On a Sunday afternoon with schizoid weather (sweltering humidity at noontime, dark clouds looming as mid-afternoon rolled on until it unleashed a torrential downpour) and the ongoing hassles caused by a street demonstration on EDSA by the politically influential Iglesia ni Kristo, the One Esplanade provided a cozy respite as PEEPS (Prime Events Productions Philippines) staged a dual press presentation for two concurrent pageants they are holding–the inaugural Miss Esplanade, and the second edition of Misters 2015: The Pageant (originally known as Misters of the Philippines, but well, legal wranglings from another organization that uses the words “Mister” and “Philippines” in the pageant it stages forced them to rebrand the event).  I would need to apologize in advance to the PEEPS folks as I would give the Miss Esplanade pageant a short shrift–it’s actually a promising concept, as it is a competition for young ladies representing different colleges and universities all over the Philippines for the right to become brand ambassador for the venue, One Esplanade.*1  There were 18 candidates presented to the press, though I have to note the press kit provided only named 16, and two of those were not present.  There were clearly some good looking and promising contenders in that bunch, but let’s face it, none of them were ready to hit the big leagues of Binibining Pilipinas and Miss World Philippines, at this point.  But this pageant can be a good stepping stone and breeding ground for the ladies aspiring to hit the big leagues.

*1 An aside:  why is a college ingenue deemed the ideal fit to be the face for One Esplanade?  I know this venue can host various different kinds of events–perhaps the people running One Esplanade feel that the market for debutante balls and maybe campus-oriented parties is a potentially lucrative one, hence the focus.  This is just my speculation, of course.

Male pageants in the Philippines in previous years have a tendency to be spotty and uneven at best–there were usually a whole bunch of duds to sift through and often the best of that bunch wouldn’t be strong enough to make an impact in the world stage.  The creme de la creme tend to be found in big-name modeling searches like Bodyshots and the now-defunct MTV Fashionista contests.  But PEEPS latched on to something when they staged their inaugural Misters of the Philippines pageant last year–though several are unconventional exotic lookers in that batch, there were also a whole host of cute faces–several of whom clinched the prime titles up for grabs.  There was a human interest buzz that was generated with the fact that one of them is a policeman.  Three of the four titleholders already saw action in their international assignments and delivered the goods–Mister Global Philippines 2014 Joseph Doruelo made the Top 13, Mister Model International Philippines Adam Davies earned 3rd runner-up, and needless to say, the policeman Neil Perez won Mister International earlier this February (Mister Tourism International Philippines Judah Cohen‘s pageant in Panama is currently postponed to October of this year, and even that tentative timeframe is still up in the air–nevertheless, I’m optimistic about his prospects of making an impact in that competition).

I normally would be giving local male pageants short shrift and not devote articles, much less even go as far as attend its events.  But the successes thus far of this organization’s titleholders piqued my interest.  This is further reinforced by reading my friend Norman Tinio‘s articles about this year’s search on his blog–he can be considered an insider as he has a hand in screening the contestants, and as you will witness on his blog as the days wear on, he’ll be going to have an inside view of the contestants’ activities along the way.  I trust Norman’s instincts and tastes, so I have belief that the organization will be running a classy enterprise.  Then, I took a cursory glance on who are selected as candidates, and I have to say, this is a great looking group–but Norman’s articles also reveal that there is more to these guys than simply good looks and buffed physiques, that these are men with a variety of personalities and backgrounds, with depth of character.    Color me intrigued and compelled to see these guys for myself.

The structure of the press presentations for both Miss Esplanade and this contest was identical–the candidates clad in t-shirts and jeans performed a cheesy but endearing dance to a hit pop tune in these shores (I’m not sure what the song was for the Miss Esplanade contestants, but it’s a similar-sounding song to what the Misters performed to, Brandon Beal’s “Twerk It Like Miley”*2) before they each then step forward to individually introduce themselves.  Then, they would change clothes and model swimwear.  This was then followed by a press interview, where members of the press would call out a few of the candidates to ask some questions (generally one question per candidate).

*2 Trivia: though the artist is American, this song is big hit only in two countries–here and Denmark.

