

BINIBINING PILIPINAS 2015: THE VINDICATION OF PIA (PART 3)

2ND RUNNER-UP: BINIBINING 8 – Kimverlyn Suiza.  I admittedly didn’t have high expectations for her, as I was concerned about her narrow shoulders and lanky frame.  But then she was a revelation during the evening gown competition as she was elegantly slinky in her strapless black evening gown, and I was thinking–what narrow shoulders?  Her gown also was very flattering and gave her a sexy shape.  But she then further impressed in the Q&A round, as she was asked by Ambassador Gilles Garachon about how she would describe or define the Philippines to a foreigner.  Her answer:  “The Philippines is such a beautiful place, not only with beautiful places, but most importantly beautiful people. The country’s pride is its people itself because we are very happy individuals, and despite all the calamities that we experience, we are very strong and we always come back happy and always looking forward to better tomorrow.”  It’s a well-put answer (even with the repetition of “place” that with her sensational evening gown performance, she has proven worthy of belonging in the royal court.

1ST RUNNER-UP: BINIBINING 28 – Hannah Ruth Sison.  There was clearly fire in her eyes and it shows in her stage performance that night.   She was vibrant and lively in the swimsuit round and she was indelibly elegant and sexy in her sequined white evening gown with a sheer chiffon bottom.  She was asked by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima about why is winning a Binibini crown relevant.  I thought she gave a great answer thusly:  “Well, as winning one of the crowns of Binibining Pilipinas, I think I can be a very good inspiration and a voice to a lot of people. So, I can voice out what we need to do and inspire other people to help and to unite.”  In my opinion, her performance onstage and her answer should have guaranteed her a crown, but for some odd reason, the judges deprived her of that, and although she moved up in rank, it’s still a frustrating, heartbreaking end to her pageant journey.

BB. PILIPINAS – TOURISM: BINIBINING 24 – Ann Lorraine Colis.  Yes, I’m aware Ann Colis has been one of the highly regarded favorites, and during finals night she did look great especially with her straight hair parted at the middle.  But I was underwhelmed by her in the Q&A round.  She was asked by Ambassador Gilles Garachon about how has joining this pageant changed her.  Her response:  “Joining Binibining Pilipinas changed me a lot and  it cleared g my advocacy in life, which is education and my main purpose why I joined Binibining Pilipinas for I believe that education can change the world.”  Okay, it’s a solid answer, but I suppose because I am aware that “education” has become such a pageant buzzword that her answer now feels like a cliche to me, and hence, felt that her crown should have gone to either Hannah Ruth Sison or Wyn-Win Marquez.

BB. PILIPINAS – SUPRANATIONAL:  BINIBINING 25 – Rogelie Catacutan.  She did deliver on her status as one of the favorites as she was indeed one of the strongest performers onstage.  She also gave a strong answer in the question asked of her by Robinson Land president Frederick Go, about if she would be willing to marry a man less successful than her.  Her answer:  “Definitely. I would marry a man who is less successful than me  because when you  say love, it’s how you interact with people and when you say love it’s more on feelings and that is more important, loving the person no matter who they are or whatever they do because love is an unconditional thing that everyone needs.”  Her answer has the right balance of sincerity and thought.  Still, I was more impressed with the answers delivered by Hannah Ruth Sison, Wyn-Win Marquez, and Justine Felizarta, that I would give any of them a crown over her.  Still, I won’t take it against her for winning a title as she was highly regarded from the get-go anyway.  She will most likely sustain the strong streak whe have garnered at Miss Supranational, and there is a strong chance she will improve on Yvethe Marie Santiago’s Top 20 finish.

BB. PILIPINAS – INTERCONTINENTAL: BINIBINING 19 – Christi Lynn McGarry.  It’s a given that this lady is always a front-runner for a title, and she delivered the goods during coronation night.  Not only was she great onstage and she was able to showcase her great looks with aplomb, but she delivered a great, heartwarming answer to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s question about what she would tell a child longing for his/her OFW mother: “Something that I will tell a child who longs for her OFW mother is that whatever she is doing overseas is for the benefit of their own good, that she loves him very very very much and she has sacrificed a lot for her, him or her, and one day she will be in their arms again and everything will be alright.”  With her sterling performance, she is guaranteed a title.  The question was, which one, and many pageant fans and pundits assumed the Intercontinental title is off-limits as she previously competed in that pageant (relatively successfully, I might add, as she made the Top 15 and earned a continental queen title to boot).  So it was shocking that she was granted this title*1 despite that caveat.

*1 Back at Mutya ng Pilipinas 2010, she actually garnered the crown of Mutya ng Pilipinas – Asia Pacific, and Carla Lizardo was designated as Mutya ng Pilipinas-Intercontinental.  Due to personal reasons Carla could not compete at that pageant that year and this lady competed in her place.

