After the banner, “golden” year we had in 2013, with victories at Miss Supranational and Miss International, a 3rd runner-up finish at Miss Universe and a semifinals finish at Miss Tourism Queen International, our resurgent pre-eminent powerhouse status was brought down a few pegs during the 2014-2015 season, as the six-year Miss International semifinals/finals streak was broken, we merely finished Top 20 at Miss Supranational and broke a four-year Top Five finalist streak at Miss Universe by landing a “mere” Top 10 semifinals finish.  The newly-acquired Miss Intercontinental franchise was the only bright spot as we duplicated our best placement ever in that pageant with a 2nd runner-up finish.  Despite the plummet, this track record could still be considered enviable, especially compared to our showing during the millennium decade.  Nevertheless, could we restore our newly minted prominence in the international pageant realm?

This year, there are 34 candidates vying for the five titles at stake.  It’s fewer from the roster of 50 during the “Bb. Pilipinas Gold” year of 2013 and 40 last year.  This scaled-down roster also features several veterans who competed in this pageant once or twice before, and a significant amount of crossovers from other pageant franchises.  Does this showdown of veterans provide an indication of the quality and potential competitiveness of this group in the international arena?

One dubious tradition of this pageant is the withdrawal/disqualification of certain candidates after the initial declaration of the final list of candidates.  This year is no exception as there were two casualties.  Let’s look at them as follows:

Former BINIBINING 5 – Christine Balaguer.  This hearing-impaired Miss World Philippines 2014 semifinalist has a compelling human interest story to accompany her native exotic looks to potentially make significant impact.  Filipino pageant fans and pundits were crestfallen when they learned she was forced to withdraw.  It was reported that there were contractual conflict issues that arise when ABS-CBN aired her life story on Maala-ala Mo Kaya?  Why would that be a conflict with the pageant? Oh, those stringent contract restrictions imposed by this pageant!

Former BINIBINING 9 – Kimberle Mae Penchon.  She has a passing resemblance to Bb. Pilipinas Universe 1997 Abbygale Arenas.  Though I don’t expect her to make serious inroads and she wasn’t a buzzed about favorite, she seems to have good looks to be regarded as a worthwhile candidate.  She had to withdraw as she had a job offer that she preferred instead of competing in a pageant.

Now let’s take a look at the 34 candidates, and as usual I’ll assess how they’ll be competitive in the international arena.  Here is the legend:  U – Universe, I – International, S – Supranational, IC – Intercontinental, and TQI – Tourism Queen International (in the theoretical prospect that this pageant would be held this year).  Eleven of the candidates are already aged out for Miss International (maximum age is 24) so for them there will be no rating.

BININBINING 1 – Samantha Balbin.  She does have attractive angles, but there are angles where she looks plain.  But she ticks all the boxes in terms of stage polish, personality and communication skills, so she could be considered a worthwhile candidate.  U – 7; S – 7; IC – 7; TQI – 7.5

BINIBINING 2 – Jenny Feliz Gonzalez.  She’s in the more “native” contingent.  She’s generally also solid, but it will b an uphill battle for her to make the final cut.  U – 7.5, S – 7.5, IC – 7.5, TQI – 7.

BINIBINING 3: Ria Rabajante.  She was rated as one of the favorites last year when she competed in this contest and in Miss World Philippines, but in both cases she didn’t make the final cut.  She seems to be in the same boat this time–can she be fortunate to make the final cut this time?  Conceivable, but it is a challenge.  U – 8, S – 8, IC – 8, TQI – 8.

BINIBINING 4 – Renee Soraya Hassani.  Her Iranian heritage gave her appealing mestiza features highly prized in this market, and she seems to be a strong communicator.  She also has previous international pageant experience as she’s 1st runner-up in the minor pageant Miss Diversity Culture International last year.  She could be a possibility for the Top 15.  U – 8, i – 9, S – 8.5, IC – 8.5, TQI – 9.

BINIBINING 5 – Canielle Faith Santos.  She is attractive, but she doesn’t quite make a major splash so she is unlikely to make serious inroads into the finals.  U – 7, S – 7, IC – 7, TQI – 7.

BINIBINING 6 – Toni Alyessa Hipolito.  She had previously made the final cut seven years ago in 2008 and missed out of the Top 10 in 2010.  She has one of the prettiest faces that would’ve been ideal for Miss International, but well, she’s now overaged for that pageant.  I think she’ll at least finish as one of the Top 15 semifinalists this time.  U – 9, S – 9, IC – 9, TQI – 9.5.

