We are a day away from crowning a new Miss Universe and as a woman, it gives me so much pride and joy to see more and more confident and empowered women who are ready to take on the world—the universe rather.
I am excited for these women, knowing how this can be a life-changing event for them and the others that they will also inspire. I can’t help but reminisce of my time as Miss Universe, the road leading to that, and the opportunities that came after.
Don’t get me wrong though. My life’s journey did not begin when I won Miss Universe. It began long before that and continues to this day. And because many of you are already aware of my Miss Universe journey, I would like to take you farther.
I went through a lot and I would not have made it this far without the help of so many people. It’s only right that I pay it forward however I can. I’m sharing my journey in the hope that it can encourage and prompt others to find ways to face and overcome their challenges, count, save, and grow their blessings.
Saving right from the start (no matter how small)
I still vividly remember how my dad taught me my very first lessons on financial management. Even before I started earning, my parents taught me the value of money. I think I was around nine years old or even younger when my dad opened a bank account for me. He would also make me write the withdrawal and deposit slips on my own at manonood lang siya. Titingnan lang niya kung tama and then would ask me to make the transactions myself while he waited in the car.
Hindi niya ako inuutusan, ha. It was a father-and-daughter activity we did para matuto ako sa paghawak ng pera. At that time, I didn’t really think much of it, but now as an adult, I realize that these were the first steps that made me more aware of finances and expenses even though it’s just a really small amount.
A few years after that, my dad and mom got separated. It put a lot of pressure on my mom to raise us as a single parent. I had no idea that under those difficult circumstances, an opportunity would come knocking. We were at a mall because my mom was going around Quezon City looking for a school that could give me singing lessons. Yes, my mom wanted me to be a singer. Instead, a talent scout saw me and asked me to be a model for a cosmetic line for teenagers. It became my first official job as a model. Shortly after that, I landed my first cover at 11 years old for a teen magazine, which was amazing.
When I realized I could earn from the modeling jobs and support my family, it just became a natural thing. I actually thought it was fun because I was going to school on the weekdays and on the weekends, I had photoshoots. How many teenagers got the chance to do that?
Later on, the opportunity came for me to get into acting. Now that I think about it, I never turned down a role because I needed it. I needed the job so that I could support my family. As long as I was a fit for it and it didn’t require me to do anything out of my comfort zone, then it was a ‘yes’ for me.
I’ve done all sorts of roles. I’ve played a child role and even when I was a child myself, I was asked to play a grownup. I played a villain, I played the kawawa. For one role, I had to be a dead character inside a real coffin. I was acting and crying pero mukhang naging totoo na ‘yung iyak ko. Believe it or not, I had one role where I played a jellyfish! These were small roles that didn’t become popular but I did all of them for my family.
I also remember my first film acting role from the movie Kung Ako Na Lang Sana. I was only in one scene at kailangang umiyak. It was a challenge for me because I didn’t have much experience as an actor. But I managed to do it. The money I earned from modeling and acting, I gave to my mom for her to budget. After my first paycheck, she gave me a reward which was a PlayStation.
This taught me a lesson on enjoying the fruits of my hard work. It’s only fair to treat myself to something, a reward that motivates me to keep working harder. If we deprive ourselves too much, we may end up splurging even more.
Moving to the UK
When I was seventeen, I left the Philippines and took a break from modeling and acting. My mom remarried and moved to the UK with my stepdad, and we all moved there with her.
While in the UK, I had to find work for myself. I started as a waitress at a hotel in this little town where we used to live. Nobody knew who I was—I wasn’t a model, an actress, or a pretty girl in front of the camera. I was working a thankless job and that really humbled me and made me feel that ito yung totoong buhay.
While working, I realized that I’d rather be the one cooking the food than one serving it… and that’s where my interest in culinary arts began. I left my job and enrolled in culinary school. I learned so much as cooking became one of my passions in life. But I also knew that I wanted to go back to acting and modeling.
