(Photo courtesy of Edmund Chua for OPMB Worldwide)

It is almost a consensus that the six ladies who garnered titles were indeed the six best performers of the night.  The choice of the top winner is also almost unimpeachable.  Now there is some who would feel they should have shuffled the titles among four of the five remaining titleholders as many felt the lady who got the “least prestigious” title deserved more

BB. PILIPINAS – GLOBE:  BINIBINING 19 – Michele Gumabao.  With heretofore title contnders Ena Velasco, Sandra Lemonon and Aya Abesamis falling by the wayside, this made this lady a shoo-in for one of the titles.  And on coronation night she proved to be so stellar that many felt she is on track for one of the plummier titles, like, say, International or Supranational.  Her athletic background gave her an undeniably lean and trim figure that many (including myself) felt she might deserve a Best in Swimsuit award.  But well, we know that went to   In the evening gown round, she evoked two major Miss Universe icons with her yellow one-shoulder Grecian style evening gown, which evokes both Miss Universe 1999 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao and Miss Universe 2000 Lara Dutta.  She also got a special award as Miss Cream Silk.  Many are also impressed with her response to Ces Oreña-Drilon‘s question, “What can you do to fight fake news?”  Michele answered this way:  “I know that fake news is very rampant nowadays, but in order to fight these, we must first, know what we are reporting, know what we are reading and at the same time, be accountable for what we say, especially online. And I hope that media always filters their news, their resources to always deliver truth and authentic news. Thank you.”  When I heard it, I was also very impressed and thought she was on-track to representing us at Miss International.  But to the shock of many, she was handed this “inferior” title instead.  On one hand, yes, she’s on-track to bring forth an Ann Colis-style victory in this pageant as she has that similar kind of charisma, but she can also blaze a major trail at Miss International, too.  Did the judges take it against her for wearing a gown that is so 1999-2000?  Or were they asking more from her on top of her otherwise great answer?  I respect the judges’ decision, but I’m with many pageant fans and pundits who felt she deserved so much better.

Gown inspirations: Miss Universe 1999 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao (L) and Miss Universe 2000 Lara Dutta (Images courtesy of Miss Universe Organization)

BB. PILIPINAS – INTERCONTINENTAL:  BINIBINING 38 – Karen Gallman.  Her pretty face and charisma (abetted by her charming Australian accent) help make people overlook any reservations about her height and figure.  She also cast an alluring spell with her low-cut red dress with that Jessica Rabbit-neckline.  Now, she caused a stir with her answer to the question posed by Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman, “Do you agree that a third restroom should be built for transgenders? Why or why not?”  Karen’s answer went like this: “I definitely agree there should be a third restroom for transgender because us women would like a privacy and also with men, and we have a separate room for the transgender. It just serves as an equality and privatization. Thank you.”  Karen has since acknowledged she was caught up with nerves when she delivered this answer.  There are also many social justice warriors (SJW) who also argue that the right answer to this question is that the transgender people should go to the bathroom according to the gender they identify with.  I agree with that stance, but then I thought about a small group within the transgender spectrum that doesn’t want to be defined by such categories and want to be considered “non-binary”, so for that group a third bathroom may indeed have merit.  Also, we can also nitpick with Karen’s justification for her stance, as it did create the implication that the transgenders were predatory, which is definitely not the case.  I would’ve placed Karen to the Globe title or shut her out of the titles and elevate Samantha or Vickie Marie to one of the titles if we base it solely on her answer.  But I think she made such an impact during the earlier rounds that the judges still rewarded her with a title.

