Miss Universe

Glamour in numbers: Filipinas’ performance in the Miss Universe stage

Jezreel Ines

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Glamour in numbers: Filipinas’ performance in the Miss Universe stage
The world expects much from the Philippines, which started out as an underdog in Miss Universe: from sporadic wins in the past, to decades of failing to place, up to its recent rise as a powerhouse in the world of pageantry

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has cemented its reputation as a powerhouse in the world of beauty pageants. Over the years, Filipina representatives have captivated the global audience with their poise and charisma, earning admiration, and respect on the international pageant platform. 

The country has secured numerous placements and even clinched the coveted Miss Universe crown, not just once but four times. It ranks fourth in the list of countries with the most Miss Universe crowns, following the United States, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.

Let’s take a look at how the Philippines has performed in the 72-year history of the Miss Universe pageant.

History of early placements in Miss Universe

From 1952 to 1963, the now-defunct Miss Philippines pageant was the national competition responsible for selecting the country’s representative to the Miss Universe pageant. 

Teresita Sanchez emerged as the winner of the inaugural Miss Philippines in 1952, becoming the first Filipina to compete in the initial edition of the Miss Universe pageant held in Long Beach, California.

On the Miss Universe stage, Sanchez competed against 29 other delegates worldwide. Although she did not secure a spot in the semifinals, her participation left a lasting impression.

Following her time at the pageant, she received job offers, including opportunities for modeling in a New York art academy and positions with business firms in San Francisco.

FIRST MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES. Teresita Sanchez in the first Miss Universe edition in 1952 at Long Beach, California. Photo from George Silk Getty Images

However, Sanchez declined all offers presented to her and insisted on pursuing a degree in medicine at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). Recently, photos of Sanchez have gone viral due to her unimpressed facial expressions, which some have referred to as a “resting bitch face.”

Two years later, the Philippines achieved its first placement in the pageant when Ma. Candida Blesilda “Bessie” Mueler Ocampo secured a spot in the Top 15 of the 1954 Miss Universe edition. 

It took a decade for the Philippines to secure a runner-up placement in the competition, when Lalaine Betia Bennet won third runner-up in 1963.

From 1964 to 2019, Binibining Pilipinas Charities Incorporated (BPCI) served as the official national franchise holder of the Miss Universe Organization, responsible for selecting the Philippine contestant for the Miss Universe pageant.

Almost two decades since the first-ever Miss Universe, the Philippines celebrated its first-ever Miss Universe victory in 1969 when Gloria Diaz, a 19-year-old from La Union, won over 60 other contestants. She was the second Southeast Asian to wear the crown, following Thailand in 1965.

The year 1969 also held historic significance as it marked the first time humans set foot on the moon. During the question and answer segment of the pageant, Diaz was asked: “In the next day or so, a man will land on the moon. If a man from the moon landed in your hometown, what would you do to entertain him?”

Glamour in numbers: Filipinas’ performance in the Miss Universe stage

Diaz’s answer was straightforward, witty, and to the point: “Oh, just the same things I do. I think if he has been on the moon for so long, I think when he comes over he wants to change, I guess.”

Four years later, the nation would secure another crown through Margarita Moran. The 19-year-old beauty clinched the Miss Universe 1973 title and was among the only four Miss Universe winners who have also been bestowed with the title of Miss Photogenic.

The 40-year drought, ‘dark age,’ special awards

The Philippines did not earn its status as a pageant powerhouse overnight. There were instances when candidates brought home special awards only, and at times, they did not even place in the competition.

In the next 42 years, the Miss Universe crown would become elusive for the country’s pageant hopefuls. The country would intermittently enter the semifinals, including Charlene Gonzales,  who finished in the top 6 and got the best national costume award in 1996. 

SHOWCASING FILIPINO CULTURE TO THE WORLD. Charlene Gonzales (1996) and Gazini Ganados (2019) were awarded Best National Costumes in their respective edition.

The Philippines also attained various runner-up finishes, including Miriam Quiambao, who won first runner-up in 1999.

Quimbao was a strong contender in this edition and gained fame for her evening gown preliminary performance, during which she slipped while strutting down the runway.

Following Quiambao’s near miss in the pageant, the Philippines faced a 10-year drought without securing any placements. Enthusiasts often refer to this as the “dark ages” of Philippine pageantry.

During this decade, however, the Philippines achieved a three-peat for the Miss Photogenic award. Gionna Cabrera, a media favorite in Bangkok, Thailand won Miss Photogenic and Thai Silk awards in 2005 but did not land in the top 15. 

