Miss International

How Nicole Borromeo nailed Miss International 2023’s Q&A round

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

How Nicole Borromeo nailed Miss International 2023’s Q&A round

BEAUTY QUEEN. Miss International 2023 3rd runner-up Nicole Borromeo in her blue and silver gown designed by renowned fashion designer Furne Amato.

Binibining Pilipinas' Facebook Page

'We're not a school of memorization. The idea is, how can these girls express their identities and experiences best?' Pipo Gonzales, one of Borromeo's Q and A trainers, tells Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines remains a force to be reckoned with at the Miss International (MI) beauty pageant. 

This was evident in the victorious run of Miss Philippines Nicole Borromeo at the Miss International 2023 contest held in Japan on Thursday, October 26. 

Borromeo was named third runner-up or fourth placer in the pageant’s 61st edition, continuing the Philippines’ four-year streak at the pageant since Ma. Ahtisa Manalo’s first-runner up finish in 2018. 

During the weeks-long pageant, Borromeo flaunted her doll-like features and her spot-on fashion style. Pageant fans took notice and rooted for her, well aware that the MI pageant crowned kawaii (cute) queens. 

Borromeo wore a colorful sea-urchin-inspired national costume named “Swaki,” designed by Cebu-based fashion designer Axel Que. According to Que, the costume “embodies the mesmerizing allure of the sea urchin/uni, a culinary treasure cherished by the Philippines and Japan.”

For the close-door swimsuit competition, Borromeo wore a pink two-piece, different from the usual one-piece worn by former Miss Philippines contestants in the pageant. Her blue and silver sleeved Furne Amato gown inspired by the magindara (Visayan counterpart of sirens) accentuated her beauty during the evening gown competition. 

Borromeo was consistent in all aspects of the competition. But what made her stand out most was her commendable answer to a seemingly tough question during the question and answer (Q and A) portion. 


For the first time, Miss International 2023 finalists were asked one question each, instead of the usual prepared speech round. 

During the nerve-wracking round, Borromeo was asked, “The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by the United Nations (UN) have targets that are set to be achieved by 2030. What have you done so far in terms of SDG initiatives?”

Among the seven finalists, Borromeo probably picked the hardest question. The goals were adopted by the UN and serve as a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.”

Exuding confidence, Borromeo answered: “As someone who experienced the wrath of natural disasters, home is everything. I’ve worked tirelessly with Habitat for Humanity under the SDG goals of number 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. It is through this volunteer work that I could see in the faces of the children how much they wanted to help, how much they wanted to be a part of the future.”

“Because when it comes to sustainability, we must keep in mind that it’s not only for the next generation but to include them in the process,” she added. 

Pageant fans praised Borromeo for her concrete and specific answer, and commended her knowledge of the SDGs. But unknown to many, meticulous preparation and Borromeo’s own social awareness helped her craft her winning answer. 

Miss International – as one of the four major international pageants, along with Miss Universe, Miss World, and Miss Earth – is known for its solid advocacy and programs that help promote international camaraderie, peace, and solidarity among nations. (READ: Beauty pageants in the Philippines: Empowerment or objectification of women?)

Kali Navea-Huff, one of Borromeo’s Q and A mentors, told Rappler that the beauty queen was well aware of the SDGs because in their training, they focus on the objectives of the pageant and “what values and experiences the candidate has that contribute to the advocacies of the pageant.”

Since the Miss International pageant is known for giving importance to the SDGs, Borromeo had developed awareness and understanding of the UN goals.

Navea-Huff added that for Borromeo’s answer, they carefully chose words and phrases that best interpreted those objectives and advocacies. In preparing for the Q and A round, Borromeo had to make sure that her response mirrored the SDGs and her advocacy.

Borromeo is an advocate of sustainable shelters and communities, having witnessed the fury of Typhoon Odette in 2021. As an interior designer with a deep appreciation for the arts, Borromeo volunteers to design and construct homes for nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.

Even up to the eve of the finals on October 25, Borromeo and Navea-Huff were still talking about how the Philippine bet could best demonstrate her advocacy and connect it to the SDGs. 

