MANILA, Philippines - These days, the name Janine Tugonon is synonymous to “beauty queen” — the type of woman wrapped in mystery, glitz and glamour.
In her sky-high heels, designer gowns and perfectly-done makeup, she is the ultimate woman, beyond the reach of all mortals.
Or so we think.
Behind all that glitter is a woman as real as any of us. Like many girls her age, 23-year-old Janine loves to cook and watch her favorite TV series. She calls her mom “mimo,” takes public transportation, and, until now, has had very little to do with trendy clothes and makeup.
Here are some things you may still not know about the possible future Miss Universe:
Sweet yet stubborn
“Honest and very sweet” is how Mrs. Tugonon describes her beauty queen daughter. “But not so much in front of other people. We are only cheesy when we’re alone together,” she continues.
But like any real person, Janine is not completely a crowd-pleaser. Though generally obedient, Mrs. Tugonon says Janine can be stubborn at times, too, especially when “she’s fighting for something she believes in.”
TV series follower
One activity Janine indulges in every time she returns to her province of Bataan is following her favorite TV series. Apparently, the beauty queen has taste for the macabre.
“She’s engrossed with watching ‘Criminal Minds.’ And she loves ‘House’!” Mrs. Tugonon says.
Her love for “Criminal Minds,” a series about FBI profilers and crime in America, has cultivated a secret dream to study criminology and become a criminal profiler one day. Her graduating with a diploma in pharmacy was her mom’s idea.
“I wanted her to be a doctor. (But) I’m quite sure she would excel in whatever career she decides on.”
Two incidents are burned into Mrs. Tugonon’s memory, incidents that tell her the kind of person her daughter is:
She, Janine and Jessica (Janine’s older sister), were on their way home in their van when they passed by an old man by the road who seemed to be waiting to be picked up. He carried a hatchet and a heavy-looking wooden box.
It wasn’t long before Janine told her mother to go back. They observed that the man had a hard time hailing a jeep and the tricycles he waved at were ignoring him.
Upon Janine’s insistence, they picked him up and would’ve brought him to his doorstep had the alley his house was on not been so narrow.
At this point, Mrs. Tugonon recalls, “Janine got out and assisted the man from the van. Then she called for a tricycle and paid the driver thrice the fee and even told the driver to make sure that he bring the man safely to his home.”
Another time, fish vendors were selling their goods in front of the Tugonon home in Bataan. The fish were laid out on the ground atop a layer of cellophane. It was the kind of fish their family did not usually eat, made even less appetizing by the less than hygienic display.
This did not stop Janine from buying the fish, even paying more than the vendors’ price for them.
“It makes me so proud to know that my daughter is sensitive to the plight of other people and that she won’t think twice about doing something good for someone in need,” shares Mrs. Tugonon.
Not a fashionista
“I really can’t think of something that I did that would lead her to [becoming a beauty queen]. We are not the trendy, fashionista type of family. To be into the ‘in thing’ in terms of fashion and makeup, well, we do not have that much extra budget for such things,” says Mrs. Tugonon.
Although there is hardly a picture of Janine nowadays without any makeup on, Mrs. Tugonon says her daughter whizzed through high school and college knowing hardly anything about it.
“Until now, she prefers to go out without makeup. She’s not afraid to get her hands and feet dirty if something needs to be done.”
Her first pageant
Although she and her family never followed beauty pageants, Mrs. Tugonon fondly remembers how Janine’s grandfather would greet Janine with a loving, “Andyan na ang Miss Universe ko (My Miss Universe is here),” whenever she would arrive home from grade school.
Even then, Janine was already tall for her age. Perhaps this was partly why she won Miss Mini-Olympics when she was in grade 5, her first beauty pageant victory.
“Of course, it was not that big of an event but I guess there were already signs that this path was for her although we were unaware of it,” says Mrs. Tugonon.
She is who she is
Many people have an image of a beauty queen as a kiss-up who automatically ingratiates herself with people in order to win the pageant crown.
According to Mrs. Tugonon, this is not the case with Janine.
“She will give her best to win the crown but there will be no pretentions on her part. She will not hug you or make beso-beso (kiss you cheek to cheek) just to get your vote. She is who she is.”
This independent spirit of Janine is what Mrs. Tugonon worries has led others to think of her daughter as a snob. But this lack of warmth and charm on the get-go is borne out of a desire to remain sincere and not “plastic.”
Mrs. Tugonon sums up: “Basically, Janine is not a very emotional person. She’s a thinker and a doer. She’s not into dramatics. But her true heart often reveals itself when she sees a person in need.”
On December 11, Mrs. Tugonon flies to Las Vegas to watch her daughter vie for the coveted Miss Universe crown. Janine will compete against other women just as beautiful as her, just as smart and just as confident.
Why should she be chosen as this year’s Miss Universe? Mrs. Tugonon knows the answer:
“A Miss Universe should be a woman who can be a role model, especially for the youth; someone who leads a life with principle, especially in this age when morality is slowly going down the drain.
"It is the likes of Janine who should be Miss Universe because that title will give her a chance to influence and inspire others to walk a better path.”
Mother knows best.
Here are Miss Philippines Janine Tugonon's other childhood photos:
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Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.