Last July 20, Binibining Pilipinas Charities Incorporated (BPCI) came in full force to visit the more than 200 soliders at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Medical Center (also known as the V. Luna General Hospital) in Quezon City. The 2017 Binibining Pilipinas titleholders were led by BPCI Chairwoman, Stella Marquez Araneta, who warmly greeted the auditorium filled with soliders recovering from injuries.
Serenading the soldiers with a rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” were Bb Pilipinas International 2017 Maria Angelica de Leon and Bb Pilipinas Grand International 2017 Elizabeth Clenci, who also played the guitar. Brig Gen Arturo Orticio Jr quipped that surely the soldiers felt exactly that way upon seeing the beautiful Binibinis. He also made special mention of Bb Pilipinas Globe 2017 Nelda Ibe, who is popularly known as the beauty queen pilot, as he was a fighter pilot.
Immediately after the short program and gift-giving to the recovering heroes, Stella and the queens were led to several floors of the Heroes Ward. This is where they visited those wounded soliders who were still bedridden due to injuries.
Stella went from one soldier to another, taking her time to greet them and share a moment with them. In instances where the soldier was badly injured, she spoke with the soldiers family, gave them words of encouragement, and offered them prayers. While some soliders probably did not understand her Colombian-accented English, they felt her warmth and affection. It was evident in her smile that the charity BPCI does is never just for the cameras, it is truly from the heart.
It was a very emotional day for the Binibinis as they fought back tears seeing their wounded brothers who were mostly the same age as them. I asked the Binibinis what struck them the most during their visit, as that would be a memory they would carry, not just a a beauty queen, but as a fellow Filipino. Here’s what they had to say:
Miss Universe Philippines 2017 Rachel Peters
“Madame Stella and I visited a young man in the ICU. He was the only soldier there and had had his lungs and liver operated on and was still due for kidney surgery because of a gunshot to his back. It didn’t take much for him to open up to us and he explained what had happened and we talked about how we were both from Bicol. I promised him and his family that when he is well enough, I’d love to treat them to a vacation in CWC [CamSur Watersports Complex]. Young and brave – so much respect for him and all the soldiers there today.”
Bb Pilipinas Intercontinental 2017 Katarina Rodriguez
“He got blinded because something blew up in his face. It was my breaking point because all I could see was how vulnerable he had become. And all I could think of is if he regretted anything because he sacrificed his sight. I thanked him for fighting for our country over and over because it was all I could do at that moment. I truly hoped, from the bottom of my heart, that he would hear my sincerity in my gratitude for his service as a soldier and never regret fighting for what he believes in.”
Bb Pilipinas Supranational 2017 Chanel Olive Thomas
“One particular person whom I had met was a person who was recovering from a head injury caused from shrapnel in Marawi. I met him and his wife, and I was told in detail about his surgery. When I looked at him, I could see just how strong he was and also especially his wife. I prayed over him for his recovery since that’s the one thing that I could do in that very moment to help him and his wife.”
Bb Pilipinas International 2017 Maria Angelica de Leon
“The whole visit was memorable because each and every solider there mattered. The courage that it took for them to be at the battle grounds in Marawi or wherever they were assigned, was very admirable. Each risked their life in the service of our country. Unfortunately, others injuries were more serious than others. I met a solider who lost his sight because of sharpnel. He really struck a chord in my heart because despite everything that has happened to him, he still found reason to smile and was still very happy as he talked to us. It was really heartwarming.”
Bb Pilipinas Grand International 2017 Elizabeth Clenci
“It was one of the last wards we visited and a soldier had lost both his eyes to shrapnel from a blast. His wife wasn’t able to be there by his side because she had just given birth but also lost the baby during labor. They were saying it was due to the stress of everything. It was so heart-wrenching because this man permanently lost his entire ability to see, and wasn’t able to meet his child. It broke my heart because not just him, but everyone else who we saw who was injured by some varying degree, were there because they were fighting in a war that almost everyone you would speak to did not ask for. On the news, you just see conflict. But really, when you go much deeper, people’s entire lives are being changed forever. These soldiers have given their life, for the safety of the country and for the safety of people they may never meet. Today was eye opening to a degree that you can’t see on the news or hear in war stories.
Bb Pilipinas Globe 2017 Nelda Ibe
“The moment I saw all the wounded soldiers, I felt sad. I could only imagine their experience in Marawi and now their physical pain at the hospital. As soon as I greeted them with ‘Kamusta?’ they were eager to tell their stories.
“But I got even more emotional upon seeing the wounded who were bedridden in the wards. I held back tears when I was talking to those who couldn’t even walk or sit down. Many were casualties from exploding RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]. It felt like a heavy experience, knowing they sacrificed their own lives to fight for our country. But it was also enlightening knowing their bravery will eventually bring peace. I pray for their fast recovery and thanked them for their heroic deed for our country.”
It was beautifully ironic that the solider who left an indelible mark on many of the beauty queens’ hearts was that of the blind solider. Although he could not appreciate their physical beauty as the rest of the world does, he felt their warmth, love, compassion, and their forever grateful hearts for the sacrifice he made for them and the Philippines.
This article originally appeared in Rappler.
All photos courtesy of BCPI unless otherwise indicated.