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.