The pageant world eagerly anticipates who wins in the Binibining Pilipinas beauty pageant.
After all, whoever wins the right to wear the Miss Philippines sash in Miss Universe, Miss International, Miss Supranational, Miss Grand International, Miss Intercontinental, or Miss Globe is instantly a major threat to other countries. The country’s sash factor has risen considerably because of a proven track record of placements in the past decade.
Two major factors have catapulted the Filipinas into the world spotlight. First, the support that the candidates receive from trainers, designers, stylists, the media, the pageant organization and the Filipino people is astonishing. Second, winning the national finals is an arduous task and competing with equally if not more hungry candidates for the same crown takes steely determination and an unwavering spirit. Pia Wurtzbach famously joined 3 times before winning the Miss Universe Philippines title.
This year’s pageant showed exactly how difficult and frustrating it can be and how fulfilling it is if you are fortunate. Let’s take a quick look at the highlights of this year’s pageant.
Flanked with over a dozen Philippine flags, the 40 Official 2019 Binibining Pilipinas candidates marched onto the stage in their white, sleeveless, military-inspired mini dresses with gold fringed epaulets. The audience erupted in thunderous applause as they performed the opening number to the song “Raise Your Flag." This patriotic song was inspired by Catriona Gray’s answer in Miss Universe during an interview. (Photo recap: Binibining Pilipinas 2019 coronation night)
The choreography looked more complex than usual. It evoked a sense of power and a commanding presence of the Binibinis who were charging ahead, as if to say “we are strong, we rule the world, and look great doing it!” Pageant fans were living and the candidates had this expression of overwhelming happiness over the love from the audience.
Bb. Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) celebrates its 56th year as the country’s leading beauty pageant. Present during the event were BPCI Chairperson Stella Marquez Araneta and her husband Mr. Jorge Araneta, and BPCI Executive Committee, Conchitina Sevilla Bernardo and Raymond Villanueva.
Fifty years ago on July 19, 1969, an 18-year-old Filipina and the 6th Bb. Pilipinas Universe by the name of Gloria Diaz won the country’s first ever Miss Universe crown. It was fitting to have her as a judge.
Making a rare appearance at the pageant was Melanie Marquez, Miss International 1979. She was fabulous that night as the day she was crowned 40 years ago in Tokyo, Japan. It would have been nice to have her as a judge. A tribute to these two iconic Filipinas who have been very successful way beyond their reigns would have been quite special.
Key figures in pageantry
Miss Universe Organization President, Paula Shurgart and MUO Vice President for Business Development & Marketing Shawn McClain were in the audience and patiently stuck it out throughout the entire pageant like everyone else.
Also present in the audience were Chavit Singson, architect Richelle Singson-Michael, and Jonas Gaffud of the Miss Universe Philippines Group. They briefly exchanged pleasantries with Mr. and Mrs. Araneta at the Coliseum. It was very nice to see this in front of all the pageant fans. They can at least see first hand that even in the world of pageantry, there is peace. Fans should not concern themselves with controversies.
On the right side of the main VIP floor, there were several rows of former Bb. Pilipinas titleholders going way back from the 1970s to the present. Sometimes, I find it odd that I know more about the previous winners than someone who is actually a Binibini or aspiring to become a Binibini. I feel that there should be a special mention for these women who have paved the way. I remember in the 1980s when the former winners are asked to stand up and wave to the crowd. If it will take too long to do that during the actual airing, it can be done during one of the long breaks.
Judging the judging panel
This year’s 11 judges are comprised of 8 men and 3 women. Four are millennials, 5 from the entertainment industry, 2 were ambassadors and 1 was a beauty queen.
It makes me wonder if the results would have been different if the panel was comprised of more female judges and more former beauty queens.
Although I am very happy with the results, I sometimes wonder if judges who don't know the nuances of the various international pageants could actually select the right candidate for the right pageant.