So who made a standout impression?  Let’s start with the physiques.  All of the candidates are in great shape–no slouch in this bunch. But who are the best?  Well, it depends if you prefer them buffed and brawny, or lean and sinewy.  In the “buffed-and-brawny” category the standouts were: Tacloban City (Rick Kristoffer Palencia), Lipa City (John Nicholo Zacarias), Pagbilao, Quezon (Reniel Villareal), Pangasinan (Jerome Tabayoyong), Davao del Norte (Ian Flores Alibo), and Fil. Community of Great Britain (Jules Chan).  For the “lean-and-sinewy” category, we can go for:  Ilocos Norte (JM dela Cruz), Fil. Community of Germany (Siegfried Bauer), Candelaria, Quezon (Mark Lester Lhatina), Sta. Rosa City (Karan Singhdole), Koronadal City (Richard Domongo), and Cebu City (Carlos Ching). 

The Beefy and Brawny Crew: Top (from L-R): Rick Kristoffer Palencia, Reniel Villareal, and John Nicholo Zacarias. Bottom: Jerome Tabayoyong, Ian Flores Alibo, and Jules Chan (Image courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)
The Lean and Sinewy Crew: (Image courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)
The Lean and Sinewy Crew: Top (from L-R): JM dela Cruz, Siegfried Bauer, and Mark Lester Lhatina; Bottom (from L-R): Karan Singhdole, Richard Domongo, Carlos Ching.. (Image courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)

In terms of facial appeal, there are also some categories that you can put some of the standouts.  For instance, the boyish mestizo type is highly prized among us Filipinos, and the three Fil-Australians represented in this contest have it in spades:  Fil. Community of Melbourne (Daniel Anthony Polbrat), Fil. Community of Australia (Rob McNamara), and Fil. Community of Victoria (Ari Kane).  Also possessing this quality is the policeman representing the City of Manila (Don MacGyver Cochico).  There are those who also lean towards Eurasian features but with a more mature, manlier bent.  For those folks, we have Butuan City (Marcel Stulir), Laguna (John Edgar Adajar), and Angono, Rizal (Robert Lopez).  For those whose tastes are more totally into Asian looks, you’ll mostly go for the likes of Makati City (Jazzie Magne Vasquez), Bacolor, Pampanga (Arcel Yambing), Bulacan (Paolo Lester Caballero), Floridablanca, Pampanga (Patrick Santos), Tarlac (Church Hill Garcia), and Bohol (AR dela Cerna).

Boyish Mestizos: (Images courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)
Pretty-Boy Mestizos. Clockwise from top left: Daniel Anthony Polbrat, Rob McNamara), Don MacGyver Cochico, and Ari Kane. (Images courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)
Manly Handsomeness. From L-R: Marcel Stulir, JE Adajar, and Robert Lopez (images courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)
Manly Handsomeness. From L-R: Marcel Stulir, JE Adajar, and Robert Lopez (images courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)
Asian Appeal. Top (from L-R): (Images courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)
Asian Appeal. Top (from L-R): Jazzie Magne Vasquez, Paolo Lester Caballero, Patrick Santos. Bottom (from L-R): Church Hill Garcia), AR dela Cerna, and Arcel Yambing (Images courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)

I wish I could see every one of the 29 candidates present interviewed, but well, in a press presentation we can only get to hear from a select few.  Anyway, all of those who got to speak conducted themselves well, but I will make a citation for Tacloban City (Rick Kristoffer Palencia) for his strong command of English.  But for me, my two favorite and most memorable interviews share a common thread–both guys spoke from the heart and delivered with conviction.  They are Sta. Rosa City (Karan Singhdole) and Pagbilao, Quezon (Reniel Villareal).  Full disclosure:  I was the one who asked the question to Karan about the fact that his ethnicity is fully Indian, but what makes him a Filipino?  He expressed emphatically about the fact that he was born and raised here in this country, that he has friends here, he eats our type of food, and absorbed much of our culture.  As I said, I was impressed not because I was the one who asked him, but because I could feel he was answering from the heart.  Reniel, meanwhile, was asked about his background as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker), and his answer (in Tagalog) about the struggles he had to endure and the motivation to do it for his family was very relatable and made anyone who listened almost misty-eyed.  From the way he answered and spoke he reminded me of the reigning Mister International, Neil Perez, and I had visions of him taking over his mantle after listening to his answer.  Though a close pageant friend/colleague of mine has been hyping him to high heavens prior to this, it was only when I saw him in person that I finally realized why he was indeed one of the big front-runners.

Interview stand-out Mr. Pagbilao,Quezon, Reniel Villareal

There were special awards to be given at the event, too.  First was the Pre-arrival Favorite award, and a Top Three was called out.  Third Place was Bohol (AR dela Cerna), Second Place was Tacloban City (Rick Kristoffer Palencia), and the winner was Fil. Community of Germany (Siegfried Bauer).  Then, as voted by the members of the media present, the Darling of the Press award was announced–for Miss Esplanade, the winner was Kimberlee Tee of Colegio de San Juan de Letran and for this pageant, the honors went to Lipa City (John Nicholo Zacarias).

