And the Bb. Pilipinas Frontrunners are…

On April 30, the pageant world will be eagerly awaiting the announcement of the 2017 Bb. Pilipinas winners.  The 53rd edition of Bb. Pilipinas is a highly anticipated event, as it produces candidates who will compete in several prestigious global pageants, including, of course, Miss Universe.

Top Row: Maria Angelica de Leon (Bb. #15), Sirene Sutton (Bb. #19), Katarina Rodriguez (Bb. #31), Rachel Peters (Bb. #19)

Bottom Row: Gabriela Ortega (Bb. #34), Chanel Olive Thomas (Bb. #22), Charmaine Elima (Bb. #32), Jehza Huelar (Bb. #10)



Since 2010, the Philippines has produced one Miss Universe, one Miss World, two Misses International, two Misses Earth, one Miss Supranational, one Miss Globe and numerous runners-up and semifinalists.  To put that into perspective, some of our Asian neighbors have never won any of these titles during that period. Not a single one!

Amazingly, winners from Bb. Pilipinas 2015 and 2016 have all either won or placed in their respective pageants. The most famous of them all, without a doubt, is Miss Universe 2015 PiaWurtzbach. Following her feat was Miss International 2016 Kylie Versoza, the sixth Filipina to wear the prestigious crown.

Strangely enough, Jeslyn Santos, Miss United Continents 2016, is the first Asian and non-Latina to win the crown. If rumors are true, the newest addition this year to Bb. Pilipinas’ roster of titles is Bb. Pilipinas-United Continents.

The record further affirms what everybody already knows: Bb. Pilipinas has been choosing the right delegates for the right pageants in recent years.  They should maintain this strategy and not veer totally away from it.  As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Pageant fans are excited to see if we will continue our strong showing on the global pageant stage. On the other hand, our pageant rivals are curious (and perhaps hoping) if 2017 will see Filipino beauty queens start to falter.

But it’s not just about Miss Universe. This year’s batch has very big platform shoes to fill in all the pageants. Given the added pressure they face today on social media, any beauty queen would not want to be the first “thank you girl” or “clapper” (read: unable to place) in her batch.

For pageant fans, the last seven years have truly been a golden age in Philippine pageantry. And any future Binibini would want to be part of that history.

Why has the Philippines been so successful?  Is it because the Filipina beauty is the current “it” girl in pageants?  Is it the training that our candidates receive and that extra boost of confidence they imbibe by simply wearing the Philippine sash?  Is it because of Filipino pageant fans and their reputation as the world’s best pageant fans?  Certainly, it’s a combination of all these factors and the simple fact that some of the most amazing women have been joining local pageants.


Because of the range of prestigious crowns it offers, Bb. Pilipinas has always been the top beauty pageant in the country.  But because it has been producing winners who have gone on to pursue very successful careers such as modeling and entertainment, a lot more beautiful and deserving Filipinas are encouraged to join the pageant.

There are 40 official candidates this year in Bb. Pilipinas.  They include architects, entrepreneurs, flight attendants, models, and entertainers.  Gone are the days you have an 18-year-old lass who is joining just to “gain experience.”  Many of the candidates these days are graduates of top schools here and abroad. They are, as the cliché goes, accomplished, empowered, and confident young Filipinas ready for battle.

This year’s batch of beauties can be easily categorized into repeaters, crossovers, and first-timers.

Notable repeaters this year comprise a strong group.  Not only do they have the experience of joining before, they also have formed a relationship with Bb. Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI), the outfit behind the pageant helmed by Stella Marquez-Araneta.

In the world of pageantry, being a repeater also means you have more experience and know what to expect compared to pageant virgins.  In recent years, successful repeaters include Janine Tugonon, who went on to become first runner up in Miss Universe 2012, MJ Lastimosa, and, of course, Wurtzbach, who joined Bb. Pilipinas not twice, but thrice!

Based on recent trends, the repeaters seem to have a favorable advantage.

Two of the strongest and most popular returning candidates are from the Golden Edition of Bb. Pilipinas 2013.  That year produced Miss International 2013 Bea Rose Santiago, and our very first and so far only Miss Supranational 2013 Mutya Datul and Miss Universe 2013 third runner-up Ariella Arida.

Candidate No. 32, Charmaine Elima, 24, is a looker from Binangonan, Rizal. She is the classic morena beauty typically sent to Miss Universe.  She was a semifinalist against a very tough field in 2013.  Her experience as a flight attendant for Philippines Airlines will certainly help her in the crucial question and answer (Q and A) round.

Elima is determined to win a crown and her years of hard work may prove to be successful this time around. I feel that she is best suited for either Misses Intercontinental, Grand International, or Supranational. If she does her homework well, she can even win Miss Universe Philippines.

Candidate No. 15, Maria Angelica “Mariel” de Leon, 23, is not only tall, but the 5’8” beauty also belongs to showbiz royalty as the daughter of Christopher de Leon and Sandy Andolong. De Leon is also an opera singer who can wow audiences with her beauty and talent.

