TULUNAN, North Cotabato—She wasn’t much more than 8 years old when Mary Jean “MJ” Lastimosa began to dream of someday competing for a world beauty crown.
It must have been during those years that MJ developed her distinct and famous walk that her fellow North Cotabateños call the “bomb walk,” her cousin Sheryl Lastimosa told the Inquirer.
The term “bomb” ironically came not from anything beautiful—now, it refers to the deadly bomb explosions that have rocked various towns in the province, killing and wounding people.
Whether MJ’s dream will come true will be known Monday when dozens of beauty queens from around the world will compete for the Miss Universe title in a pageant to be held in Miami, Florida, starting at roughly 9 a.m. (Manila time).
The effect of her “bomb walk” on her chances of victory may be up to the judges.
Determined to win
“The other day, on TV, I saw her in her evening gown and in a swimsuit. She was perfect,” Sheryl said at the house of their uncle, which had been MJ’s home for 20 years, in Barangay (village) Sibsib here.
“She is very talented, determined to win. In fact, at one point during our high school days, she said that before she reached 30 she should already win a world beauty title,” Sheryl, 29, said.
“I am confident, very confident,” Sheryl said, gesturing at a huge MJ poster on the wall. “God willing, she can bring home the crown. That is an honor and a prestige not only for us, her family, but for the entire Filipino people.”
Sheryl said she had direct contact through the Internet with MJ since she left for Florida and “we keep on giving her moral support.”
“She said she enjoys mingling with the other beauties like her but that it is exhausting,” Sheryl said in jest.
Parents in Saudi
MJ’s father is an Arab businessman, Saudi Saud al-Shabrami, and her mother is Marites Lastimosa. They live together in Saudi Arabia.
Her mother previously studied at Lyceum of the Philippines University in Manila, while her father had a recruitment agency.
MJ grew up in Sibsib under the care of her uncle, Sergio, who died last year. Despite the distance separating them, MJ and her parents always communicate with each other, according to relatives.
Prayer for MJ’s victory
Residents of this rural community are praying that MJ will bring home the crown.
Violeta Pancho, 50, whose son was MJ’s classmate, recalled that at a very young age, MJ had shown talents and skills “that I have not seen among other children her age.”
“Even at young age, one can easily notice her beauty,” Pancho said. “She was still young but I could see in her something special… I said then that this girl would go far.”
“I won’t be surprised if she wins the title,” Pancho said, adding that the entire community would be glued to the live coverage of the Miss Universe pageant.
As Pancho predicted then, MJ joined many beauty contests locally, winning contests in school and in town, and in the provincial search for Miss North Cotabato and Miss Davao City before she won last year’s Binibining Pilipinas Universe crown.
“MJ will win the crown. She is very bright, and we pray she will win,” said Rio Ann Morfe, a 14-year-old high school student of Tulunan National High School (TNHS), where MJ graduated. “She is my idol and the idol of other students of the TNHS.”
Cherrylyn Garampiel, a dentist who also owns a dry goods store across from MJ’s home in Sibsib, Tulunan, described MJ as the silent type.
“I noticed her beauty and talent during her high school days as I saw her leaving to school and returning home almost daily,” she said.
“She has a good set of dentures,” said Garampiel, recalling that during her elementary days she extracted one of her baby teeth. “I hope she will win. I am confident she will.”
She never gives up
Another resident, Lita, 56, who refused to give her family name, said she knew MJ very well and that she was a very smart girl. Lita tends a variety store next to MJ’s home.
“I call her gwapa (beautiful) always. Every time she dropped by the store to buy candies, she would smile and show her inner beauty,” Lita said. “My entire family and all of us here in Barangay Sibsib will wait to see her live on TV.”
Cyrus Mar Redil, in an article in TNHS school paper, said MJ “is a woman who never gives up, full of determination and forbearance, a woman with exceptional beauty.”
MJ’s former school teacher in high school described her as a “typical student who strived hard in her studies, a very humble and supportive friend, a woman who has a very good sense humor.”
MJ started her beauty queen career when she represented Tulunan for the Mutya ng Cotabato in 2004 and finished first runner-up. In 2006, she was named Campus Beauty Queen in University of Mindanao in Davao City. In 2008, she joined the Mutya ng Davao search and won the title.
In 2011, she competed in the Binibining Pilipinas pageant, finishing second runner-up. But she did not give up. She joined for the second time in 2012 and won two special awards.
Undaunted, she competed again in 2014 and finally captured the crown.
“Let us support and pray that she will bring home the crown so that a new Filipina, a Tulunense, will be crowned Miss Universe,” Redil said.
Prayer will help
Sheryl said her family had been receiving messages of support from townmates. “I pray hard because I believe in prayer that MJ will win,” she said.
“We put her fate in God’s hands. Win or lose, for us she is already a winner,” she added.
“I’m excited,” Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza told the Inquirer. Mendoza said there would be a live screening inside the Capitol building in Kidapawan City on Monday.
“I hope the weather’s good so people could come and join us in watching it live,” she said.
The governor was not sure if there would be live screening in other towns.
“Some of our gyms are being used as temporary shelters for the flood evacuees. We are also on heightened alert following the recent bombing incidents. It will depend on the decision of the local government units,” she said.–With a report from Nico Alconaba, Inquirer Mindanao