Despite their smiles being hidden behind face masks and bulky face shields, overjoyed Ilonggos made their love and support for Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Rabiya Mateo felt on Friday, November 13, as the titleholder brought back the crown to her hometown of Iloilo for the first time since her historic triumph in late October.
The beauty queen joined a motorcade on Friday morning, as Mateo paraded through the main thoroughfares of Iloilo City to meet and wave to her adoring Ilonggo supporters. Personnel were strategically stationed to ensure all of Mateo’s well-wishers followed the mandatory social distancing rules and regulations.
A Balasan, Iloilo native, Mateo’s surprise win ends a 55-year dry spell for the “City of Love” when it comes to crowns in a major national pageant. The last Ilongga to represent the Philippines on the Miss Universe stage was Louise Vail Aurelio of Jaro, Iloilo in 1965 – held at Miami, Florida – after being crowned the Binibining Pilipinas that same year. Vail emerged as a top 15 semi-finalist during the competition.
The Ilonggos have expressed nothing but overwhelming pride for the 24-year-old queen’s success – seeing her as a “glimmer of hope” for all, especially during these trying times.
“[Her victory] is much-needed good news amidst all the heartbreaking events happening around us,” filmmaker and University of the Philippine Visayas professor Emmanuel Lerona told Rappler. Albeit not an avid follower of pageants, Lerona said Mateo’s win is something that has united all Ilonggos in celebration.
“It unifies us as a people. Regardless of political leanings, we can take a sigh of relief and rest on the idea that it’s still possible to claim victory somewhere. It also makes us look forward to the prospect of Rabiya making it in the international competition as well,” he continued.
Nico Ivan Velasquez, a passionate pageant fan and one of the young movers of Iloilo’s hospitality industry, shared a similar sentiment. “It’s a loud display that shows fellow Ilonggos nothing is impossible! We rise above our circumstances. It’s all about how we carry the weight, convert it as stepping stones, and rise above our old selves,” said Velasquez, marketing manager of the Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo.
Mateo’s homecoming culminated with a Christmas Lighting Ceremony at Festive Walk Mall Iloilo on Saturday night.
With Mateo’s return coinciding with her 24th birthday (November 14), the reigning queen launched a donation drive for the survivors of typhoons Ulysses and Rolly – asking her supporters to help out those devastated by the natural disaster, instead of sending her material gifts.
“I can’t completely celebrate and be happy on my birthday today knowing the situation of some Filipinos in Cagayan,” she posted on social media.
“That’s why I wanna ask help from everybody with a generous. Any amount will do. Please contact 09176053868 for more details. All donations will be distributed for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Cagayan and around Metro Manila who were greatly affected by typhoon Ulysses and Rolly. Lalaban tayo, Pilipinas!”
The stunning bespoke red gown word by Mateo during the homecoming is also set to be auctioned off, with the proceeds from the sale going toward aid for those in Luzon distraught by the recent onslaught of typhoons. It was designed by Ilonggo couturier Jung Bayona Candelario.
Coming from humble roots, Mateo is no stranger to giving back. As Miss Iloilo, she spearheaded weekly feeding programs and teaching sessions for the underprivileged children of Calajunan, Mandurriao, Iloilo – the barangay closest to the city’s sanitary landfill, where most of the families rely on scavenging for their day-to-day living. On Saturday, she revisited the community as part of her homecoming activities.
Ilonggo designer Jeff Ticao attests to Mateo’s humility and generosity, having worked with her before her title on countless occasions.
“I’ve known Rabiya since the early years of her modeling career in Iloilo, and I have experienced first-hand how humble, dedicated, and respectful she is. It’s no surprise to me that she bagged the Miss Universe Philippines crown,” he said.
Velasquez, who’s similarly seen her blossom from the sidelines, seconded Ticao’s praise for Mateo – the Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo having hosted the Miss Iloilo Dinagyang pageant Rabiya won before representing the city in the Miss Universe Philippines competition.