It seems to be a messy situation and accusations of poor oversight at the Binibining Pilipinas organization were hurled.  There are two scenarios to fix this “mess”, and interestingly enough, there was precedent for either scenario.  First was the talk of switching titles or places with Rogelie Catacutan, so this lady could compete in Supranational and Rogelie goes for Intercontinental.  There was precedent 31 years ago, when Bb. Pilipinas – International Catherine Jane Brummitt was deemed over-aged for International (the age requirements were more stringent then–maximum age limit was 23) so she competed at Miss Maja International  instead (where she ended up a semifinalist) and in her stead was Bb. Pilipinas – Maja International Maria Bella Nachor (who ended up unplaced at Miss International).  The two ladies officially kept their title designations but swapped at the pageants they competed in.

Bb. Pilipinas 1984 court: Bb. Pilipinas – Maja Bella Nachor (standing, left) switched pageants with Bb. Pilipinas – International Catherine Jane Brummitt (seated, left).

Based on the recent official statement issued by Bb. Pilipinas that all winners will retain their designated titles, and that Christi is “still eligible” for Intercontinental, then it seems the second scenario is more likely at play, and again, there was precedent for this back in the 1980s.  It was discovered that there was one contestant at Miss International who managed to compete in the pageant twice–the Netherlands’ (then called Holland) Jacqueline Schuman saw action at Miss International 1982 without success then managed to compete again in 1985, where she ended up as 2nd runner-up behind Venezuela’s Nina Sicilia.  Now that it seems that Detlief Tursies (the owner of World Beauty Organization, the organization that runs Miss Intercontinental) has given the go-signal, I have a feeling a similar outcome might happen with Christi’s case, and she’ll end up a bigger success at Miss Intercontinental this time–it’s highly conceivable she can duplicate or exceed the superb 2nd runner-up showing by Kris Tiffany Janson last year.

Success the second time around: The Miss International 1985 court–2nd runner-up Holland (Jacqueline Schuman), Miss International Venezuela (Nina Sicilia Hernandez) and 1st runner-up American Beauty (a.k.a. USA, Sarine Nerine Jourbert)

COMING UP:  THE BIG TWO WINNERS…

BINIBINING PILIPINAS 2015: THE VINDICATION OF PIA (PART 2)

Before I proceed with the Top 15 semifinalists, I have a note regarding a production gaffe during the question-and-answer round–there were 10 judges in the panel, but after the first eight contestants were asked, they repeated the rotation of the judges, overlooking two judges–model/TV host Sarah Meier and UAAP basketball player Kiefer Ravena–they only learned of the gaffe after the designated five repeating judges were done with their second round of questions.

As much as we missed seeing the likes of Toni Alyessa Hipolito, Ina Dominica Dominica Guerrero (Bb. 27), Nancy Lee Leonard (Bb. 29), and Patricia Ejercitado (Bb. 30) in this hallowed circle, the candidates who actually made the final cut were worthy of belonging in this hallowed group.  Let’s proceed to review them starting with…

BINIBINING 14 – Princess Joy Camu.  She undeniably has the pretty good looks to be worthy of making the final cut, and her catwalk was decent and polished enough.  However, once she made the final cut, her one big liability was evident as she delivered the obviously weakest interview of the bunch.  She was asked by comedian/TV host Vice Ganda who is the international celebrity she would like to take a selfie with.  Her response:  “I would like to take a selfie with Angelina Jolie because she is one of the example…she is one of the strong woman, an example of a strong woman. That would be all, thank you.”  Fortunately it’s not a “Janina San Miguel moment” as she averted disaster by keeping her answer short and simple, but her nerves was obvious and her reasoning was not really deep or special enough.  Well, as she has said herself, this is her “first national pageant”, and Toni Gonzaga was prescient when she quipped, “are you looking forward to your second?”  I have a feeling she will undergo some seasoning by her handlers and will go for her second and even third attempt…

BINIBINING 9 – Maolin Yalung.  I have a feeling she benefited by being sandwiched in-between two highly rated contenders as she’s between Kimverlyn Suiza and Pia Wurtzbach.  I think after the judges scored Kimverlyn high marks and are anticipating the presence of Pia, she garnered high enough marks for her solid performance to get herself in this group.  She also fully justified her placement with a decent answer to the question posed to her by Ambassador Bernd Schneider, about what she would tell Manny Pacquiao when she meets him to motivate him on his upcoming fight against Floyd Mayweather: “Well, I believe Manny Pacquiao is already socially aware because he’s in politics, and I would just go tell him to go be himself because when you are true to yourself, you can do whatever you want. You can express yourself good and you always believe in God. So I think that’s enough for him to win this upcoming fight.”

BINIBINING 22 – Anja-Vanessa Peter.  She’s probably similarly in the same boat as Maolin, benefiting by being sandwiched between highly rated contenders (in her case, she comes in between Alaiza Flor Malinao and Justine Beatriz Felizarta).  She was asked by model/TV host Sarah Meier what is God’s greatest gift to women?  Her response:  “God’s greatest gift to women,  is actually, for me, is bearing a child because I think giving birth to a kid is such a wonderful thing. Giving birth to life is such a wonderful thing. You can share your love, and you can raise a child to be something wonderful.”  It’s a solid and well-reasoned answer, though something that we have heard many times before.

