They arrived in the Inquirer office in Makati one after another, but they answered in unison.
This year’s Binibining Pilipinas flag-bearers—Miss Universe Philippines Catriona Gray, Bb. Pilipinas-International Ahtisa Manalo, Bb. Pilipinas-Supranational Jehza Mae Huelar, Bb. Pilipinas-Intercontinental Karen Gallman and Bb. Pilipinas-Globe Michelle Gumabao—assured the public that they will do their best to make the country proud and bring home international crowns for the Philippines. They also gamely answered questions, from serious issues such as international news to more personal matters like their boyfriends.
Bb. Pilipinas-Grand International Eva Psychee Patalinjug had to miss the Inquirer visit because she was nursing a fever. The ladies had just come from Cebu, Araneta Group public relations head Annie Alejo said.
Whirlwind of activities
Garbed in crisp fashionable numbers, the ladies looked even lovelier than on the night they were crowned, as if the whirlwind of public appearances after the pageant had worked like a beauty serum.
“I’m excited to start training!” Gray exclaimed.
The Australian-Filipino model and singer, who finished fourth in the 2016 Miss World pageant in the United States, hopes to adopt the same strategy she applied when she prepared for her Bb. Pilipinas stint.
“Knowing the application date and the coronation date, I worked backwards, so that everything, the evening gown and the national costume, were finished on time; nothing was rushed,” she explained.
She said she also plans to enlist the help of her former theater coaches and speech trainers to develop her personality and stage presentation.
Aside from training for Miss Universe, what also excites Gray is the opportunity to “go back and work for my charity organizations.”
Huelar, a Binibini three-timer, will employ a different approach for her global stint.
“I’ve been studying the previous Miss Supranational videos, and I noticed a lot of dancing and hip movements, so I see myself taking dance lessons. I need to learn how to make my moves snappy,” she said.
The Davao-based beauty also hopes to get the chance to talk to Mutya Datul, the first Filipino woman to bring home the Miss Supranational crown.
Manalo, a national pageant rookie, said she plans to visit Japan months ahead of the Miss International competition there “to interact with the Japanese people.”
The accounting graduate from Quezon said she will immerse herself in Japanese culture and study the country’s history and tradition. “I will also research on their views on beauty, what and who they find beautiful,” she added.
Gallman’s international competition had its recent edition in January in Egypt, but the London-based analyst is hoping her battle will take place toward the end of this year. There being no Filipino winner in the Miss Intercontinental pageant so far, Gallman said she definitely feels the pressure.
“But I would love to be the first to bring home the crown. I will definitely train hard for it. I will do my best, everything in my power,” she declared, adding that she would love to get advice from her predecessor Katarina Rodriguez, who finished second in the international tilt.
Gumabao said she also hopes to talk to her predecessor, 2017 Miss Globe first runner-up Nelda Ibe.
“I wanna be prepared when I get there. I’m open to everyone to teach me,” she said. She also hopes to get tips from Ann Colis, the first Filipino woman to bag the Miss Globe crown.
The Inquirer took the opportunity to discuss with the queens some controversies that arose after their coronation, such as Gallman’s response about providing a third restroom for transgender individuals—a statement that raised eyebrows, especially among the LGBTQ+ community.
“I would still say yes, because initially I said ‘yes’ as an option for the people who will get uncomfortable using the male or female toilet. However, thinking about it, one or two or three bathrooms, it doesn’t matter. For me, as long as you give love and respect, and respect each other’s privacy and personal space, that’s what matters,” she said.
Another controversy involved former Bb. Pilipinas-International Mariel de Leon, who received a lot of flak from Gray’s fans for her observation that their idol’s answer appeared a tad too “scripted.” Former Bb. Pilipinas-World Maggie Wilson and 2013 Miss International Bea Rose Santiago also got a deluge of online hate for questioning Gray’s “Best in Swimsuit” citation.
“I’ve already put out multiple statements saying ‘Guys, settle down.’ That’s all that I can do,” Gray said. “I believe the only person you can control is yourself. I have never encouraged or egged them on.”
She clarified, “I’ve actually never expressed my discontent or negativity over the comments about me. I don’t take them to heart. Mariel’s was constructive. And the others just expressed their opinion, I respect that. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. It’s a world of free speech.”
She also noted how “crazy passionate” Filipino pageant fans are. “It’s one of the best things, and sometimes it brings a bit of negativity,” Gray added.
Gumabao, meanwhile, caused quite a stir among journalists with her response to a question on the prevalence of fake news.
“I hope that media always filters, and uses their resources, to always deliver true and authentic news,” she answered in part.
“When I said ‘media,’ I wasn’t referring to just newspapers and TV. I was referring to even us, we’re all part of media, we all have our social media platforms. We’re considered part of media. Social media is one of the biggest forms of media nowadays,” she clarified.
The ladies also shared their thoughts on the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal hounding Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg.
“We cannot fault the internet for using your likeness, your information, because you put it out there. Whatever information you put out, you have to be ready to share it with the world,” Gumabao said.
Gray said she was aware that a “Facebook analyst gave out data that he’s not supposed to but he had access to.”
“I think it’s a conversation that we need to have because our lives are getting more and more online. Whether we like it or not, it’s happening. And it’s a conversation that we need to have because even among younger generations, no one reads the terms and conditions,” she added.
The queens also touched on the massive youth action against gun violence that took place in Washington, D.C., recently.
Gumabao and Gallman praised the youth for leading the way in standing up against violence in the United States. The speech delivered by youth activist Emma Gonzales “made my eyes open more to the harsh realities of this world. I sympathize with them,” Gumabao said.
Gray hopes the elders would also take part in the debates. “It is my belief that if the right to bear arms is compared to the right for your child to live, you choose your children,” she said.
Manalo and Huelar likewise expressed intolerance at any form of violence.
After getting serious, the queens shared snippets of their personal lives, their eyes lighting up while talking about their own “kings.”
Gray, Huelar, Gallman and Gumabao all admitted to having boyfriends, while Manalo said she is single and will just be focusing on getting the Miss International crown for now.
Gray’s six-year relationship with boyfriend Clint Bondad is a source of inspiration.
“We’re working on each others’ careers. We’re both supporting each other in our individual endeavors. He supports me, I support him. There’s no pressuring each other,” she said.
Gallman’s current relationship may be a year shorter than Gray’s, but it is no way less romantic. She said her Australian boyfriend left his country and flew with her to London when she found a job in the United Kingdom. “And when I quit my job to join Binibini, he also quit his job to support me here. He’s very supportive. I’m blessed to have him in my life.”
Huelar, meanwhile, got engaged to professional cager PJ Simon before signing up for the 2018 pageant.
“He was the one who pushed me to join again. He served as my strength in pursuing my dreams because he’s also a dreamer,” she said.
For Gumabao, joining a beauty pageant while dating fitness coach Aldo Panlilio was a bit tricky.
“I cannot have muscle, I had to lose weight. As my coach, he adjusted my regimen,” she shared.
This year’s Binibining Pilipinas winners showed that pageants are not won by beauty alone. Crowns are earned by well-rounded individuals, aware of the society they live in, and those who enjoy a strong support group.
But aside from their crowns, these queens may also lay claim to another accomplishment for their pageant. The Bb. Pilipinas organization reported a record audience attendance for the 2018 pageant—some 10,000 spectators at the Smart Araneta Coliseum for the coronation ceremonies.
The organization hopes the huge turnout this year would translate to even stronger support for the country’s representatives to the international competitions.
The queens’ intensive training has commenced this month.