BB. PILIPINAS – GRAND INTERNATIONAL:  BINIBINING 32 – Eva Psychee Patalinjug.  Though she won the Miss Photogenic award, among the six titleholders I found her the least pretty, but her charisma was undeniable and I always knew she is on-track for one of the titles.  I found out from the swimsuit round that she’s the winner of the BB Sweepstakes, and those assets were also in play in her strapless sparkly red evening gown.  But her real gift is her eloquence, as displayed when she was asked by Colombian ambassador Victor Hugo Echiverri, “What is the role of beauty queens in the pursuit of our country’s economic success, if any?”  Eva answered, “A role of the beauty queen is to be a voice. I am here to make a message to all of you. In these times of uncertainty…taking over our country, we have remained steadfast and have faith in all of its challenges. As a united nation, what we should do is to set aside our political differences, economic and social preferences. Let our love and loyalty to our country rise above all, in the hopes of making a peaceful country. Thank you.”  When I heard that answer, I was very impressed.  Later on it was pointed out she lifted out phrases and ideas from a Metro Magazine Independence Day campaign, with the quote coming from actress Nadine Ilustre.  Eva acknowledged it as such but she’s inspired by those ideas anyway, and it’s so apt to the question anyway.  I do agree so I won’t take it against her for paraphrasing ideas from other sources.  I so agree with her winning this title, as she does evoke Nicole Cordoves‘s persona, bolstered by a couple of assets that could be our ticket to finally winning Miss Grand International.  Think about it–the winners of this pageant aren’t the prettiest ladies in their respective batches, and most of the time it goes to the lady who gave the strongest answer or the best world peace speech, and speech is Eva’s best asset.  I’m also pleased she finally gets to compete in an international beauty competition–and most likely shine in that pageant.

BB. PILIPINAS – SUPRANATIONAL:  BINIBINING 31 – Jehza Mae Huelar.  Like MJ Lastimosa and Pia Wurtzbach, the third time’s the charm for this lady.  But unlike the other two who went on to win the top title, she had to content herself with a lesser title as she had to compete against an unstoppable luminously divine being.  Anyway, she secured her ticket to the Top 15 with her trim figure and sporting a strapless pink gown with peplum hem.  Then, she clinched a title slot when she answered this question from US ambassador Sung Kim: “What do you think is the most important quality of a millennial woman?”  Jehza answered,  “I think the most important quality a millennial woman have is to have a vision. With her vision, she should have this attitude and perseverance so that she can achieve her goals. And if she’s good at vision, she will be able to express herself freely. So I would hope that all the millennials out here would really adhere to our culture and our tradition so that we can inspire others, we can impact people. Thank you.”  I still maintain Michele Gumabao answered better than Jehza, and would want to promote her to either this title or International and Jehza and Ahtisa move down to this title or Intercontinental (and of course demoting Karen to Globe), but I think it would be unfair for Jehza to be awarded a lesser title and she does exude a bubbly vibe so she could potentially come closer to secure a victory in this pageant after Mutya Datul‘s historic victory five years ago.  Rooting for her to make Top Five this time.

BB. PILIPINAS – INTERNATIONAL:  BINIBINING 17 – Ma. Ahtisa Manalo.  Though I do think she’s great looking, I didn’t peg her as a title contender, though there was rising buzz about her.  But she made a convincing case with her trim figure (probably behind Michele Gumabao in terms of buffness) and most especially her dramatic evening gown presentation, performing a combo of the Riyo Mori Gucci Flash and the Dayana Dervish with her fuchsia evening gown.  She secured one of the crowns with her strong answer to Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman‘s question, “How should a beauty queen respond to ruthless criticism?”  Ahtisa’s response:  “A beauty queen should always respond to criticisms constructively. We beauty queens are public figures and we put ourselves in a position to be judged. But nonetheless, we should always, we should always filter which comments we should accept and what we should not. Thank you.”  She had to pause for a brief second to gather her thoughts and conclude her point, but as Pia remarked after she answered, “Good save.”  As I mentioned, I was more impressed with Michele Gumabao’s presence and answer and would probably peg Michele for this title and Ahtisa taking either Suprnaational or Intercntinental.  But it dawned on me the judges probably noticed there is something about her face that reminds them of somebody…

…And that somebody is Miss International 2016 Kylie Versoza.  I do see the resemblance, but I don’t think Ahtisa, being a country lass from Quezon province, has Kylie’s cosmopolitan sophistication at this point.  Still, she has ample time to learn how to channel Kylie’s combination of urbanity and Japanese deference and channel the modern Yamato Nadeshiko (the Japanese feminine ideal) and perhaps clinch our seventh Miss International crown.  I normally discourage sending clones to international pageants, but if one takes a glance at Japanese anime and manga culture, they do rely on archetypes (try comparing multiple animes that have pink-haired ingenues and brown-haired feisty girls, and reticent black-and-long-haired girls with fringed bangs across them), and Miss International is no exception.  Case in point, the one that I dub the Verna Vasquez archetype.*1  Kylie is an awesome arechetype to use and arguably she was responsible for giving this otherwise staid pageant an extended lease in life.

