By: GREG B. MACABENTA
The Miss Universe pageant which reels off in the Philippines this January and will culminate in the final selection of winners in Metro Manila on January 30 is much more than just a contest among the world’s most beautiful women.
It is a tug-of-war between two starkly contrasting images of our beloved country. On one hand, there is the brewing picture of a “narco state” given to slaughtering anyone associated with drugs, whether drug lord or user or mere suspect. On the other hand, there is the portrait of a nation whose claim to beauty goes beyond female pulchritude.
If beauty contests were among the events in the Olympics, our constantly frustrated yearning for a gold medal would have long been satisfied and the Philippines would be among the most bemedalled. Our country has won three Miss Universe titles (Gloria Diaz in 1969, Margie Moran in 1973, and the 2015 queen, Pia Wurtzbach), four Miss International crowns (Gemma Cruz in 1964, Aurora Pijuan in 1970, Melanie Marquez in 1979 and Precious Lara Quigaman in 2005), as well as one Miss Supranational title won by Bea Rose Santiago in 2013.
Additionally, no other country can claim to have won the hearts of the first Miss Universe, Finland’s Armi Kuusela (1952), and the first Miss International, Colombia’s Stella Marquez (1960). Both were swept off their feet and wed by dashing Pinoys soon after donning their crowns – Kuusela by Virgilio Hilario and Marquez by Jorge Araneta – and both became Metro Manila residents.
But the beauty of the Philippines – aptly expressed by that classic Philippine Airlines advertising campaign, “The beauty of the Philippines, shining through” – deserves to shine through in more ways than via a revealing two-piece swimsuit or a glittering gown.
The organizers of this year’s Miss Universe pageant are determined to do just that. Our beloved Filipinas (the country) can boast of beauty beyond its luscious lasses (of which we appear to have more than the normal quota among the nations), beyond scenic spots and historical landmarks, beyond exotic cuisine and shopping bargains, beyond being a consumer market of over 100 million waiting to be tapped, beyond hospitable, ever-smiling people.
Indeed, the beauty of the Philippines is an unmatched blending of all of these, a quality not easy to describe. I tried to do that in a speech at the 12th Asian Advertising Congress in Seoul, Korea. “Filipinos,” I said, “look like Malayans, Chinese, Americans and Europeans, pray in the Spanish manner, dine on Chinese food, watch American programs on Japanese-made TV sets – but deep down is a Filipino soul, unique and indomitable, that expresses what we are as a people.”
Frankly, I may have confused the folks in the audience more than enlightened them. The beauty of the Philippines has to be experienced, not just seen. It has to be felt and then missed by overseas Filipinos like me and by foreign expatriates who, having been posted in our country and then assigned elsewhere invariably realize what they have lost.
I understand that the schedule of the 86 contestants leading up to the final competition, includes events in key tourism spots, from Intramuros to Boracay, Vigan, Cebu, Baguio, Iloilo, Davao and Batangas. The final pageant and coronation will be staged at the SMX Convention Center at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
These events and the final pageant will be telecast all over the world, a fantastic opportunity to showcase our tourism treasures. Hopefully, the scenic spots, smiles and laughter, the music, the cultural events, the testimonials and the positive media reports will neutralize the negative news that international media have been headlining of late.
There should be extra interest value in this year’s pageant after the 2016 historic blooper committed by emcee Steve Harvey, where he first named Miss Colombia as the winner, before he realized his mistake and called Pia Wurtzbach. Harvey is hosting the pageant again and, no matter how much he rehearses his lines, people will likely be watching out for a mistake.
Needless to say, it costs a lot of money to stage a Miss Universe competition, some $15 million, I understand. In 1974, when the Philippines first hosted the pageant, President Ferdinand Marcos had just declared martial two years earlier and First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos could pretty much have anything she wanted from the country’s coffers.
When the pageant was staged a second time in Manila, President Fidel V. Ramos had to contend with severe criticism for his government having to cover the budget shortfall.
This year’s pageant is being paid for mainly by private sector funders, led by the LCS Group of Ilocos Sur’s Luis “Chavit” Singson, with the support of Okada Manila, Solar Entertainment, SM Lifestyle Entertainment Corporation, San Miguel Corporation and Philippine Airlines. Of course, the Department of Tourism has a stake in it, too, but its exposure is not that heavy.
We owe these hardy entrepreneurs a debt of gratitude for risking their time, talent and treasure on an activity that is clearly beneficial to the country.
This year’s Miss Philippines and contender for the Miss Universe crown is 25-year old Maxine Medina, a professional model and a graduate of the Philippine School of Interior Design and De la Salle-College of St. Benilde. Oddsmakers believe she has a good chance of winning the title.
But even if she doesn’t win, the Philippines will, hopefully, be a winner in the eyes of the world. Even if Steve Harvey commits another blooper.