For instance, Miss International does not have a Question & Answer portion but a memorized speech segment. Without prejudice to any of the existing winners and merely to cite an example, someone like Vickie Rushton, who won 6 special awards and is the beauty prototype that Miss International leans towards, might be a good choice. So even with a weak Q&A, she would be a strong international candidate.
But then again, much like in the Olympics, an athlete has to perform at the nationals in order to qualify.
This year’s production had a very Miss Universe vibe from the music to the pacing. It was fast, quick, high energy, and very exciting. The transitions were smooth (with the exception of the technical glitch) and created momentum. The runway choreography allowed sufficient airtime for the Binibinis to flirt with the camera and the audience and show off their runway skills.
The stage, although beautiful, is something I would love to see improved. I think a more streamline and cleaner stage design with visuals that are more solid to create a brighter stage would show off the candidates better. Definitely a lot more lights would be appreciated.
Anne Curtis-Smith and Richard Gutierrez were a perfect combination of fun and formal. Anne looked gorgeous in each and every single outfit she wore. Her down-to-earth persona is very refreshing and is a great contrast to Richard’s more formal demeanor. They give a young and classy image to the pageant.
Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler
Nicole Cordoves is the best beauty queen co-anchor because she does it well with so much ease, and she looks stunning doing it. She also has a great sense of humor about the memes that popped up following her box carrying stint.
Photo from Bb Pilipinas
I’ve always likened this selection process similar to a commercial casting call. The winners are the ones who would appeal to the sponsors’ demographics. So the candidate with the most mass appeal will usually get it. It was no surprise Catriona Gray swept these awards during her time. She is actually a very in demand commercial model. This year, 6 of these sponsor’s awards went to Vickie Rushton.
First set of special awards
Disrespectful fans and pageant politics
There was disturbing and very noticeable behavior exhibited by some pageant fans during this season and it’s a little more pronounced than before. During the Q&A portion, it was disgraceful for rival fans of a candidate to heckle another candidate who hesitated or stopped even for just a split second. This unconscionable (rude, for those who don't know the word) behavior is very un-Filipino and un-Christian.
People who behave this way should not claim to be pageant fans or supporters because they go against the very essence of women empowerment, of peace, and of inclusivity. In the future, candidates should also take time to help educate pageant fans on the need for kindness. They should not tolerate it or turn a blind eye. It really needs to stop. (READ: Dos and donts of being a pageant fan)
I’ve also noticed that every year, pageant results become more akin to election results where the losing parties always claim fraudulent results. The only year that the results were uncontested was probably in 2018 when Catriona Gray won. Why can’t pageants be that role model by which we show grace in defeat and move on? Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and yet they still chose to gracefully accept defeat and move on with their lives.
Having said that, let’s now look at the competition that was.
The Top 25
I’ve had a chance to get to know all these women the past three months. I was going to be happy for those who were going to make it into the Top 25. But I was also trying to keep track of their progress. When the announcements were made, these were the ones who I expected and the ones who I was pleasantly surprised with.
Notable misses: What if she was there?
Three outstanding, smart, very tall, articulate, and beautiful young Binibinis who were heavily favored to enter the Top 25 shockingly missed the cut. What part of the competition did they miss? If I were to make an educated guess, it would have nothing to do with the free speak or closed door interviews because they are all amazing talkers with great personalities. Or was the competition really just that close?
Seeing the aftermath of the Q&A, had any or all of these 3 Binibinis made it to that round, they would have probably impacted the winners circle if they answered to their potential.
This year’s swimsuit competition had a very island vibe. It allowed the Binibinis to have fun on stage and strut their stuff.
Thirteen Binibinis wore one piece asymmetric royal blue swimsuits and 12 Binibinis wore two piece version of the royal blue swimsuits with asymmetric tops. Three of the crown winners were wearing one piece (Gazini, Patch, Leren) and 3 were wearing two piece (Resham, Emma, and Samantha Lo).
During the swimsuit round, I feel that the following ladies had the best performances:
Evening gown competition
The evening gown competition is where you can either go slow and dramatic or pick a runway tempo. Bb. Pilipinas has a penchant for the former and it worked in favor of Gazini Ganados who eventually won the Best in Long Gown.