“One thing I love about training Nicole is even if we’ve discussed the SDGs in a technical sense, she always found a way to include the kids she worked with,” Navea-Huff told Rappler. “She was so adamant about telling their story because she felt it best expressed what the purpose of the SDGs are – to not just support the next generation, but include them.”

Pipo Gonzales, who also served as one of Borromeo’s Q and A mentors, said Borromeo was keen to mention her personal experiences to highlight her advocacy.

“In my last conversation with her, she already had the idea of talking about disaster risk preparation and sustainable cities and communities. It was important for her to not just talk about lofty ideals, but to speak through personal experience,” Gonzales told Rappler.

Beauty with substance

Knowing your advocacy is one thing, but rigorous preparation is everything.

As beauty pageants continue to evolve to match societal demands and expectations, beauty queens must prove that they have much more than just physical beauty. Aspiring beauty pageant titleholders need to show that they have substance and that they can be spokespersons and ambassadors of the pageants they seek to represent. (READ: Beauty pageants in the Philippines: Changes, what’s next?)

Miss Universe has a trend of crowning queens who are good speakers and have strong advocacies that they can share to inspire pageant fans and other beauty queens. This preference was evident in the victories of the Philippines’ Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray, as well as the recent crownings of South Africa’s Demi-Leigh Tebow and Zozibini Tunzi. All of these queens are strong and compelling speakers.

The Miss International pageant, for decades, has also given importance to public speaking, more than the traditional Q and A.

To respond to these evolving requirements of beauty pageants, contestants subject themselves to extensive personality development and public speaking trainings. Borromeo and her sisters from their beauty camp, Aces and Queens, had to undergo rigorous Q and A training prepared by their trainers like Navea-Huff and Gonzales.

Navea-Huff told Rappler that they typically prepare a set that focus on three things: self-awareness, confidence, and empathy.

“I’ve always believed in starting Q&A preparations by having queens reflect on the moments that brought them to their pageant, so that they can share those lessons to their audience,” Navea-Huff said.

Aside from these, beauty pageant contestants – including Borromeo – immerse themselves in a variety of social issues, which include the usual struggles of women in society, Gonzales explained. He added that contestants also have one-on-one conversations with their trainers to unpack issues and talk about these concerns in detail.

“We’re not a school of memorization. The idea is, how can these girls express their identities and experiences best?” Gonzales told Rappler.

Advocacy is one of the reasons why beauty pageants – despite criticisms – retain their relevance. Beauty pageants provide an avenue and platform for contestants to share their beliefs and advocacies, allowing them to espouse causes they care about.

Asian powerhouse

Thanks to Borromeo’s hard work, the Philippines solidified its standing as Asia’s powerhouse at the Miss International pageant.

The Philippines holds six Miss International crowns, making it the second best country in the pageant next to Venezuela, which has nine crowns. With these six titles, the Philippines has the most number of Miss International crowns in Asia.

The first Miss International winner from the Philippines and Asia is Gemma Cruz-Araneta who won in 1964. She was followed by Aurora Pijuan in 1970 and Melanie Marquez in 1979.

The Philippines was winless for 26 years until Precious Lara Quigaman brought the country its fourth crown in 2005. Quigaman was followed by the last two Filipina Miss International winners: Bea Rose Santiago (2013) and Kylie Verzosa (2016).

Borromeo joins four other Miss Philippines winners who were crowned runners-up during their Miss International pageants: Evelyn Camus (1971, 2nd runner-up), Yolanda Dominguez (1972, 2nd runner-up), Maria Elena Ojeda (1973, 4th runner-up), and Ma. Ahtisa Manalo (2018, 1st runner-up). In a span of 61 years, at least 23 Miss Philippines contestants were named semi-finalists.

For a country that takes pageants seriously, winning international titles is indeed a big deal for Filipinos.

As long as there are queens like Borromeo who are consistent about their advocacies and who genuinely want to use a platform to help others, the Philippines will continue to dominate these international beauty pageants. – Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.