This beauty pageant-crazy nation — Philippines!

When the first two Filipinas were crowned Miss Universe — Gloria Maria Diaz in 1969 and Maria Margarita Moran in 1973 — majority of us Generation Xers were still boys in short pants and girls cutting paper dresses.

The winning moments of these two beauties we only got to see with the advent of YouTube. Diaz was nonchalant, charming and witty during the entire pageant. Moran, on the other hand, was poised, regal and elegantly beautiful.

The only personal story I know of the first Filipina Miss Universe involved my paternal grandfather, who was part of the Malabon police force that served as the security escorts of Diaz. My mother recalled how my Lolo Victor regaled them with stories of how dusky Gloria was, a sensual sight with pouty lips, a congenial laugh and the warmest and most graceful of demeanors.

In 1974, the Miss Universe pageant was held in Manila, and of course, in the true, good and beautiful fashion that was the stamp of then-First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, it hogged the headlines of major newspapers and had extensive TV coverage.

The Folk Arts Theater was built posthaste for the event. The winner would soon be a name long remembered in Philippine pop culture — Miss Spain Amparo Munoz, who, with two of her top 5 runners-up, Miss Aruba Maureen Ava Vieira and Miss Finland Joana Raunio, managed to make movies in the Philippines.

Our very own Guadalupe Sanchez made it to the top 12. However, her reply to the casual interview portion was too advanced for that time. If my memory serves me right, she was asked what she would do if she received an exorbitant amount of money. Her rejoinder was short and snappy: “I’ll spend it.”

Those hungry

runner-up years

During the ‘80s, the most memorable Miss Universe Philippines was Rosario Silayan, nicknamed Chat, who inched her way to become third runner-up, thanks to the blue fishtail gown created by Renee Salud that wowed the panel of judges.

The second favorably remembered queen donned another Renee Salud creation. Desiree Verdadero’s third runner-up placement was also credited in part to the multi-hued evening gown made of Maranao fabric that got a lot of high scores from the judges, its style and cut praised as advanced, feminine and sophisticated.

The next most important Miss Philippines placements after Verdadero were the first runner-up victories of Miriam Quiambao in 1999 and Janine Tugonon in 2012. As to how and why failed to become that year’s Miss Universe, discussions and dissections of it are still ongoing in many beauty pageant forums and comment sections online.

Beauty pageant powerhouse

The victories of Pia Wurtzbach in 2015 and Catriona Gray in 2018 confirmed that the Philippines has become a pageant powerhouse, and our candidates “the perfect symbols of a nation rich in heritage and love,” as a line from the Binibining Pilipinas theme song put it.

Pia was confidently beautiful with a heart, and the “comedy of errors” that led to her eventually being declared the winner only made her Miss Universe moment all the more unforgettable — a priceless pop-culture moment.

Catriona, meanwhile, employed science, arts and culture in her narrative, bringing all her smarts to pageantry complete with invocations of “silver lining” and “smiles to children” and thus ensuring that the crown was again in the Philippines’ lap so soon after Pia’s victory.

The Michelle Marquez Dee era

There is no denying that Michelle Marquez Dee gave her all and her best during the Miss Universe proper last Sunday. She was fierce, fun and confident as she walked the runway in a one-piece red swimsuit.

Her black evening gown, inspired by the tattoo creations of the legendary Apo Whang-Od, screamed la eleganza extravaganza. Not the usual shining, shimmering and ho-hum gowns that were on parade in other candidates.

That she didn’t make it to the top 5 and bag the crown should be taken for what it is. As she herself said in a post-pageant message, destiny has other plans for her, and the brainy, statuesque beauty surely has more to offer the country after that proud representation in El Salvador.

No need to dignify and believe the issue being circulated online that she was robbed of the chance to be part of the top 5. Michelle Dee is every inch a queen in her own right.

As to why we are a beauty pageant-crazy nation? Call it aspiration, inspiration, because there is always delight in beauty, especially amid unending social blight.
As John Keats wrote in his poem Endymion: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Its loveliness increases; it will never pass to nothingness.”