MAKATI CITY—The young pageant Miss Grand International’s battle cry is “Stop the War!” And the person in charge of grooming the country’s representative for the current edition of the said pageant hopes Filipino pageant fans would take this to heart as well.
“Let us all live in peace,” Rodgil Flores told the Inquirer in an exclusive interview at his beauty pageant training camp in Quezon City recently.
Flores mentored Samantha Bernardo, a Binibining Pilipinas aspirant who unexpectedly found herself traveling to Thailand for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bear the country’s colors on the international stage.
However, as with many other national and international pageants, fervent Filipino fans have engaged in an ugly online war among followers of rival contestants. To this, Flores appealed: “Let’s aspire for a peace-peace situation.”
“Tito Rodg,” as his wards would affectionately call him, plucked Bernardo from the Mutya ng Palawan pageant and brought her to the national arena.
The Palaweña rhythmic gymnast and folk dancer finished second runner-up in the Binibining Pilipinas pageant for two years in a row, in 2018 and 2019. She signed up for her third and final shot at a crown in 2020, but the national competition was sidelined by the pandemic.
The Bb. Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) resumed the pageant earlier this year and set an April coronation date. However, the Miss Grand International also announced its resumption, but set its finals in March.
With this development, pageant fans speculated that Aya Abesamis, daughter of Miss Universe runner-up Desiree Verdadero, would finally have the chance to compete abroad.
Abesamis finished as a runner-up but assumed the 2019 Bb. Pilipinas Grand International title abdicated by the disgraced Samantha Asley Lo, who went behind the national pageant organization’s back and proceeded to her international competition even after getting embroiled in a fake passport controversy. Lo went home empty-handed, and her falsification of travel documents has yet to be resolved.
However, Abesamis already exceeded the global pageant’s age restrictions. BPCI then appointed Bernardo to take on the mantle, essentially taking her out of this year’s roster of Bb. Pilipinas contestants.
Flores said Bernardo took it as fate taking its course. She will be turning 29 in October and would no longer qualify for most international pageants, so this would be her swan song.
With less than a month to prepare, Flores sat down with Bernardo and a team of experts to map out a plan under immense time pressure. “I was so organized. Unlike before, I really set a time frame, and I made sure to accomplish everything we needed to accomplish within the given time period,” he told the Inquirer.
Seeing in Bernardo qualities of some of his former wards who finished strong in the Miss Grand International pageant, Flores designed a training regimen that would highlight her innate traits that he believes her predecessors also possessed.
“Liz (Clenci, 2017 Miss Grand International second runner-up) is a performer, and both she and Parul (Shah, 2015 Miss Grand International fourth runner-up) are athletic. I see them both in Sam, she’s also an athlete and a performer, being both a gymnast and a dancer,” Flores shared.
Shah gave Bernardo tips when they met for a special photoshoot called after BPCI’s surprise announcement. Eva Patalinjug, 2018 Bb. Pilipinas Grand International and one of Flores’ wards, also shared some advice.
Nicole Cordoves, so far the highest placed Filipino in the Miss Grand International having finished second in 2016, also found the time to mentor Barnardo.
“I’m so grateful for them for helping Sam out. But because we were pressed for time, we couldn’t arrange a conversation with Liz. But I will make sure they will get the chance to speak online even if Sam is already there in Bangkok,” Flores said. He also shared that 2013 Miss Grand International third runner-up Ali Forbes would also want to share some tips with Bernardo online.
Flores said he believes everything that has transpired shows that the Philippines is ripe for the Miss Grand International crown, quoting Bernardo as saying, “if not now, when? If not me, who?”
He also noticed that Bernardo appears more relaxed now, compared to her time in Bb. Pilipinas when she was “always overthinking.”
Bernardo had already finished strong in preliminary challenges conducted during the contestants’ time in quarantine. Flores hopes she would sustain the momentum and finally bring home the elusive “gold crown” to the Philippines.
This is technically the pageant’s 2020 edition, and the organizer said the 2021 installment will be held later this year. The 2020 Miss Grand International coronation ceremonies will be staged at Show DC in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 27.