Tuesday, August 25, 2015
4:03 PM |
Missed Silliman: Anatomy of a Beauty Pageant
[UPDATED AUGUST 28]
Photo by Edjumar Romano
The beauty pageant was late to start, as was usual. But Miss Silliman has never really started on time since it began its contemporary incarnation as a stage spectacle and one of the most-awaited highlights of a week-long celebration called Founders Day in Silliman University. In a pageant-crazy country, Miss Silliman more than had draw: it had tradition. And like many beloved traditions, time can stall, and people can complain of its stalling — but when the curtain finally goes up to reveal the girls in that initial musical production pose, the collective rapture that bursts erases the inconveniences of a tardy start.
But somewhere half-past 7 PM, on the night of August 24th, in the darkened interiors of the Macias Sports Complex, the film producer Moira Lang — one of the judges for the final night of the pageant — turned to her co-judge, Felipe Antonio Remollo, the former mayor of Dumaguete City and a member of the university’s powerful Board of Trustees, and said: “Are you ready to sit this out for five hours or more?”
Mr. Remollo turned to her and said, “I bet you this wouldn’t last that long.”
And for a good part of the show, as segments and intermission numbers came and went, time seemed mercifully short, and there was indeed a chance this edition of Miss Silliman, now running its 69th iteration (it is one of the longest running pageants in the world, and older even than the Miss Universe), was going to be a short one. Co-hosts Mark Xander Fabillar, Hari ng Negros 2006, and Kim Covert, Miss Philippines Earth Water 2014, were pageant veterans and knew how to navigate the rocky terrains of pageant hosting: doing their best, they tried to smooth out a flow that seemed tailored for shortness anyway. Nothing could go wrong.
There was the requisite big production number, of course, and the inevitable self-introduction of the twelve candidates representing the different colleges and schools and programs of the university.
Then there was the competition for Best in Theme Wear, which consisted of the candidates appearing in gowns that closely resembled the colorful plumage of various kinds of birds from all over the country.
Then, while dressed in that avian-inspired couture, there was the competition for extrapolating on random — and relentless disturbing — pictures that perhaps was designed to get the candidates to mention buzzwords about advocacies and God and womanhood and the zeitgeist and what-not, with some flimsy tying up to the picture they are shown, all in the space of twenty seconds. A picture of a woman with a peeling face became a symbol for women fighting to become true to themselves. A picture of a man floating in water becomes a cry for help for humanity on the verge of changing things. Somebody always mentions God, the biggest buzzword of all — because what else can compete against the mention of the Divine? It is a pageant secret, in fact, to always do a variation of the sentence, “As long as you put God is in the centre of your lives, nothing can go wrong.” It answers everything.
Then, after a slew of intermission numbers — one with men confusing cheer dance for modern dance, another with women confusing Zumba moves for grace, and still another one with finalists for an upcoming singing competition (of course named Silliman Idol
) evoking a crowd ballad from the heart of the 1980s (the immortal "We Are the World") — the final competition going into the Top 5 began: the evening gown parade, set to jazzed up slow music, with all of the candidates wearing their take on sequined purpleness, with an almost unvaried choice of a serpentina silhouette for everyone.
Right about the end of this segment, Mr. Remollo finally turned to Ms. Lang, and said almost triumphantly: “See? You were wrong. We will be getting out of here before 11 PM.”
And that was when things suddenly took a turn for the worst.
And three hours later, half-past midnight, the stragglers from the long, long night came out of the shell-shocked arena with a question that burned in everyone’s head: What just happened? To echo Mr. Fabillar’s quick assessment of the trouble that erupted: “This is going to be one Miss Silliman pageant nobody will forget for a long, long time.”
He was right. And Ms. Lang was right. How do you exactly deal with the aftermath of a pageant suddenly thrown into the infamy of controversy?