MOST WINS OF MISS PHOTOGENIC. Photos above (L-R) Vida Doria (1971), Margarita Moran (1973), Aileen Damiles (1996), Abbygale Arenas (1997); Photos below (L-R) Gionna Cabrera (2005), Lia Andrea Ramos (2006), and Anna Theresa Licaros (2007).

In 2006, Lia Andrea Ramos won Miss Photogenic through online voting, followed by Anna Theresa Licaros in 2007, marking the third consecutive win through online votes. With this, the Philippines currently has the most number of Miss Photogenic awards in Miss Universe history.

In 2008 and 2009, Jennifer Barrientos and Pamela Bianca Manalo represented the country respectively, with both failing to enter the first cut.

Philippines’ rise as a pageant powerhouse

After a decade of failing to place, the flame was rekindled in the person of Maria Venus Raj, who won as fourth runner-up in 2010.

Raj’s roots as a Bicolana was also celebrated, after decades of fielding candidates from the National Capital Region (NCR). Out of the 72 Miss Universe representatives from the Philippines, 31 originated from NCR, trailed by CALABARZON and Central Luzon with 7 each, Northern Mindanao with 6, and Western and Central Visayas with 5 each.

Raj’s journey to the pageant was challenging. Shortly after being crowned, she was stripped of her title due to issues with her birth documents and personal testimonials. Raj, born in Doha, Qatar, to an Indian father and a Filipina mother from Bicol, reportedly faced challenges related to her parents’ marital status.

She eventually regained her title and became widely recognized for her memorable “major major” response during the question and answer round.

There was nowhere to go but up. In 2011, Shamcey Supsup finished third runner-up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The following year, Janine Tugonon, from Bataan, made a close bid for the crown and emphasized during the Q&A that language shouldn’t be a Miss Universe prerequisite. 

Tugonon asserted that Miss Universe is about inspiring others regardless of language skills. This standout moment, along with their impressive performances, contributed to the Philippines’ burgeoning reputation in global beauty pageants. 

In 2013, Ariella Arida continued the success with a third runner-up placement in Moscow, Russia, showcasing the country’s ongoing excellence. However, in 2014, Mary Jean Lastimosa broke the runner-up streak, securing a spot in the top 10 only.

After 42 years, the Philippines finally clinched the Miss Universe crown with Pia Wurtzbach‘s victory over 80 other candidates. Her coronation sparked controversy due to a mix-up in the announcement, initially awarding the crown to Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez. 

Glamour in numbers: Filipinas’ performance in the Miss Universe stage

The confusion was later rectified, and Wurtzbach was rightfully crowned as Miss Universe. Wurtzbach’s Q&A answer popularized the phrase, “I am confidently beautiful with a heart.”

In 2016, the Philippines fell short of securing a back-to-back win, when Maxine Medina finished in the top 6. In 2017, Rachel Peters finished in the top 10 of that year’s edition. 

After three years, Catriona Gray clinched the fourth crown for the Philippines in 2018, earning recognition for her outstanding performance in Miss Universe. With her captivating lava walk, stunning lava gown, sharp wit, and charming personality, she outshone 93 other contestants in the competition. Gray was also an early frontrunner and heavy favorite in that edition.

Glamour in numbers: Filipinas’ performance in the Miss Universe stage

In 2019, the Philippines once more missed the opportunity for a back-to-back win, as Filipino-Palestinian Gazini Ganados ended up in the top 20 and got the best in national costume award. Similarly, in the 2020 edition, Rabiya Mateo also secured a top 20 placement.

In 2021, Beatrice Luigi Gomez secured a top-five placement for the Philippines, following Gray’s victory in 2018. However, in 2022, Celeste Cortesi did not make it to the semi-finals, marking the end of the Philippines’ placement streak after a decade.

The country’s current contender, Michelle Marquez Dee, the daughter of Miss International 1979 Melanie Marquez, is set to vie for the nation’s fifth Miss Universe crown on Sunday, November 19, in El Salvador.

The world expects much from the Philippines, which started out as an underdog in Miss Universe: from sporadic wins in the past, to decades of failing to place, up to its recent rise as a pageant powerhouse in the world of pageantry. – with research from James Patrick Cruz, Ailla Dela Cruz, Lorenz Pasion, and Olive Palasigue/Rappler.com

Olive Pallasigue is a Rappler volunteer. She is a fourth-year broadcasting student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines – Open University Manila.

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Jezreel Ines

Jezreel is a researcher-writer at Rappler mainly focused on governance and social issues.