“She’s the real deal,” he added. “She carries not just beauty and brains but a relatable story that not only Ilonggos can relate to, but will also hit a chord with a lot of Pinoys. Her grit is infectious; a Queen of the people you’ll truly resonate with.”
Mateo’s homecoming has become a respite of sorts for the Ilonggo public bogged down by the threat of COVID-19 that still plagues the entire country.
“With her homecoming, the Ilonggos were filled with hope that after months of weariness during the pandemic,” Karmela Jesena of Festive Walk Mall told Rappler. “We’ve finally felt a sense of success and optimism, that there is always a bright side despite the hardships that we are facing now.”
”Rabiya’s homecoming once again brought joy to the streets of Iloilo City, and of course to its people,” echoed the designer Ticao. “We’ve been battling this pandemic for a very long time already and the amount of success that Rabiya brought to our city, really sparked the ‘masinadyahon’ (optimistic) trait of the Ilonggo. She became that symbol of hope and joy for us.”
Iloilo next MUP host?
Mateo’s win has also sparked discussions Iloilo City possibly hosting the next edition of the Miss Universe Philippines pageant. The inaugural year of the competition was held in Baguio City in late October.
Before the pandemic, Iloilo City had established itself as one of the rising top MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) destinations of the Philippines, with its robust tourism sector, central location, and modern facilities and infrastructure.
The titleholder Mateo herself has revealed that Miss Universe Philippines has expressed interest in bringing the event to the “City of Love,” hopefully next year.
“There are already plans and talks to hold the next Miss Universe Philippines pageant here in the ‘City of Love,” Mateo said in an interview here. “But let’s wait and see, [hopefully] that’s gonna be a big help to our city’s tourism. I can’t wait for everyone to experience Iloilo as well.”
Ilonggos are elated by this new possibility.
“It’s something that we should aim to achieve,” said the hotel marketer Velasquez. “True Ilonggo hospitality is something no one should miss out on and this opportunity of a platform will bolster that proud message. I personally have full confidence that our leaders from both private and public sectors will find all means possible to make it happen plus the abundant talent and resources we have in the province will make the experience most memorable for everyone.”
“We really do hope that this pandemic will be over soon. Iloilo City has so much to offer when it comes to hosting big events like Miss Universe Philippines,” said Ticao. “We have amazing Ilonggo designers and artists that can showcase authentic Ilonggo artistry. Iloilo is a basket of potential, and we will show that to the whole nation when we hopefully become the host of Miss Universe Philippines next year.”
“I think Iloilo City is ready to host Miss Universe Philippines 2021. With the strong partnership of our public and private sector, we are ready to host such big events,” added Jasena.
As Mateo begins preparing before she embarks on her Miss Universe 2020 conquest, Ilonggos expressed unending support and shared their well-wishes for the young beauty queen, pinning their hopes and aspirations on the Ilongga beauty.
“Rabiya is a full-package. She embodies not only a beautiful facade outside but a beautiful character of a Filipina that is worthy of adulation and praise. She is a truly phenomenal woman,” said teacher Alvin Maghopoy, also a host of local pageants in his town. “Congratulations, Rabiya Mateo. Always remember that you have our support all the way to the crown. You have made us proud and no matter what the result is, you will still be you. You have already sculpted in our hearts the pride that we should share with our fellow Ilonggos and the passion and dedication that you have shown in your craft that has brought Iloilo City back to fame in terms of pageantries. And with this, we could not ask for more.”
“My message to Rabiya is to stay grounded. Her heart and passion made her win the national pageant, and that will be the same heart that will make her win the Universe,” said Ticao.
“Coupled with the strong support of the Philippine people, there’s no challenge Rabiya cannot overcome. She had been through a lot of hardships already. She had so many experiences that taught her to be tough. As Ilonggos would always say, ‘basta Ilongga, gwapa,’” he concluded. – Rappler.com
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