Miss Philippines takes Universe pageant in stride
SAN FRANCISCO— Eighty-eight women from all over the world on January 25 will compete for the coveted Miss Universe 2015 crown at Florida International University in Doral City. Reinforced by strong support from Filipinos all around the world, Philippine bet Mary Jean Lastimosa keeps her focus on the journey and being present in the moment.
“If you let the pressure get to you, you’d miss the whole journey because you’re busy thinking about making it to the Top 5,” the 27-year-old businesswoman, actress and model told Manila Mail in a telephone interview Friday. “Just stay present in the competition, enjoy each day. People will see your personality—that’s what they’re looking for. Who knows, it might help me win the crown for our country.”
Known for its people who love karaoke singing, ballroom dancing and selfies, the Philippines is also a nation that takes beauty pageants seriously. Since 2010, the country has consistently placed in the Top 5—Venus Raj was 4th in 2010; Shamcey Supsup, 3rd in 2011; Janine Tugonon, 1st in 2012 and Ariella Arida, 3rd in 2013.
Hopes are up for Miss Philippines to make it even better this year. Unfazed by such expectations, Lastimosa lauds the strong support system for Filipino candidates.
“I think the advantage of being a Filipina is that we have a strong support system,” she said. “When you have that kind of support, it just makes you happy and really willing to fight. It’s your source of strength, so you don’t get tired. You know that you have a lot of people supporting you and that’s a good thing for a representative. A definite advantage.”
Known to many as MJ, Lastimosa arrived in Doral, Florida on January 4. She is quite a traveler, but this is her first time in the Sunshine State.
“I’m here alone. My parents are in Dubai, my sister in Manila and a couple of relatives in San Francisco. I was able to relax a bit and rest as I was one of the first candidates who came in early.”
The first week is relaxed, with just registration, photo shoots and interviews that the Miss Universe organization needs for the promotions and pageant night, according to MJ. It was also spent making friends.
“I have so many friends already. I can’t even count. We’re 88 and so far, the girls are amazing. Everyone is really nice.”
MJ’s roommate is from Myanmar, she said. “She’s nice. We have supervisors. Each supervisor takes care of four girls.” Their group includes Miss Austria and Miss Bulgaria “and the four of us are always together.”
“I also made friends with [the representatives from] India, Kenya, Tanzania and so many others. We work out together. I talk a lot with the Spanish-speaking girls, learning Spanish. It’s fun to just share and learn more from them.”
MJ is a graduate of computer engineering from the University of Mindanao. She credits her experience of winning Miss Davao and Binibining Pilipinas as her preparation for the Miss Universe competition.
“But every day is a preparation for me,” she said. “I think [joining the pageant] is the same thing as having a regular job because you keep on learning. You meet new people and you learn from them.”
MJ’s training was extended because the pageant was pushed back to a later date. The Binibining Pilipinas organization has sent her to personality development and “question and answer” sessions.
“I got coaches teaching me how to walk; stylists telling me the basics of how to dress up properly for the Miss Universe pageant.”
Representatives from previous years also oriented her on what to expect from the pageant.
“Every year is a different thing but they’re just sharing their own experiences in the pageant.”
On her thoughts about Manny Pacquiao joining the panel of judges: “I think what I have to focus on is to be in the Top 15. Because if he’s just there for the final night and I don’t make it, that’s not going to help. So I think the job is still on me to do really good during the preliminaries and to make it to the finals”.
MJ thinks Pacquiao’s presence is going to be “very inspiring.”
“He is a hero, [our] people’s champ and seeing him there is inspiring knowing how he does great in his craft. He inspires a lot of people, not only the Filipinos.”
What separates Binibining Pilipinas from the rest of the candidates?
“Each candidate has her own unique quality and unique beauty. Beauty is subjective, it depends on your perception but if your heart is really beautiful, it just makes you glow. You’re brighter than all the others.”
What she hopes to achieve if she wins the Miss U crown is volunteer work at a grander scale.
“This is a personal dream. It’s going to be a great help for me and my family. I’ve been doing a lot of community work and charity since I won Miss Davao and Binibining Pilipinas. The connection and the capacity to help people just keep on growing and now if I win Miss Universe, the rein [would be] much bigger. I can help any nation that I want to. I want to focus on the children and the volunteerism because in the Philippines, volunteerism is very important. We’ve been experiencing typhoons and so many [natural] disasters. If people in other nations are willing to help, it makes problems easier to bear and solve. We can solve anything faster and that’s what I wanted to promote.”
From her fans and countrymen, MJ requested this: “Please tell them to keep on praying for me.”