I remember it very clearly.
I was at the Unilever office accepting my prizes as Binibining Pilipinas-World when I received a call to say that Janelle Bautista, the reigning Binibining Pilipinas-Universe was going to be disqualified because of her passport. They told me I was going to represent the country at the Miss Universe contest. I was in denial. I was saying, “This cannot be…this cannot be.” Aside from the added pressure, I had to rush my training, then I still had to study for my [physical therapy] board exams while in Guam!
Biglaan ang training ko because the announcement was so sudden. Bobby Bastillo talked to me about world issues and current events. I also had about four sessions with Doods Policarpio, a private tutor from Dale Carnegie, teaching me public speaking, and a couple of sessions with Abbygale Arenas on visual poise and make-up. I called up my history professor from UST, and he brushed me up on Philippine history and culture. We [Bb. Pilipinas-International Lalaine Edson and I] also had a session with Anthony Pangilinan on how to get that “winning spirit”.
On April 26, my training in Manila ended a week early because I had to leave for Venezuela for more training. There’s a beauty school in Venezuela and they have trained competitors before. This was about a month before the contest.
ON MY OWN
On April 27, I left for Los Angeles for the first leg of my trip. I had seven pieces of luggage, and I was alone. I arrived April 28 wearing the Philippine sash. It was very fortunate for me, there was a bunch of seamen there, who helped me with my luggage. They called the porter, they did everything. I was treated like a princess!
In L.A., I changed flights to Miami, and stayed overnight at Miami International Airport Hotel where I met Arturo Marquez, the brother of Stella [Marquez-Araneta, the chairperson of Binibining Pilipinas]. Arturo is like the international national representative of Binibini. In Miami, he gave me the Halston evening gown, the light blue competition gown. Along with him came a couple of beaders who were people of Alfredo Barraza (left photo), a fashion designer from Columbia and a good friend of Stella’s. They were the ones who put the beads on the gown.
I wasn’t feeling like a beauty queen yet. I was half-scared, half-excited. Scared because it was my first time to travel alone, and I was with people I’d never met before. It was pretty exciting though, and I felt really responsible because I needed to watch my own back and handle myself in a very vulnerable situation.
TRAINING PART 2, IN VENEZUELA
The next day, April 30, I left Miami for Caracas, Venezuela. I was billeted in a suite, kaya feeling-wow! The next day, May 1, I met up with Osmel Sosa, the president of La Quinta Miss Venezuela, as well as his other colleagues: there was Gerardo who trained me in speech, Maria who helped me with walking, Miguel for hair and make-up, and Gabriel, assistant of the president. Everything was personalized. I was training the whole day, two to three hours per teacher. It was just me and Miss Venezuela, so we became really close. We were together for a week before all the other contestants.
The make-up sessions were really funny, because Miguel couldn’t speak English and I had only six hours of Spanish tutorial, so he painstakingly taught me how to make myself up without a single word of English! For passarella (walking), I was in one big room with a J-shaped stage and mirrors all around. Maria would teach me how to walk, pose like this and like that, and turn. I did that in a bathing suit and heels, for about 100 times a day.
The training went on for one week. I was beginning to feel depressed, and homesick. My parents weren’t calling me, and later I learned they were taking care of my auntie who died while I was away. They didn’t feel like letting me know, so they didn’t call na lang.
BEFORE THE SHOW
Saturday, May 8 I left Caracas for Port of Spain. I arrived one day late. I was billeted in a room with Miss Korea who also didn’t speak English. So ang ginawa ko, nangangapit-bahay ako sa kabilang kuwarto, kina Miss Thailand at Miss British Virgin Islands. Madalas nga kami mag-noodle party kasi di ba sa Thailand marami silang cup noodles?
The first few days you could feel the sense of competition. There would be some girls who would change five times a day just to show off their clothes. I had the support of the Filipinos there, which was really helpful. The other delegates, especially those who didn’t have at least one or two supporters there were really homesick, as in they wanted to go home. I became close to a lot of contestants. We got used to calling each other by country because there were so many of us – “Hey Philippines! Hey, India!”
One day, I got sick. I didn’t have a fever but I could feel it inside. At the time I was already feeling the pressure after my training in Venezuela. I was following all the tips they gave me, like sticking close to the favorites, like Miss Venezuela and Miss Mexico. I didn’t really feel comfortable using them just to get media mileage, and I think that was one reason I had an “identity crisis”. I didn’t feel like I knew myself at the time. I felt I lost touch with who I was because I was trying to be the person my trainers wanted me to be.
I called home. I spoke to Mr. Bastillo, my professor. I told him, “I don’t feel like I’m representing my country well or that I’m doing well in this pageant…” Then he said, “No, it’s okay, just enjoy. Anyway, win or lose, we’re still proud of you. Just feel good, and exude divine love and energy. I know you. You have different aura when you feel confident – you shine. You don’t need to compete. Just enjoy yourself.”
That did it. That relieved me of the pressure. Finally, my parents called, and then I spoke to my boyfriend, and I met up with the Filipinos, so I also felt I had the support. So even if I didn’t feel I was up to par with the other delegates, it was okay. That was when I started to enjoy myself.
DANCING LIKE A CARIBBEAN
One very special day for me was May 16, the Parade of Nations. We were on big floats that went around the Queen Savannah Park. It was one of those days that really boosted my ego. I was just enjoying, and feeling that I wasn’t competing with anyone. I was on a float with Miss Venezuela and Miss Trinidad, and they had so may supporters. The music was pounding, and I felt like dancing. So I danced. And the people down below shouted, “Oh, it’s Miss Philippines – she’s dancing like a Caribbean!” I think that’s the one reason I got recognized, because of my party spirit.
May 17, we had a fashion show. Though it was my first fashion show ever, nagwala ako sa stage. I danced. The audience really enjoyed it, and because of that I danced some more.
The next three days, we had personality interviews with the judges. It would have been nerve-wracking if I was trying to impress them, but at that point, it wasn’t on my mind anymore.
BAHALA KA NA
On May 21 we had the presentation show. This was where I tripped on my gown. There was a loose thread on the hemline, and my heel got caught in it, so I tripped. I got up because I felt I had to finish my walk. I was shaking and I was in shock, but all I could think about was how funny it was. Backstage, it hit me – the embarrassment and the shock – and I started to cry. Miss Panama and Miss Northern Marianas were telling me, “You were good!” Our choreographer Scott Grossman was saying, “I’ve never seen a recovery that fast!”
At that point, a lot of people were telling me that I had a shot at the crown, but I took it all with a grain of salt. I tried not to let it get to my head. Instead I used it as a morale booster.
The 26th was coronation night. In the morning I didn’t feel nervous. In the afternoon, when we were getting ready, that’s when I felt butterflies in my stomach. The other girls and I were joking, and that relieved some of the pressure.
There was a crew from BBC doing backstage interviews, and I was one of the contestants they talked to. That made me feel like I was one of the favorites. Then they started calling out the Top 10, the Top 5 and the Top 3. When I realized I was still in, that was when I started feeling that it was my destiny to place in the contest. Gusto kong humataw pero kinakabahan ako..
When there were just three of us, I took notice of the louder applause of Miss Botswana after she answered the question. I tried to see how I had carried myself thus far, throughout the competition. I thought I was doing well. I said, “Okay Lord, you’ve gotten me this far. Bahala ka na.”
I half expected to win. But the other half of me already expected Miss Botswana to win. But I have no regrets about anything. I’d like to think that the experience was not a total waste and that there was a reason for coming back here. I like to believe that now I’m performing a mission to be a living testimony of God’s love.