The key common denominator for the Top 15 are polished presentation and styling (especially in evening gown), way above the rest of the Top 25.  For those keeping camp count, there was seven Aces & Queens, six Kagandahang Flores, and two independents who advanced to the question-and-answer round.

BINIBINING 13 – Sirene Sutton [Indep.].  She seemed on-track to make the royal courtt during the Top 25 competition, as her touted stage presentation skills were in full effect here, delivering fierceness in swimsuit and deploying the Riyo Mori Gucci Flash wearing her pleated violet halter-top evening gown.  But then came the question-and-answer round and the brain-freeze witnessed around the world took place.  She was asked by CNN Philippines anchor Mitzi Borromeo this question:  “Is it right for parents to demand support from children in exchange for raising them?”  Sirene hesitated, then asked the judge to ask her question again, then tried to answer by saying “Yes”, and then took her answer back and said “No” and the 30-second clock ran out.   Sirene’s supportters would like to say this unfortunate inciden occurred as Sirene was so affected by the question due to her being raised by a single parent, and I sympathize with her.  Still hope if Sirene still wants to pursue pageantry, she can find a camp to finettune her interview skills and learn to overcome her nerves.  How would I have answered thsi question?  Here’s one way to approach it:  “I believe parents bringing children to this world and raising them is an act of love, and if parents truly love their kids, it is understood that love doesn’t ask anything in return that is why I don’t think children should be obligated to their parents.  Children can express their gratitude and pay their parents back if hey want to out of their free will but this shouldn’t be an obligation.”

BINIBINING 17 – Camille Manalo [Indep.].  Her athletic background as a gold medalist in taekwondo at the Southeast Asian Games may help judges overlook that her figure is not necessarily up to pageant standards and was given a free pass in the swimsuit round.  She sealed the deal in the Top 15 with her polished white evening gown.  Bur the Road o the Crown TV special shows she has some weakness in the interview department, and tthis is evident when she was asked by Mitzi Borromeo this question:  “A high percentage of students are being bullied in schools everyday. What is your message to the bullies and their parents?”  This is Camille’s reply:  “My message to the bullied students is no matter what you came from, from being bullied, just stand up, prove to them that they’re wrong and then no matter what happen to you, prove to them that you can stand up on your own. Give them your best shot. And that’s all.”  It wasn’t a bad answer per se, but doesn’t really have as much depth as the other answers, hence I have to peg her as the second weakest answer in this group.

BINIBINING 16 – Larah Grace Lacap [KF].  She has good looks and a polished presence that garnered her fans, and she indeed delivered on finals night, showcashin a trim figure in swimsuit and looking polished in an embroidered dark purple satin gown.  In the Q&A, she was asked by ABS-CBN marketing head Nandy Villar “The making of a beauty queen is about transformations. What are the most significant transformations you have gone through in your pursuit to become a beauty queen?  Larah delivered this well-composed and sincere response:  “The most significant change I’ve had before joining Binibining Pilipinas is I’m more motivated in what I wanted to do and I am more physically fit than before because I know that what I wanted to do will make me a better person.

BINIBINING 34 – Gabriela Ortega [A&Q].  It dawned on me hat she resembles actress (and Bb. Pilipinas – Universe 1967) Pilar Pilapil, and this is probably key to her appeal.  I think the presence of Mariel de Leon worked to her benefit as judges appreciate her thicker-than-typical-pageant-standers frame.  She seems to deliver as a mold-breaker as she also generated strong compliments in the evening gown round in her purple halter-top gown with a loosely-held bun.  It’s a presence that I can describe as European.  That European mindset and manner of answering is evident when she was asked by the chairman of the board of judges, PLDT EVP Eric Alberto this question: “What fear do you have that you would like to conquer, and why?”  Gabriela responded brilliantly with “The fear that I have that I would like to conquer is the fear to fail. That’s something that is happening to me in this journey because I receive so much love from my relatives, it was so overwhelming. And I thought, ‘Oh if I’m going to fail, what’s going to happen?’ But then I thought, what you have to do is embrace the people that love you because they accept your failures and your achievements in life and here I am in the Top 15.”  If it weren’t for the fact that she’s now 26, I would recommend she goes for Miss World Philippines, as her kind of perspective and persona would be better appreciated there.

Pilar Pilapil in her 1970s heyday

BINIBINING 10 – Jehza Huelar [A&Q].  It was expected that this 2nd runner-up from last year’s pageant would improve her standing this year.  She seems to be on-track duringg the Top 25 rounds as she has one of the trimmest figures around and she pulls off her orb-laden halter-style silver gown with aplomb.  But I think what cost her a slot in the winner’s circle was her otherwise solid answer to Eric Alberto’s question, “What is the role of a beauty queen in a country that lacks unity?”  Jehza actually gave this great answer on paper: “I think that the role of a beauty queen is not just winning the crown but also to become the voice of the people. I believe that I can use my voice to the people who have affected by the war in my city and to those who are affected by the earthquake in Mindanao. So I will use my voice to become the influence, the influential voice to the other people and it would unite our Filipinos.”  However her message was delivered with a hint of nerves and tentativeness that that probably left a weaker impression than expected.  There are pageantt fans and pundits who observed that perhaps she received that infamous trajectory experienced by MJ Lastimosa and Pia Wurtzbach, finishing as runner-up in the first try, finishing out of the winners’ circle in the second and finally clinching the crown in the third.  Unlike Pia and MJ whose final try was made at the maximum then-eligible age of 26, conceivably Jehza can make four more attempts as she’s only 22.  We’ll see if she chooses to try again and get that trajectory going.

BINIBINING 28 – Juliana Kapeundi [A&Q].  She garnered the People’s Choice award, though if you ask me she deserves to make the cut with her inherent merits like her beauty, communication skills, and slender figure.  I suppose some might debate if it weren’t for the popular vote, would she make the cut or would someone like, say Ruffa Nava would have taken her place?  I think that debate would rage on for ages.  Whatever the case I have a very high regard for her and she didn’t disappoint at all.  She was asked by ABS-CBN TV host Gretchen Ho this question:  “The Philippines has become a powerhouse in the pageant world. What do you think are the main reasons that made this possible?”  Juliana gave this well-composed answer:  “I think the main reason that the Philippines became the powerhouse of pageants is because of resilience. Like our previous beauty queens, even though they failed on the first time in joining Binibining Pilipinas, they tried second and third time, they emerged victorious not only in our country, but in the whole universe.”  I so adore the fact this half-Austrian loves promoting the qualities we Filipinos possess, and her answer is a nice shout-out to Pia Wurtzbach’s pageant journey.  I so wish she made the royal court, but, well, I have to respect the judges’preferences.

BINIBINING 20 – Christagale Borja [KF].  She garnered a special award as Manila Bulletin Reader’s Choice winner.  I have to hand it to her that she knows how to use her strengths like her height and catwalk skills to her advantage.  I’m not actually fond of her midnightt blue lacy gown bu she wore it well and got away with it.  She actually gave a crown-worthy answer to actor Paulo Avelino’s question “What kind of day would describe the best day in your life?”  Christa’s passionate answer went like this: “It will definitely be this day. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally. I moved from Great Britain back to the Philippines, left my stable job, my career, and this is what I’m fighting for and this is the best day of my life.”  I’s a brilliant answer that touches on the sacrifices she took to get to this point.  I bet the reason she missed the winners’circle is her face–hers is an unconventional sort of beauty and I think the judges (like myself) understandably did not dig it.  Still, props for her and her sterling performance.


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