BINIBINING 7 – Enrica Roxelle Guieb.  Her facial features are not my cup of tea, but she has a good figure and a pleasant enough personality.  Another one who would face an uphill battle making the final cut.  U – 7, I – 6.5, S – 7, IC – 7, TQI – 6.5.

BINIBINING 8 – Kimverlyn Suiza.  Her main asset is her pretty face, as I have serious quibbles about the proportions of her slender figure, particularly her shoulders.  But if the right mix of judges don’t have objections to her figure, she can make serious inroads into the finals.  U – 8, S – 8, IC – 8, TQI – 8.5.

BINIBINING 9 – Maolin Yalung.  She is actually very attractive, and she does have a good figure but looks like she needs a little more polishing in the communications side.  Still she has good potential as she’s young enough to compete in future editions.  U – 8, I – 7.5, S – 8, IC – 8, TQI – 7.5.

BINIBINING 10 – Pia Wurtzbach.  She competed in two previous years and I rated her as the favorite to clinch one of the prized crowns, but it somehow eluded her grasp.  Will this third time be the charm?  There are some pageant fans and pundits who quibbled about her seemingly voluptuous figure during the Press Presentation, but then the fashion show seems to showcase her looking sleek and impeccable.  I have a gnawing feeling her trajectory is becoming very similar to the reigning Miss Universe Philippines MJ Lastimosa– many pageant fans and pundits are discounting her Miss Universe prospects  in her current state, just like the way I had discounted MJ’s prospects last year–but look where MJ ended up.  U – 9.5, S – 9, IC – 9, TQI – 10.

BINIBINING 11 – Janicel Lubina.  Many pageant fans and pundits feel this buffed dusky looker is the favorite to garner the Universe title.  But I was underwhelmed by her diction and her interview skills, but then again, you don’t really need to be eloquent to shine at Miss Universe these days.  But I realize her attributes seem to make her ideal for another title–Supranational.  She shares the same attributes as Miss Supranational 2013 winner Mutya Datul with her great looks, strong stage presence and weak diction.  Mutya may edge out Janicel in charm and likability, but Janicel has a human interest angle working in her favor.  Could she bring forth a second Supranational win for us, or at the very least, garner a  Top Five finish?  U – 9, I – 8.5, S – 10, IC – 9.5, TQI – 9.

BINIBINING 12 – Kylie Verzosa.  This mestiza has the looks, figure, and communication skills to possibly pull off an upset crown victory.  The title she looks to be best poised to aim for is International.  U – 9, I – 9.5, S – 9, IC – 9, TQI – 9.5.

BINIBINING 13 – Mae Liezel Ramos.  I don’t find her conventionally pretty but there are pageant fans and pundits who believe she can make serious inroads into the finals.  She’s undeniably a worthwhile candidate in my reckoning, though.  U – 8, I – 8, S – 8, IC – 8, TQI – 8.

BINIBINING 14 – Princess Joy Camu.  She is very pretty, but I find her rather raw, especially when she speaks.  It didn’t hurt Janina San Miguel back in 2008 or Elaine Kay Moll back in 2012, so there is that possibility she can go far.  But if you ask me, give her another year or two to polish and she can make a much more serious impact in the international arena.  U – 8, I – 8, S – 8.5, IC – 8.5, TQI – 8.

BINIBINING 15 – Paula Rich Bartolome.  She has a resemblance to Miss Universe 1987 semifinalist Geraldine “Pebbles” De Asis, but then I thought, well those features may work in 1987 but it may not work in 2015.  I don’t see her in serious contention for the finals.  U – 7.5, I – 7.5, S – 7, IC – 7, TQI – 7.5.

Miss Universe 1987 semifinalist Geraldine “Pebbles” De Asis (image courtesy of Miss Universe LP LLLP)

BINIBINING 16 – Marvi Ann de Lima.  She’s not conventionally pretty, and although she can hold her own she’s not consistently polished and charismatic as other contenders out there, but she can still be rated a worthwhile candidate.  U – 7.5, I – 6.5, S – 7, IC – 7, TQI – 6.5.

BINIBINING 17 – Brenna Cassandra Gamboa.  Lookswise there are more charismatic lookers out there albeit she’s good looking.  But her key asset is her strong communication skills, especially in the English language, as she’s a motivational speaker.  This quality was a ticket that allowed her to garner a 4th runner-up finish in Miss Philippines World back in 2012.  Will those skills give her a ticket to the semifinals?