Pre-Arrival Favorites: Mr. Tacloban, Rick Kristoffer Palencia (2nd place), Mr. Filipino Community of Germany, Siegfried Bauer (1st place) and Mr. Bohol Province, AR dela Serna
Darling of the Press Winners Kimberlee Tee of Colegio San Juan de Letran and Mr. Lipa City, John Nicholo Zacarias

I was unaware of the torrential downpour outside throughout the proceedings of the Press Presentation, until organizer and former Manhunt International 2010 contestant Carlo Morris Galang spoke with gratitude and apologized for the length of the proceedings and pointed out the rain outside.  Anyway, the best part came after the Press Presentation, as we, the members of the media, got to mingle with the contestants, chit-chat with them and take selfies (or have friends take the photos).  It was a delight meeting all of them and posing with them, as it was indeed true–there is substance and character underneath those handsome faces and buffed physiques.

I’m actually a socially awkward person who has extreme difficulty initiating conversations, so I basically tagged along with my pageant friends and colleagues, let them break the ice, and I would chime in wherever appropriate.  I discovered Sta. Rosa City (Karan Singhdole)‘s religion was Sikh,  so I wondered about the stereotype of the turban-wearing Sikh men who grew their hair–he explained that he is free to keep his hair short–those who would wear turbans and let their hair grow long have made a special vow (that also involves a strictly vegetarian diet), like his father.  Tagging along with my new friend Raymond Hernandez (who complimented me for my pageant reviews over the years), I also had nice conversations with Fil. Community of Germany (Siegfried Bauer) and Fil. Community of Victoria (Ari Kane)–both bright, outgoing, purposeful individuals.

But my most unforgettable encounter was with the MMA figher from Laguna (John Edgar “JE” Adajar). It started out as an awkward moment during the Q&A portion of the Press Presentation–I admittedly didn’t really do my homework and didn’t memorize the towns and cities and the names of the candidates.  What I remembered was that there was a guy who was representing a Laguna town/city who has a non-Filipino heritage that I want to ask about how he identifies himself as one of us.  I was persuaded to ask a question, and I called out the wrong town–“San Pedro, Laguna”.  So it was assumed that I intended to call out JE, but I had to awkwardly say I was actually asking for the “Foreignoy”.  Still as I mingled and hobnobbed after the Press Presentation, he initiated a conversation with me and complimented me on my English diction, and the initial confusion.  It was warm and wonderfully pleasant, and as the post-conference wore on we all noticed his warm, gregarious, outgoing nature, with a cool-dude vibe.  Raymond and I had a moment for another chit-chat with him before they had to pack up and leave the venue.  Raymond complimented him for his outgoing, gregarious personality, and surprisingly the conversation took a deeper-than-expected, but beautiful turn as he shared the reason why.  I will not fully disclose the details of what we discussed and all I’ll say is that the category is “family”.  What he shared raised my regard for him–there is something deeper about him besides being a currently-on-hiatus MMA fighter who studies law.  Whatever the outcome when the pageant is over, I hope he can consider me a friend and we can hang out sometime (for some beers or maybe coffee or whatever beverage of choice).  Yes, he’s my sentimental favorite to make it far in this competition.

Mr. Laguna Province (JE Adajar)
Mr. Laguna Province, JE Adejar (image courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)

There were some front-runners that emerged from this Press Presentation, but the competition is very competitive and it’s still almost anyone’s game at this point.  I’m so pleased as punch at the high caliber of candidates in this competition, and it’s a delight meeting all these wonderful fellows.   I hope PEEPS will sustain what they have set up for this pageant for years to come.



P.S. Raymond, In Dencio’s Eyes photographer Dencio Natividad, OPMB Worldwide’s Jory Rivera, and myself, decided to stop at Mall of Asia for a while to eat before we all head home.  I had a very full meal back at home earlier at lunchtime with cream dory fillet sauced two ways (mushroom sauce and sweet & sour sauce) with fried rice that I enjoyed immensely so I was hoping for something light.  But Raymond was in the mood for Buffet 101–as much as I want to be conscious, I decided to still join in and enjoy the big feast–though I just ate relatively moderately than I would typically do in a buffet situation.  Anyway, thanks again, Raymond Hernandez, for that unforgettable meal.

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