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Yes, benefit-ly!

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MY ARTICLE last week on the humble and colorful beginnings of Kapampangan gay pageant conteseras led to several trips down memory lane, with some very good friends commenting and sharing their equally beautiful anecdotes during those unforgettable years of our lives. This prompted me to share another iconic story of that bygone era when beautiful memories were made and lasting friendships were forged. 

This was in 1994 after the second staging of the Miss Universe pageant in Manila and the country’s pageant aficionados were still euphoric over Sushmita Sen’s come-from-behind-victory over the highly favored and pre-pageant favorites Venezuela’s Minorka Mercado and Colombia’s Carolina Gomez. One good friend was itching to join a pageant and win a crown so she could herself be a beauty queen in her own right. She was already based in Manila, working as a much-sought after hair and make-up artist who had a long list of steady and loyal clients, thanks to her talent, skills, and incomparable inter-personal skills. Here is someone who did not even reach Grade 3, could barely read and write but was able to carve a name for herself in the local industry and was able to send all her siblings to school. Her one unfinished business? To be crowned Ms. Gay San Andres Bukid. 

One weekend, she went home in the wee hours of the morning. She gathered us, and asked the group to prepare her for her ultimate pageant journey scheduled that same night. Being the supportive friends that we were, we came in full force to help her in any way we could. In an instant, we managed to put up a complete set of wardrobe for her, from head to toe, for all the various pageant segments. 

Aware of her limitations, she asked me to prepare her for the question-and-answer portion. She confided that she was already given her final question and all she needed was a very good answer. She would have wanted an answer in complete English but knew that she could not master the scripted answer. She wanted to impress the judges by saying a short line in English and then proceed to complete her answer in Filipino. She would be asked if she were in favor of legalizing divorce in the country. So, I told her to memorize one short line – Yes, definitely! She was so excited to utter this simple line in English so much so that from the time she sat on her chair for her make-up and hairdo, rode the rented jeep, arrived at the contest venue and at the backstage prior to the announcement of the top five, she would ask me to recall the line for her and together we would say, “Yes, definitely!” 

During the talent portion, we had to improvise and think of a talent that would be very easy for her to execute. Her make-up artist suggested a drama interpretation of the fictional character Sisa, with her dressed as a beggar and uttering lines looking for her two sons and asking the audience where here children were. Without any preparations, it was performed to the tune of Freddie Aguilar’s Bulag, Pipi at Bingi. I know, the music had nothing to do with talent but we had to come up with an instant talent. Much to our surprise, it was a hit among the audience and the judges as she effortlessly portrayed a deranged mother longing to see her two children. That was until she uttered the names of her sons. She must have felt the sudden adrenalin rush that when it was time for her to look for her sons, she said, “Nasaan ang mga anak ko? Crispin, Crispin, nasaan kayo? Crispin, Gaspar at Baltazar, nasaan kayo mga anak ko?” This sent all of us rolling to the floor, but hers was the final laugh as she was chosen Ms. Talent. 

It was a breeze for her to make it to the top 5, as she also won Best in Casual Wear, Best in Swimsuit and Best in Long Gown, including the Darling of the Crowd Award. When it was time for her to answer her final question, we all kept our fingers crossed knowing she might fumble on this last hurdle. The question was read, she took the microphone and looking every inch a beauty queen with her poise and confidence, she said, “Oh yes, benefit!” This elicited a few guffaws from the crowd, that somewhat signaled her to correct herself, so in an overly-excited manner she continued, “LY! Yes, benefit-Ly!”

Long story short? She won the title and a five-foot inch trophy she could hardly carry by herself. But prior to the announcement and crowning, she instructed us to wait where our rented Sarao jeep was parked. After the picture-taking, she rushed to us and signaled the driver to start the vehicle. Apparently, some of the contestants were protesting the results but our good fiend couldn’t care less. After all, she promised the organizers that if she won the title, she would donate all her cash prizes to the committee and would only take the sash, the crown and the trophy! That made her win another title from us – Ms. Gay Charity!

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