It is not as if the Miss Silliman Pageant has been fully pristine and has lacked controversy for all of its history. It began as a popularity contest for campus co-eds in 1947, a project spearheaded by the school paper, The Sillimanian, to bolster morale in the years following the traumatic Japanese occupation of the country during World War II. The first winner was Patricia Obsequio who won 30.70% of the votes in a hotly contested race that saw relentless campaigning that lasted for weeks and surprised everyone with the vehemence with which voting was taken seriously. She was named Most Popular Coed, and her prize was movie tickets to the best cinema in town. “Vivacious and petite” Zony Cueva, on the other hand, was named Campus Cover Girl with 23.15% of the votes cast, and “angelic” Evelyn Gentilezo was named Campus Headline Girl with 13.74%. The contest continued in that format in its early years, later on becoming a co-production with the Student Government, which eventually folded the contest fully into its official lineup of activities for every schoolyear. Within a decade, it became a full production and the title changed to Miss Silliman University, and it has only grown more complex over the years. Miss Silliman became even bigger than most of the local pageants like Miss Dumaguete; it was more prestigious, and was arguably won more for smarts than for physical ideals. Miss Silliman became known as the quiz bee disguised as a beauty pageant — and the university revelled in that distinction.
Of course, controversies always erupt in races for beauty titles and in the upsets that usually spring from results that are unpopular or are at least wholly unexpected. When Gina Roxas won in 1987, her first runner-up, the niece of a popular Miss International title holder, was the expected winner — but the announcement of the otherwise caused a minor scandal, which deepened into allegations of bribery and harassment. Lua Padilla was the expected winner as well in 1994, having captured the imagination of the campus with her exotic and ethereal beauty and her magnificent vocal prowess that seemed a shoo-in for Best in Talent. During the final rehearsal, she sang “Ugoy ng Duyan” like an angel — and traipsed the stage like a winner. But in the subsequent final night, she developed a sudden case of laryngitis, paving the win for another girl, and unleashing questions still unanswered. Sandi Bobon was favoured to win in 1998, only to have an underdog in Winlove Jazz Miller stealing the title with a brilliant and unexpected turn at the final Q & A — which finally cemented Miss Silliman’s reputation as a pageant where the beauties win first runner-up and the loquacious debaters win the crown. And it isn’t always the final awarding of titles that causes a stir. In 2005, a Filipino-American candidate landing in the top three had to answer this final question: “Do you think Ninoy Aquino was right in saying that the Filipino is worth dying for?” To which she replied without hesitation: “I don’t know how to answer this question. I don’t know who Ninoy Aquino is.” And the host, who was asking the question, also said in a rejoinder: “I don’t know who he is either.” In the pandemonium that followed, dead air reigned until one of the advisers finally stood up, went up the stage, and explained to candidate and host who the late martyred Senator was. Needless to say, the candidate did not win that night.
In 2002, the controversy was even deeper, and had repercussions that lasted for most of that decade. Iana Alano’s win was much-deserved, but it is overshadowed by a leakage scandal involving questions for the pre-pageant competition that year. Most of the candidates threatened to back out of the competition right near the end of the run — and only with much cajoling (and the firing of the staff member who did the leakage) did all of them stay on until the final night. In the years to come, however, most colleges, especially the College of Nursing which was then under Dean Teresita Sy-Sinda (who had been the Honorary Chair of the legendary 50th anniversary pageant in 1997), chose to boycott the pageant, resulting to contests that had, at best, five candidates. Stacy Danika Alcantara won the title in 2004 in a contest between three girls.
Last night, after the evening gown competition for the 69th Miss Silliman pageant, co-hosts Mark Xander Fabillar and Kim Covert began the task of unfolding papers given to them by the organisers containing the names of the various winners of minor prizes (such as Best in Fitness, sponsored by Fitbox, and Miss Photogenic, sponsored by Skyler Studio, among others) and pageant categories: Best Speaker, Best in Gown, and Best in Theme Wear. The School of Public Affairs and Governance’s Shamah Bulangis dominated the talk categories, including receiving the Darling of the Press Award. But it was Engineering and Design’s Lexandria Bliss Dela Cerna who captured the audience’s imagination — and apparently the judges, which included, aside from Mr. Felipe Antonio Remollo and Ms. Moira Lang, television producer Melclaire Sy-Delfin, fashion designer Amir Sali, Miss Silliman 1986 Pia Francisco-Sy, celebrity Winwyn Marquez, and dancer Miguel Braganza, who served as chair of the board. They all unanimously chose Ms. Dela Cerna as their top choice for the night, and showered her with many awards. She was deemed a sure-fire shoo-in. She was the crowd favourite. For Ms. Delfin, she radiated what for her epitomized the title more than most. “She was simple and direct during our one-on-one this morning,” she said. “She didn’t have the needless, overdone flourish of some of the others. She was Miss Silliman to me.”