Cary Santiago’s serpentina fuschia gown with pleated wings bustier detail on Gazini Ganados hugged her curvaceous body to create a couture masterpiece. Cary does pleats like it’s nobody’s business. In 2017, he used a similar silhouette and technique on Mariel de Leon’s gown and she also won Best in Long Gown.
Chico Estiva’s shimmering, silver fringe gown on Leren Mae Bautista. On paper, this gown has been done over and over. But when it is executed so perfectly and looks expensive, then it works. When Leren moved on stage, it was like molten liquid silver on her skirt dripping with every step. It was breathtaking.
Rian Fernandez’s nude illusion, crystal studded gown on Kimberle Penchon. Here’s a lesson to young designers: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do something great. You just have to do it well on the right person. Like many, I was dreading to see another nude illusion gown on stage. But when Kimberle came out in this gown, she looked like an A-list celebrity walking down the red carpet. It was well done and she was styled appropriately.
Special mentions on gown performances:
Samantha Bernardo wearing Paolo Blanco. Sam was the epitome of grace in motion. The turn that she did at the end was sensational.
Aya Abesamis wearing Renee Salud. Aya pulled out the classic '80s evening dramatics of flowy chiffon. Younger generations seems to think that Riyo Mori of Japan in 2007 or Taliana Vargas of Colombia in 2008 owned these moves. But it is also reminiscent of her mom’s (Desiree Verdadero, Miss Universe 1984, 3rd Runner-up) evening gown in Miss Universe.
Maria Isabela Galeria wearing Mark Bumgarner. She commanded that stage without a single sequin or crystal. It was all about color, fabric, attitude and legs, legs, legs. Isabela was a stunner.
Jessica Marasigan in Bessie Besana went high society chic instead of pageant pageant with a belted bustier blush gown. She looked tall and sophisticated.
Joanna Tolledo of Caloocan in Daniel Manila and Denise Omorog of Catanduanes in Gio Lazaro Flores are also perfect examples that being clean and simple creates refreshing and stunning effects.
This was a solid Top 15 and the judges made very good choices.
Farewell to the 2018 Queens
Bb. Pilipinas Globe 2018, Michele Gumabao, Bb. Pilipinas Grand International 2018, Eva Patalinjug, and Bb. Pilipinas Supranational 2018, Jehza Huelar all came out showing why they so rightfully won their titles. They looked even more beautiful than the day they were crowned.
Bb. Pilipinas International 2018 and Miss International 2018 1st Runner-up Ahtisa Manalo, wowed the audience in this red Michael Cinco haute couture ballgown. She is still so young and her future is limitless.
The reigning Miss Intercontinental 2018 Karen Gallman, wore this white, one bedazzled sleeve, serpentina gown by Julianne Syjuco. She looked like an A-list Hollywood celebrity during a movie premiere in Cannes. Again, simple is stunning.
I was seated next to Paula Shugart during the Bb. Pilipinas finals and from the very beginning of the show, it was quite noticeable that each time Catriona’s face was flashed on screen, the entire audience cheered so loudly, much to Paula’s amusement. At one point, I told her: “It never gets old.”
So when this rare gem emerged in a custom Mak Tumang flower-inspired gown after her video tribute and delivered a very passionate and touching speech, all I could say was “Catriona for President!”
When the reigning Miss Universe 2018 and the reigning Miss Intercontinental 2018 are the outgoing queens, choosing the right winners becomes even more important.
Special Awards: Face of Binibini, Best in Long Gown
The Gazini gaze
Gazini came out like a gorgeous, glamorous gladiator ready for a beauty battle. During the opening number, her stance was solid, her poses were strong, and you could see the determination and fight in her face.
When Gazini flirted and blew a kiss to the camera and fllowed with a confident yet playful runway walk with hips swaying and hair tossing, I felt as if I was watching her in Miss Universe already. She does that switch from happy to serious and sexy so well. Both hands on the hips can look silly and amateurish on others but on Gazini, it was great.
