BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — Asserting that the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago was “the best president the Philippines never had,” Iloilo City’s Rabiya Mateo impressed the jurors and won the Miss Universe Philippines crown in a pre-taped program in Baguio City over the weekend.
The 24-year-old physical therapy graduate was crowned after a closed-door taping of the finale that began on Friday night and lasted until 3 a.m. the next day at the Baguio Convention Hall of the Baguio Country Club.
The program was beamed on free TV, and streamed globally on digital platforms on Sunday. It was the first time that a major pageant was held without a live audience due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mateo bested 45 other candidates to represent the country in the Miss Universe 2020 pageant, whose date and venue have yet to be announced.
Asked to explain her pick to put on a paper currency, Mateo said “What I admired about [Santiago] was that she used her knowledge, her voice to serve the country. And I want to be somebody like her. Somebody who puts her heart, her passion into action.” The late senator was an Ilongga or a native of Iloilo like Mateo.
When asked, in the final round of questioning, where pageants stand in the time of a pandemic, Mateo said: “As a candidate, I know I’m not just the face of Iloilo City, but I am here carrying hope, and a symbol of light in the darkest times. And as of the moment, I want to help my community. I want to use my strength to make an impact. And that is the essence of beauty pageants. It gives us the power to make a difference.”
Mateo graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in physical therapy from Iloilo Doctors College. She works as a lecturer and review coordinator at SRG Manila Review Center.
The new beauty queen was hailed best in swimsuit, while her runner-up Ysabella Ysmael was proclaimed best in evening gown. In her first foray into pageants, Mateo bagged the top crown at the 2020 Miss Iloilo beauty contest.
Photos of the coronation were leaked on Saturday showing each of the top five candidates wearing a crown and sash, prompting the pageant’s host, KC Montero, to disclose that multiple endings were shot “to avoid spoilers.”
“Obviously, if we could’ve done it live we would have. You think it was easy to do what we did? [It’s] nearly impossible to mount an event with all these candidates from all over the Philippines in Baguio during a pandemic. To be honest, I was quite surprised they were able to pull it off,” he said.
All candidates, along with the pageant organizers and staff, were required to get clearance from the Inter-Agency Task Force Against COVID-19 before motoring to this city for the pageant activities.
Two candidates earlier withdrew after testing positive for COVID-19.