And then the hosts received the paper that contained the names of the Top 5 candidates from the organisers. And in the usual “random” order, the names revealed the following: Miss Arts and Sciences, Miss Nursing, Miss Business Administration, Miss Public Administration and Governance, and finally Miss Mass Communication. No Miss Engineering and Design.
Chaos broke. The crowd howled. There were boos directed at the judges.
But they all just sat there, dumbstruck, perplexed by results that apparently they were not even consulted with. And as more intermission numbers happened, they decided to do a little powwow — and discovered they had all voted for Miss Engineering and Design — and are confused why, despite winning all the top awards, she did not even get into the Top 5. They decided to lodge a protest with the organisers, effectively contesting the results.
Nobody in the audience knew what was going on. Only that the time was being stretched far too long. Only that the dead air became even deader. Only that the frazzled hosts were struggling valiantly to keep track of what was happening.
In the meantime, the behind-the-scenes video of the making of the pageant filled up the creeping doldrum. It played on and on, a flicker in the darkness that was slithering with waiting and discontent.
Nobody knew what was happening.
And then host Mark Fabillar came out from the shadows of backstage, and simply announced to the whole venue with an even tone: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Board of Judges has decided to protest the Top 5 results. They have requested the organizers to make it the Top 6.”
And the screaming — some unbelieving, many incredulous, most hopeful — began.
It is often easy to tell just how much preparation a Miss Silliman organising committee has gone for by the very quality of the final stage design they present the spectators. Ambition has a visual equivalent. This was an endeavour after all that was more than measured by the months allocated to make the event happen: it was also measured by marketing — and the more marketing that was accomplished, the more sophistication the show took in, and the more sophisticated the show became, the more likely you could tell that the organising committee had “its shit together,” so to speak.
The stage is always the first sign. Last night, the stage was a dim affair, a bare darkness of a proscenium with an upper stage and a lower stage, both connected to each other by three flights of stairs smack right in the middle of things. Flanking the stairs are several curiously misappropriated Grecian columns that looked stunted and out of place. There is a medium-sized screen at the top centre stage projecting all manners of graphics and videos evoking Miss Silliman 2015, and to the sides of it were the exits and entrances for the program’s cast. Above, hanging like doilies, were design elements made of some kind of white paper that resembled either dragons or bamboo shoots or orchids in the wild or torn toiler paper. All of these were drowning in sheer darkness, which was punctuated only by the occasional spotlight, and the turn of coloured lights from the lamps above. Perhaps the darkness had its uses: it hid away the barren undramatic hulk of a space. It was enough to tell you, coming in, to dial down your expectations.
On this very setting, the drama of Miss Silliman 2015 dragged on.
We can never know for sure what exactly happened backstage at the Macias Sports Complex as the dead air of the program lengthened to consume everyone that night. It had been a relatively packed house at the peak of it, but as negotiations got drawn, people started leaving, and soon there were patches of vacant seats here and there — although most people stayed, perhaps eager for the resolution of the drama, perhaps curious to find out if at this point anybody could get crowned at all. Someone nearby muttered, “This is far more thrilling than AlDub.” But it was what it was, and the show was faltering, and nobody quite knew what was exactly wrong. And nobody quite knew what exactly to do either. It was a night where everyone had their best intentions for everything. Nobody quite remembered the fullness of that cliche: that the road to hell was paved with so much good intentions.