*1 Yes, Curacao’s Verna Vasquez (Miss Universe 1997 4th place finalist) never set foot at Miss International, but her brand of beauty proved to be major catnip with the Japanese judges, yielding a win with Puerto Rico’s Valerie Dominguez in 2014 and a 1st runner-up finish for Verna’s countrywoman Chanelle de Lau last year.

Miss International 2016 Kylie Versoza

MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES:  BINIBINING 20 – Catriona Elisa Gray.  It turns out just like in her stint at Miss World Philippines two years ago, the Divine Miss Gray dominated the competition with her fellow competitors settling for scraps.  She took the lion’s share of special awards, like Miss Jag Denim Queen, Miss Ever Bilena, Best in National Costume, and of course, Best in Swimsuit and Best in Evening Gown.  I’m impressed that she is able to morph from the saintly Audrey Hepburn archetype to a more alluring siren/nymph persona.  This is especially in play with her spellbinding presence in the evening gown round, with her hair swept to one side and showcasing the now legendary patriotic ear-cuff (designed to represent the sun and stars on the Philippine flag).  Her now well-renowned gift of gab is very much in full effect when answering this question posed by US Ambassador Sung Kim: “After the devastating war, Marawi is now on its way to recovery. What is your message to the young women of Marawi?” Catriona’s answer:  “Thank you for that question. My answer and my message to the women is to be strong. As women, we’re the head of the household and we have amazing influence not only in our families, as mothers, sisters and friends, but also in our community. If we could get the women to stay strong and be that image of strength for the children and the people around them, then once the rebuilding is complete and is underway, the morale of the community will stay strong and high. Thank you.”  With that she made history as the first ever Filipina who will get to compete in both Miss World and Miss Universe.*2

*2 Yes, Miriam Quiambao was originally crowned Bb. Pilipinas – World back in 1999 before eventually being designated to compete at Miss Universe as the Bb. Pilipinas – Universe titleholder Janelle Bautista was dethroned due to citizenship issues, but Miriam never ever competed at Miss World, unlike what Catriona would be doing.

After her victory, there was criticism from former beauty queens Maggie Wilson (Bb. Pilipinas – World 2007) and Miss International 2013 Bea Rose Santiago as they posted on Twitter objecting to Catriona’s Best in Swimsuit win.  Yes, Catriona’s figure is not as buffed as, say, Michele Gumabao but there is precedent for this–remember Oxana Fedorova‘s extremely inflated swimsuit score at Miss Universe 2002?  The trend then was extreme buffness as exhibited by the likes of Germany’s Natascha Börger, South Africa’s Vanessa Carreira and Venezuela’s Cynthia Lander, but well, Oxana’s face was so spellbinding that the judges overlook those standards and granted her that high swimsuit score.  Catriona has ample time to whip her figure into a buffer shape, and if not, well, remember that Miss Universe is now open to a broader range of body types.

Dethroned Miss Universe 2002 Oxana Fedorva during te swimsuit competition (image courtesy of Miss Universe Organization)

There was also heavy talk about the gown Catriona wore on coronation night, as many noted it resembles the gown worn by Miss Universe 2015 1st runner-up Ariadna Gutierrez.  I do agree there is a resemblance, but there are enough design differences (like the slit at the left thigh and the design patterns in the gown and the neckline) to see that it’s not a copycat.   Besides, the way Catriona was styled that night was way different also, but I acknowledge the silhouette is a beautifully classic one to emulate.

Miss Universe 2015 1st runner-up Ariadna Gutierrez (courtesy of Miss Universe Organization)

At this point, indeed Catriona is THE favorite to win this year’s Miss Universe, and she looks poised to achieve the clamor of her fans for vindication after missing winning the Miss World crown.  But one should never be presumptuous as between now and that pageant there are still a lot of unknowns.  But of course, me and multitudes of pageant fans all over the Philippines are fervently hoping everything works in her favor.  Anyway, in the meantime while we await Catriona’s Miss Universe stint, we should root for the other titleholders as they look poised to deliver another bonanza year for our country, similar to the dominance we exhibited in 2013 and 2015.  Best wishes to all of this year’s titleholders.



(Image courtesy of FAB Philippines)

All images courtesy of Binibining Pilipinas unless otherwise indicated.