I was around 19 or 20 when I had the chance to return to the Philippines. Unfortunately, when I tried to re-enter my showbiz career, I was no longer a teenager and the available roles had changed—they were all out of my comfort zone and not what I wanted my career to look like.
The Universe conspires
I could only take on small projects here and there, raket-raket lang. I started to feel so lost. Then one day, as I was walking in the mall with my friends, I was scouted by Jonas Gaffud, who eventually became my manager. Jonas saw me from afar and he said, “Sali ka sa Binibini (Binibining Pilipinas).”
I could only say, “Oh my gosh, yes! Sali ako sa Binibini. Pwede ba ako? Kaya ko ba?”Ang dami ko pang tanong and hesitations in my head but I just said ‘yes’ right away. Tuwang-tuwa ako, ang una kong sinabi daw–hindi ko na maalala pero hindi rin nila makalimutan ‘yung una kong sinabi daw: “Finally may gagawin na ako sa buhay ko.”
Looking back, I can say that the Miss Universe victory was a pivotal point in my life, career, and finances. It gave me a new beginning as a model and actress. It also made me realize this: the wise spending and saving habits instilled in me when I was young helped me manage my earnings.
Becoming financially savvy
I only got my first ever BDO Credit Card in 2015 after I won Miss Universe. I travelled a lot for work. Going from Vegas to New York and to other countries, my credit card became as important as my passport. I wouldn’t have survived without it.
That credit card became my first entry into adulting. During quiet moments in-between shoots, I realized that I’m not going to be a model forever—I have to do more than save money if I want to be financially secure when I retire. I consulted with Sir Gerry Diaz of Aces and Queens, who also happened to work in BDO, for advice on how to invest and plan my money for the future. For now, we agreed that the BDO UITF or the BDO Unit Investment Trust Fund is the best fit for my needs and lifestyle.
So you see, I’m trying to make sure I’m making smart decisions with my hard-earned money. I was talking with some friends and we realized that life is really unpredictable. That’s why I also decided to get insurance as a safety net to protect myself and my family. Today, I’m covered by BDO Life for my life insurance and I also have BDO Insure as my insurance broker to help me get the best auto, travel and property coverage. I can protect my family in case I can’t do it myself anymore.
Getting down to business
Before the pandemic struck, I started my first business. I invested a little bit in Empire Studios previously, and I followed that up with a milk tea business, Bestea. It started out as a little passion project of two of my real-life besties, that’s why it’s called “Bestea.” Ang saya, ang sarap ng feeling. It actually inspired me to want to open up more branches.
Also, I did Teviant, my makeup collaboration. I’m still doing that this year along with many more things to come.
Starting business ventures is never an impulsive decision for me. Like any entrepreneur, I’m taking on financial risks. So I read. I study the business, product, or service. I get help from people I trust, who know more than I do. I take things slowly and deliberately. I seek advice from other successful investors and even from BDO.
People see the glossy and sleek publicity from these businesses and they might think it’s so easy. But no, it needs a lot of time and preparation.
Chasing dreams, staying optimistic
Thinking about the past twenty years, the greatest lesson for me is this: if you want something, if you want something really bad, hindi mo pwedeng iasa sa ibang tao. You can’t wait for that big job or that big project, you have to go and get it yourself. That’s the reality of life.
If you don’t go out there and seek all of these opportunities, walang mangyayari. I really believe in being prepared all the time because once you’re prepared and that opportunity comes and it combines, boom! It’s magic.
I remember all the people who helped me on my journey. Every milestone happened not just because of my efforts. I had my family and their support. I had the right friends helping me stay grounded and true to myself. I found the right partners whom I could trust and depend on in good times and bad.
One of these partners is my bank. BDO proved to be the right choice for helping me with all the right moves. I have my savings for my future, I have credit cards, I finally have investments, and I also planned out my insurance with them. Now I’m taking on a new path. I have new goals and new plans. And now, more than ever, I’m confident I can pursue my dreams and live life to the fullest.
There’s no perfect journey, but for me, I’m happy I’ve made the right choices for myself, and if I had to go back I would do it all over again.