Her Filipino, Spanish, and Palestinian mix gave her a very universal type of beauty. Her mother is Filipino-Spanish and her father is Palestinian. Gazini says she has never met her father. In fact, the reason she joined pageants was to become famous in the hopes that her father might see her and recognize her. Gazini’s grandparents were also very involved in raising her. She took up nursing in order to be able to take care of them. Elderly care is very close to her heart and is her advocacy.
Incidentally, the owner of CHI Haircare by Farouk System Inc., Farouk Shami, is Palestinian-American. They are one of the main sponsors of the Miss Universe Pageant. It is very seldom that we are able to crown a Filipina of Palestinian heritage.
When Gazini came out in her Cary Santiago gown and straight hair, it screamed Miss Universe. Much more than her walk, I’d like to coin the term, “The GAZINI GAZE."
Gazini’s gaze has this mysterious and hypnotic quality that enchants and charms those who look into her eyes. It is fierce yet friendly. It’s a look that can make men fall to their feet in awe of her beauty.
What is also most interesting about Gazini is the contrast of her inner and outer beauty. Outwardly, she looks like a movie goddess and sex siren but she really is a simple girl with old school values who was educated in a conservative Catholic school. Her respect and love for her elders was very evident in her final Q&A, wherein she emphasized the importance of keeping the values and wisdom passed on from those who have come before us.
Seeing Catriona Gray crown Gazini Ganados was a sight to behold. With Gazini’s beauty, body and personality, the promise of a back-to-back victory is something we can consider. Sure, she needs a bit of polishing in the Q&A department. But I certainly don’t think she deserves the criticism about it. When Venezuela achieved the back to back in 2008-2009, it wasn’t purely because of Q&A.
Special Awards: Binibining Megawide, Best in Swimsuit
The prima Patchie queen
At the Gateway Mall Bb. Pilipinas event, there was prima facie evidence that Patch would make for a perfect Binibining Pilipinas queen. But was being a UP cum laude graduate, a bar exam passer, and having a statuesque figure compelling enough to win her a title? As I talked to her, I was drawn to her warmth and charm. I knew early on that she had major potential.
However, I worried a bit for her after the Press Presentation seeing that her runway was still a work in progress. Patch proved that she’s a smart worker and a hard worker because during the finals, she worked the stage and owned it. She was more self-assured and found her stride. Having the support of a strong fan base cheering her on was a big boost as well.
There was no doubt that Patch would reach the Top 15. Although I found the skirt portion of her gown a bit too stiff, Patch worked it beautifully. Her styling was on point and she was well on her way to a crown. The moment she was given a microphone, you might as well have given her a crown to go with it. Winning the Best in Swimsuit award solidified her win for one of the top crowns.
I chatted with Patch shortly after she received her special award and told her that her Angelina Jolie answer was great. Everyone already knew she was smart. But what that answer did was show that she wasn’t boring. It made her more well-rounded and made her more relatable to more people. Not many people can relate to legal jargon but many can relate to Angelina Jolie.
What I love about Patch is that she is open to learning. She’s very smart because she knows when to listen. Although passing the bar exams was big news, what I admire most about her is her advocacy. She hopes to be able to give legal assistance to persons of deprived liberty (PDLs) – something that a lot of people don’t understand because of a lack of compassion for inmates. That’s something that Patch possesses which is a great asset not just as a beauty queen, but as a human being.
Patch will represent the country in the Miss International 2019 beauty pageant in Tokyo, Japan on November 12, 2019. She will try to capture our 7th Miss International title, which her predecessor Ahtisa Manalo came so close to winning last year.
Resham’s time is now for Maguindanao
One of the first things I noticed about Resham is how she pronounces “Maguindanao." She makes it sound sultry, alluring, and mysterious. She was Miss Philippines Canada 2017 and is now a host and a model.
