The effect of this pandemic will be long and excruciating. The most common question to us is: Are beauty pageants still relevant?
I say, yes! The Miss Universe Philippines (MUPh) is a relevant endeavor because we have a new mission: for our contenders to be role models, empowered women and beacons of hope. They are having a hard time, too, believe me. I know it and if I would be able to help all of them, I would. How can someone empower others if they are not themselves empowered? We may not be able to help everyone, but I believe that we have a venue where we can be of real service to our country.
“ We really desired to create a space to empower women and instill in them the value of service to their communities. ”
I was in Atlanta, Georgia attending the finals of the annual Miss Universe contest when we received the news that our team got the rights to produce Miss Universe Philippines 2020. Appointed as national director was Miss Universe 2011 third runner-up Shamcey Supsup, and I, as creative and events director.
I excitedly rushed home to meet with the team composed of designer Albert Andrada, lawyer Nad Bronce, entrepreneur and former Miss Universe Philippines 2006 Lia Andrea Ramos, and marketing head Mario Garcia.
All we had in mind was how to be different and how to effect change. We really desired to create a space to empower women and instill in them the value of service to their communities.
Everything was smooth sailing, and we launched our official contestants on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. After that, we had a series of closed-door events for orientation and introduced a new way of training, which we called the Phenomenal Woman Learning Journey.
The Learning Journey program is MUPh’s gift to the contestants. This is led by Shamcey, together with Lia, Nad and lawyer Anna Theresa Licaros. It is a testament to the organization’s commitment to equipping Filipinas with what it takes to be a beauty queen and more. While it trains contestants to shine and slay onstage, it recognizes that the pageant night is just one of many other key milestones in any beauty queen’s development.
Beyond the pageant, each contestant must be able to use the tools and techniques she will learn in order to transform herself into a truly phenomenal woman. The Learning Journey program has four original modules conceptualized, developed and delivered by a team of diverse and multi-hyphenated professionals. It is a fresh and forward take on beauty pageant training that mixes informative, inspirational, practical and fun activities that will see contestants through their beautiful transformations.
However, towards the end of February, the pandemic was already looming and we were brainstorming about contingency plans. Eventually, we just declared that all the contenders should rush back home on March 3 or as soon as they could. We really had to protect everyone.
Personally, I decided to stay home as early as March 12. While everyone was busy buying stuff, I decided to make an appointment with my psychiatrist to talk about how to deal with the situation. We disinfected and cleaned every day, which made me cough so bad I actually thought I was infected.
It was a very difficult time, but it did not dampen my spirit. I was determined to make Miss Universe Philippines 2020 still happen. During the Holy Week, I was already prepared to push through with plans like shoots and events when the pandemic is over.
But my father was brought to the hospital on April 18. We were not allowed to see him since he had pneumonia and was a person under investigation for COVID-19. We scrambled for blood donors and got more than what we needed. However, when I told the doctor the good news, I was met with a bad one: “Your father is gone.”
If it were not for the support of my coworkers and friends, I would not have pulled through. I no longer saw my father’s body due to safety protocols. He was cremated, and I brought home his ashes.
People have been telling me to slow down, to take a pause and just grieve. But I did not. I was steadfast in our goals for Miss Universe Philippines, and my digital company Empire.ph. I was thinking about the welfare of my co-workers who depend on me. We did not let them go despite the dwindling finances because they needed hope, too. I just clung to my usual positive determination.
I know many contenders of MUPh are going through a lot so I am also challenged to find ways to let them earn an income while being active contenders in the pageant. We are coming up with commemorative pieces like bags and shirts for Miss Universe Ph 2020. We also have a pay-per-view series and we will all help spread the word for fundraising activities. The contenders will get a share from this initiative.
In the end, our goal became bigger, especially during this time that people need one another. We will also hold a fundraising activity to benefit returning overseas Filipino workers, farmers, fishermen, indigenous communities, the fashion and beauty industry, and children and teachers who need help. We are partnering with different organizations to carefully roll out our plans.
Things may be different now in the time of the pandemic. But still, I believe, beauty pageants are still relevant.
Edited by Tanya T. Lara