This time around, you can see the determination in her eyes.  She really wants that crown, and she is working very hard to get it.  De Leon is very beautiful in person and, more important, she is a beautiful person—genuine, kind, and humble.  She has the height and looks required of a perfect delegate who can rock Miss Universe.


Candidate No. 10 Jehza Huelar, 22 years old, from Davao City and last year’s second runnerup. Huelar’s backstory might make her the main story. She lost both her parents to cancer, but has continued to work with a sports foundation that gives balls to children. She believes that sports helps in a child’s development of mind and body.  She is also the family’s breadwinner. She has a degree in Finance from Ateneo de Davao University.  My biggest reservation about Huelar, who stands 5’5 1/2”, is her height.

This year’s edition also drew a number of seasoned crossover candidates—those who competed but didn’t win in other national pageants such Miss Philippines Earth and Miss World Philippines. Expect these pageant veterans to give the repeaters a run for their money.

Candidate No. 19 Rachel Peters, 25, is a 5’9” stunner from Camarines Sur.  The Filipino-Australian beauty was fourth Princess in Miss World 2014 won by Valerie Weigmann.  Apart from her height, she has one of the best bodies in the competition and has been preparing for her first (and probably last) try in Bb. Pilipinas. Her beauty has been compared to Solenn Heusaff.  Peters can very well capture our first Intercontinental or Grand International crown.

Candidate No. 22 Chanel Olive Thomas, 5’9” tall, is also a Filipino-Australian beauty. As Miss Philippines Air 2015, she was one of the runners-up that year to the smart and beautiful Angelia Ong, who went on to score a back-to-back win for the country by clinching Miss Earth 2015. Thomas is a shoo-in for the semifinals, but let’s see if her performance will be good enough for a title.

Candidate No. 18 Nelda Ibe, 23 and 5’10”, hails from Tarlac.  She was second runnerup in Miss World Philippines 2014 and will be facing off again with Peters. Ibe, who has a very beautiful face, is dreaming of becoming a pilot. If I were to go by her beauty and previous pageant experience, Ibe is a contender for one of the crowns up for grabs this year. She will be a great representative for Misses International, Intercontinental, and Grand International.


Of course, we can never underestimate the charm of an ingénue.  This year, we have several outstanding delegates who may spoil the party for both repeaters and crossovers.

Candidate No. 31 Katarina Rodriguez, 5’7”, is a De La Salle University graduate who’s more popularly know for her stint in Asia’s Next Top Model Season 2.  Many pageant observers, including this writer, have put her on their watch list from that moment. She has the face, body, and charm that can easily win one of the titles at stake.  Her modeling and runway skills are unquestionable and she has a charming personality.  The question is which crown will she take home.  I would love to see her compete in either Miss International or Miss Supranational

Candidate No. 19 Sirene Sutton, 5’9”, is a supermodel prototype with beautiful Eurasian features.  I can see her doing very well in Misses Intercontinental and Supranational. If Sutton ups her game by doing well in the Q and A, she’s one first-timer who like Shamcey Supsup in 2011 could also run away with the Miss Universe Philippines crown.

Not much is know about Candidate No. 34 Gabriela Patricia Ortega from Albay.  But I’m pretty sure that as Bb. Pilipinas 2017 heats up, Gabriela will be on everyone’s watch list.  She is an architect and a graduate of Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura del Valles in Barcelona, Spain.  She has a beautiful mestiza face and, overall, looks very refined and fresh.

Depending on how tall she is, her stage presence and runway skills, this beauty can capture one of the major titles this year. Her face reminds me of Dindi Gallardo and Tweetie de Leon. Ortega can very well be this year’s ultimate dark horse who can win anything, perhaps even Miss Universe Philippines.


The Bb. Pilipinas 2017 has just begun.  As the pageant nears, we will get to see if other candidates emerge onto the spotlight.  Will these frontrunners maintain their position or will dark horses come from nowhere to clinch the coveted titles?

Ever since Miss Universe 2016 last January, the buzz in the pageant world has been the recalibration of the national pageants methods of choosing its winners.  Personally, I do not see the need to change our ways too much because the Philippines has been doing extremely well.  Shifting our strategy drastically may hurt us in the international scene.

Just because Miss Universe says they are looking for intelligent, confident, and empowered women doesn’t mean we only focus on the candidate’s degrees and academic achievements.  That’s the biggest mistake that we can make and it can affect our powerhouse status.  This is not a debate, an oratorical contest.  A smart delegate cannot showcase her interview skills unless she passes through and survives the swimsuit and evening gown rounds.

I strongly believe that our delegates should be stunningly beautiful Filipinas who also happen to be relatable, smart, witty, and have lots of personality.  It has to be a combination of all these qualities and not just one or two over the other.

This article originally appeared in Manila Bulletin.
All photos courtesy of candidates’ IG phots unless otherwise indicated.

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