BINIBINING 21 – Alaiza Flor Malinao.  I started getting the hype around her when I saw her walk the stage–she is strong on the catwalk, though not as spellbinding as last year’s Bb. Pilipinas – Supranational Yvethe Marie Santiago.  She also has a combo of Janine Tugonon’s exotic Asian features with Shamcey Supsup’s toothy smile.  Still, I couldn’t really rank her as royal court-worthy based on her answer to Ambassador Bernd Schneider’s question about what makes a woman truly successful.  Her answer:  ” A woman  is truly successful when she sees the happiness of the people around her and that she has a special person that she could stand right next to him, making him a stronger man that he can be.”  I find her answer rather backward, as if her success is dependent about supporting a man.  I would prefer something like what Mexico’s Lupita Jones gave at Miss Universe 1991, when she was asked a similar question and her response was sincere–she mentioned in general most people would believe they are successful if they feel happy, and although she did not state it, it was implied it was about being satisfied with whatever you are doing life and what you feel during that moment.

BINIBINING 17 – Brenna Cassandra Gamboa.  Her figure is not perfect, but she made up for it by performing some twirls in her blue chiffon evening gown.  Her touted intelligence and communication skills was showcased in full effect when asked by Ambassador Luis Fernando Lillo about how she would handle fame if she wins one of the titles: “One of the ways I’d handle fame is of course staying true to my roots. Always remember where you came from and who you are. Always remember that I am a Filipino and I’m very proud.”  It’s short, it’s simple, it’s well-thought, and well-delivered, that is why I would rank her higher than Alaiza Flor Malinao.

BINIBINING 12 – Kylie Verzosa.  She is undeniably great looking, and generally makes a great impression onstage.  However I was surprised by her overly simple and seemingly tentative catwalk in her evening gown.  Her answer to UAAP varsity basketball star Kiefer Ravena’s question on if it’s now considered appropriate for women to court men was decent enough: “In our modern age today I believe that anything is possible. And I believe that women who are strong and confident and are empowered are allowed to do anything that they want, but personally I believe that fidelity is still present and men should be able to go after the women and this is what I believe in.”  In other words, though she tolerates women who would court men, she still prefers that the man takes the initiative in courting her.  But I knew based on her catwalk and the quality of the answers given by several other semifinalists that she is likely to fall short of the royal court.  Still, her gown catwalk gave me the idea that she could be a better fit competing at Miss Philippines World, where stage fierceness is not that paramount.

BINIBINING 23 – Justine Beatriz Felizarta.  Just as I thought, this lady is a gem who I thought should have been in the royal court.  She struck the right amount of fierceness onstage in both swimsuit and evening gown rounds, and in the Q&A round, she actually gave one of the strongest answers in the bunch.  She was asked by comedian/TV host Vice Ganda about what did she pray for this morning besides the hopes of winning a crown.  Her answer was well composed and even heartfelt:  “Besides winning the crown, this morning, I prayed that my family would get here safely because my family traveled all the way here just to watch  me tonight to stand on this stage to be confident and strong and hopefully bag an international crown and I pray that they would get here safely because they mean the world to me and they are my root and they are my ground and they keep me strong and support me in whatever I do.”  In my opinion, this is way better than the answers given by two eventual titleholders.

BINIBINING 34 – Teresita Ssen Marquez.  Arguably she has the biggest crowd rooting for her success during coronation night.  And she garnered the most special awards, with three:  Miss Talent, Best in National Costume, and the She’s So Jag sponsor’s award.  Fueled by these accolades and the energy of the crowd, she delivered a crown-worthy performance, if you ask me.  Her answer to the question-and-answer round was likewise crown-worthy.  She was asked by General Gregorio “Pio” Carandang about what is her message of peace for Filipinos in this time.  Her response:  ” I would tell to the fellow Filipinos that we should learn the importance of dialogue to be able to have a conflict resolution. Filipinos have integrity. They have passion and they’re determined to persevere. If we all unite and just be able to help one another, then we will achieve peace.”  It was a strong answer especially in relation to how difficult the question was.  So why was she shut out of a crown?  Is it because perhaps Alma and Joey belonged to the opposition party and two of the judges are cabinet members in the Aquino administration?  Or is it they believe that there should be one who should inherit Pia’s stroke of luck, the way MJ Lastimosa bequeathed her pageant trajectory to Pia and now the mantle has passed on to this lady?  The last argument is the only logical explanation I could think of for this injustice.  But I hope that for her case she wouldn’t need to undergo a third go-round to finally achieve crowning glory.

COMING UP: THE RUNNERS-UP and TITLEHOLDERS