Resham has a fantastic personality and the gift of gab. I knew that with the right set of judges, she could very well become the first Filipina-Pakistani Binibini queen.
In a year where some Filipinos are clamoring for “pure Pinay” winners, I wanted to challenge that by having a more diverse group of winners to show more people the changing landscape of the Filipino demographic. There is no one more suited to also voice this message than Resham. She is a staunch believer in celebrating our differences, empowering women, and promoting gender equality.
Resham made it to the Top Ten of the National Costume Competition wearing her “Muslim-Filipino Queen” costume with rainbow ribbons from the sarimanok’s tail representing the LGBTQ community.
She showed off her excellent physique in a royal blue two-piece swimsuit and sparkled like a diamond in her silver sequined evening gown. Resham is Fierce with a capital "F" and, ironically, that was what worried me a bit for her. But I am glad that the set of judges were the type that got her personality. There was a certain group of Binibinis who I strongly felt could be winners under a particular set of judges. It seems like that was the case on this finals night.
Not a stranger to the harsh, cold weather, she will be off to Poland in December for the Miss Supranational 2019 pageant. So far, only Mutya Datul, Miss Supranational 2013, has won this crown for the country.
Your spirit will soar high with Miss Lo
Samantha Lo is one of those Binibinis who is a bit low key during events but comes alive on stage. But this Cebuana beauty is no stranger to pageants. She joined Miss Mandaue 2017 and Binibining Cebu 2017.
When I got a chance to speak to Samantha in one of the events, I realized that she was someone to look out for. She was witty, profound and far from boring. She has "It" – such an amazing personality. Her heritage is also quite an interesting mix because her father is Filipino-Chinese and her mother is Cuban-Nicaraguan.
I had placed Samantha in my “Articulate Newbies” group because if everything was on point on pageant night, she would be poised to win a crown. I feel that Samantha gave the best answer of the night when asked about her best non-physical asset. This could have easily gone into the rehearsed pageant answer mode but it did not. Aside from the substance of her answer, Samantha’s delivery was flawless. It was very genuine and sincere.
There was no doubt that Samantha would be getting a crown that night. This eloquence will come in very handy in Miss Grand International 2019 where the combination of her beauty, charm and intelligence might finally capture this elusive crown for the Philippines.
However, I’m slightly wary of MGI’s planned host country this year, Venezuela, if only because of different travel advisories issued by countries like the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom against it. I would be curious to see if BPCI gives Samantha the go-signal.
Bb. Pilipinas Intercontinental 2019 Emma Tiglao, 24, Pampanga
Special Awards: Pitoy Moreno Best in Costume Award 2019, Miss Pizza Hut 2019, Miss Ever Bilena Advance
The comeback queen
The two 2018 runners-up were expected to be the biggest comeback queens by almost all predictions, along with Emma. But as events have unfolded, Emma was the last one standing.
It seems that the Bb. Pilipinas 2014 batch of semifinalist was a very persevering group. Nichole Manalo became Bb. Pilipinas Globe 2016, Laura Lehmann went on to become Miss World Philippines 2017, and Pia Wurtzbach went on to become Miss Universe 2015. Now, Emma Tiglao joins this successful list by becoming Bb. Pilipinas Intercontinental 2019. She was only 19 years old when she joined Bb. Pilipinas the first time.
Emma is a model, host, and pageant veteran who has certainly polished her skills significantly. She has a smile that lights up the entire Coliseum and her stage presence can be seen and felt even from the cheaper seats. Emma has been consistent throughout the 3 months of competition. She made her presence felt from one of the first sponsor activities wherein she won the Miss Ever Bilena Advance Award.
You would never catch Emma with a tired or bored look on her face. She's a Binibini who you can always count on to have a perky mood. I think that comes from the fact that she knows how important this is to her and that she’s put in so much hard work to get to where she’s at. So she’s not going to let lack of sleep or a bit of fatigue affect her.
