EXCLUSIVE: Jonas Gaffud — The man behind the beauty queens

Pia Ranada

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Meet the man who discovered (and re-discovered) the ladies who would all be Miss Philippines Universe

DRIVEN BY PASSION. In the process of training future beauty queens, Jonas Gaffud is indirectly helping their families. All photos by Pia Ranada

MANILA, Philippines – Janine Tugonon, Shamcey Supsup and Venus Raj. What do all 3 have in common aside from being, at one time or another, Miss Universe contestants?

They were all discovered by a man named Jonas Gaffud. 

Jonas has the ability to turn your sister, neighbor or classmate into a beauty queen.

Janine, now in Las Vegas to compete for the 2012 Miss Universe crown, is his 8th Miss Universe contestant.

The successful beauty queens whom he calls his alagas (charges) are as numerous and colorful as the figurines that adorn a shelf in his office, souvenirs from his travels all over the world. 

Among them are:

  • Gionna Cabrera (Binibing Pilipinas-Universe 2005), whom he discovered in a restaurant
  • Lia Ramos (Binibining Pilipinas-Universe 2006)
  • Jennifer Barrientos (Binibing Pilipinas-Universe 2008)
  • Marie Ann Umali (Binibining Pilipinas-World 2009)
  • MJ Lastimosa (Binibing Pilipinas 2nd Runner-up 2011) 
  • Queenie Rehman (Miss World Finalist 2012)


BEAUTY QUEEN MENTOR. Jonas (3rd from left) with his queens Janine Tugonon, Shamcey Supsup and Venus Raj. Image from Jonas Gaffud's Facebook page

But the 34-year-old Jonas does not discover, train and handle beauty queens for a living. Technically, there is no such thing. Beauty queen “handlers” often don’t get paid for all their passion and devotion to pageants. 

As he says, “We don’t get paid, not even part of the prize money. We only get a cut for endorsements because we helped them get it. Passion talaga ‘to, katuwaan ‘to (This is really a passion, we do it for fun).”

But as can be expected, Jonas’ real livelihood doesn’t stray far from the realm of beautiful people.

He is the man behind Mercator, a model agency that has put on the map (and on the billboards) the faces of Fabio Ide, Daniel Matsunaga, Brent Javier, Pauline Prieto and Luke Jickain, among many beautiful others.

The (re)discovery of Janine

MODEL STANDOUT. Miss Philippines Universe Janine Tugonon's setcard amidst the setcards of the other Mercator models

He re-discovered Janine Tugonon more than he actually discovered her.

Even before throwing her lot with Jonas, Janine was already making a name for herself in the Binibining Pilipinas (BP) pageant owned by Stella Araneta. 

In 2011, she came in 2nd to Shamcey Supsup, who represented the country in that year’s Miss Universe pageant. 

The loss had a big effect on Janine.

Some time after the pageant, Janine and other BP contestants were at an event hosted by fashion designer Pitoy Moreno. Jonas was there as well.

He told Rappler, “At that time, she said hindi na siya sasali (she won’t be joining Binibining Pilipinas anymore). Last na ‘yun (that was going to be the last time).”

But Jonas knew better. 

He approached Janine and said, “Alam mo, pang Miss Universe ka (You know what, you can be Miss Universe).”

Janine’s mother, Tess Tugonon, heard about their conversation and lost no time in calling Jonas.

The rest, as they say, is history. 

While Janine had already proven her winnability in pageants, it was Jonas who rediscovered her potential.

Knowing the cow girls behind the beauty queens

STRONG-WILLED HOPEFUL. Janine Tugonon in the recently-released Miss Universe glamshot. Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization LP, LLLP

Jonas and his group — professionals who also have day jobs — have been given a rare peek into the glamorized personas of top beauty queens.

He said, “Feeling ng mga tao ‘pag beauty queen ka, prim and proper. Jaded na ang mga tao (People think that when you’re a beauty queen, you have to be prim and proper. They have become jaded.)” It comes with the crown and scepter.

“Mga cow girl sina Shamcey at Venus! Masculine gumalaw ‘yan si Janine (Shamcey and Venus are cow girls! Janine moves in a masculine way).”

Arnold Mercado, an employee of an oil company but also a “mother” to the girls, described Janine with a twinkle in his eye.

“She’s very strong and very determined, very passionate about the pageant. She’ll make sure that she will win.”  

But Janine wasn’t always this confident. She has had her moments of insecurity and uncertainty as Jonas can attest. 

He shared that toward the end of this year’s Binibining Pilipinas pageant, Janine texted him apologizing for not winning the Binibining Pilipinas-Universe title.

She was certain she did not win because she hadn’t won any of the special awards.

Again, Jonas knew better: “I just knew she would win it.”

Inside information

In Jonas’ opinion, these women are the other top contenders for the Miss Universe crown:

Miss Croatia Elizabeta Burg. Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization LP, LLLP

Miss Czech Republic Tereza Chlebovska. Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization LP, LLLP

Miss Mexico Karla Gonzalez. Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization LP, LLLP

Miss South Africa Melinda Bam. Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization LP, LLLP

Miss Venezuela Irene Sofia Esser Quintero. Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization LP, LLLP

Even if Janine is now in the competent hands of Stella Araneta and the rest of the Binibining Pilipinas group, Jonas still concerns himself with everything Janine. 

He keeps himself constantly updated about all pageant developments and watches all YouTube videos and material about Janine in Las Vegas.

On Saturday morning, he fretted over an uploaded video of Janine wearing a turquoise gown to a function when he had picked that dress for her to wear during the preliminary competition on December 14 (Manila time).  

Though Jonas would not reveal the designers of the gowns Janine will be wearing for the different portions of the pageant, he did disclose  that they were bought by Stella Araneta in New York. 

Not one to miss the fruits of his labor, Jonas is excited to fly to Las Vegas on Tuesday, December 11 with Janine’s mother to watch the pageant’s live show.

Who does he think is Janine’s toughest competition?

“Czech Republic, South Africa, Croatia, Mexico and Venezuela.”

And although this year’s pageant is not yet over, Jonas and his gang of beauty queen-makers are already looking ahead.

As early as last October, they had already started training 18 girls for next year’s Binibining Pilipinas pageant. 

Jonas’ record for finding our country’s beauty queens has been astonishing. Can anyone break it? 

He certainly intends to give it a shot. – Rappler.com

Have you voted for Miss Philippines Janine Tugonon? Online voting is still ongoing. Here’s how.

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.