Emma also garnered a lot of attention with her National Costume by designer Richie Sabinian. It was made with the help of the BJMP Angeles District Jail PDLs (persons of deprived liberty). Emma is very proud of her Kapampangan roots and wanted to celebrate that in various aspects of her competition.
Emma faces the daunting task of a back-to-back victory at Miss Intercontinental 2019. Doubly challenging is the fact that Karen Gallman’s win is the first ever for the Philippines. With Emma’s winning personality and beauty, this too is a possibility that the Philippines can entertain.
Ready for the Globe
Leren has already experienced winning a title internationally, although it was a minor one. So expectations for her were very high. Luckily for Leren, she didn’t disappoint. I’d have to say Leren’s Bb. Pilipinas journey was a slow burn. But when she got her stride, she just kept on building momentum until there was no stopping her.
She has this sultry FIlipina beauty that is both sweet and sophisticated. She commands the runway and feels very at ease on stage. On finals night, her Chico Estiva silver fringe gown made Leren too hard to ignore for a crown. She delivered a Q&A that was heartfelt and sincere.
Looking at Leren now, it is hard to imagine how such a stunning woman was once a child who was bullied for her looks. Leren is a very humble, kind and sweet person. She’s the perfect role model and spokesperson for campaigns against bullying because she survived it and is now thriving.
Leren will compete in Albania and follow a successful list of Filipinas who have done very well at the Miss Globe pageant. The last time we won this pageant was in 2015 with Ann Colis.
Aya Abesamis, 27, Pasig City
Although she didn't end up a Binibining Pilipinas queen, I am still very happy because on her final attempt, Aya Abesamis placed. Given the age limits of pageants, she isn’t eligible to join most of the international pageants. But Aya has significantly transformed herself from last year.
Samantha Bernardo, 26, Palawan
Special Awards: Miss Blackwater
My heart sank when Samantha Bernardo was announced as 2nd runner-up. I know how hard this young woman has worked and how much she’s grown since last year. She has been so consistent throughout the 3 months of competition and was well on her way to a crown. To end up in the same 2nd runner-up post despite all the sacrifices must be very disappointing. But in reality, although she has the same title, she is no longer that same person from last year. She has grown tremendously into a much stronger, more confident woman. For that, she is a winner.
Never say never queens
From this year’s batch, I truly believe that there were three Binibinis who have all the potential in the world. For as long as their dream of becoming a Binibini is far stronger than their fears, then I feel they should give it another try.
Maria Isabela Galeria of Sorsogon
I did not place her in my Best Bets list because I felt she was too young and needed more pageant experience. Seeing her perform affirmed that she is a force to reckon with. If she is able to conquer her nerves and appear calmer on stage, she can stake home a major crown. She has the beauty, the body, and brains. She just has to truly believe it to achieve it.
Hannah Arnold of Masbate
My gut feel is that Hannah was still too raw to join this year. She has Universe potential written all over her but needs lots of polishing and honing by the right team. She is still very young and can join the pageant in the future when she is truly ready to take it all the way.
If you look at Pia Wurtzbach’s story, she did not place at all in her second try. But sheer will power and drive got her the Miss Universe title. If it is Vickie’s desire to become a beauty queen and represent the Philippines, then she will find the strength and courage to come back next year for one last hurrah. We already know she has what it takes. Now, she just has to deliver all the way to the end and not be distracted by anything or anyone that gets in her way.
This year’s edition of Bb. Pilipinas is a triumph because the winners are representative of the #beyondbeauty slogan. They each have life stories that inspire, advocacies that motivate, spirits that uplift, and voices that empower not just women but all the people that they meet.
The effects of a Binibini are far reaching – beyond women, beyond Metro Manila, beyond our shores.
That is what makes our Binibinis truly beyond beautiful. — Rappler.com
Voltaire has 10 years experience in the fashion industry. He previously worked with a luxury clothing and accessories brand in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated magna cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, major in Fashion Design. He also holds a BS in Applied Economics and BS in Marketing from DLSU. He is now doing real estate but finds ample spare time to pursue his passions.