From the audience’s point of view — and this is the point of view that mattered more than most — there was a prolonged lull at the end of the distribution of the minor awards and the announcement of the Top 5. And then there was another announcement that came wrapped in both shock and glee: Miss Engineering and Design, closed off from the circle of final girls, was going to join them, now a Top 6 instead of a Top 5. The chair of the Board of Judges, Miguel Braganza, made the announcement.
And the consensus from the audience that greeted that announcement seemed to be this: “Fine, good, let’s get on with this.” This was a girl, after all, who we just saw revelling in triumph as she got a flood of trophies and sashes just thirty minutes prior. The audience resoundingly booed when she did not get to the Top 5 — echoing the same exact dilemma when Kezia Montebon garnered all the top awards in 2013, and yet got shut out from the Top 5. Last night, the audience finally cheered when it dawned on everyone that Miss Engineering and Design might still have a fighting chance after all.
Later, Mr. Remollo would admit they knew full well she had no chance, after the Board of Judges were finally shown, during the tense deliberation backstage, how the scale of scoring was to be done: 30 percent from the Press Launch, another 30 percent from the Pre-pageant, and finally the last 40% from the Final Pageant Night. Getting her to the Top 6, according to Mr. Remollo, was a gesture more than most, an acknowledgement of the brilliance she managed to do that final night, and for which the final set of judges took note of. Ms. Delfin would later say: “Imagine the trauma. Extreme high and lows of emotions in a span of minutes… She got all awards, at the peak of it. And then boom, wala diay syay labot sa
Top 5.” Much earlier, she had expressed surprise at the breakdown of the scores: “Thirty percent from the press launch? Who does that? I have never heard of a pageant that does that.”
Mr. Braganza and Ms. Lang would also admit to a confusion: why would they be flown in, be put up in a nice hotel, only for them to find out that they really had no say on the winner? “Sixty percent of the results have already been determined before we came in,” Mr. Braganza said. It was not, according to them, a lot of room to determine a fair winner. All of them had one impression: it was impossible to make a good final night choice with a statistically impossible set of scoring rules, where the choice was already made for them even before they came in to judge. It made them merely ceremonial judges. And in the scheme of things, they were, in fact, the FINAL judges, and the results would officially be attributed to them. And so when their unanimous winner didn’t even get in, that's when they decided to protest the results of the Top 5.
Miss Silliman 2007 Gretel delos Santos weighed in on the flawed scoring system: “So all this mess was due to faulty criteria setting and valuation. Arbitrary numbers placed on seemingly important characteristics and events. Early on, when we [at the College of Law] read the criteria, we did try to ask the organizers to change the weights to make them more reflective of the one who should wear the crown, and at the same time, give value to consistent excellent performance throughout the journey. But we were met with stubborn heads. [I wish they listened to us, the ones who came before them.] Math matters. At first glance, we didn't like the criteria they set. Math-wise, the criteria valued events na meh ra
and [gave] them equal footing with the Pageant Night performance. So we asked them to change the criteria. No deal man daw
. So, okay.”
But back to the night itself.
Backstage, some tantrums were being thrown as the air became giddy with confusion. Co-hosts Mark Fabillar and Kim Covert soon announced how it would go: that the six girls would be sequestered in a specially sound-proofed space somewhere in the venue where it would be impossible for any of them to hear the same shared Final Question all six of them had to answer. They had to render their answers within 20 seconds, or less.
The final question was the singular ultimate measurement for a girl to be proclaimed Miss Silliman, usually one that was formulated by the Vice President for Academic Affairs of the university itself. In the old days, organisers used to do this sequestration by putting the final girls in a room in one wing of the Gymnasium, the old former venue of the pageant, where loud music would be blasted into the interiors, with some volunteers banging on the door to prevent what was going on outside to get into the room. In Macias, there were caverns in the bowels of the venue suitable enough for this purpose without the old-fashioned noisemaking effort to cancel out the PA system. But the walk from that room to the Macias stage is long and fraught with obstacles, and the girls in very high heels had to navigate the route with a slow thoroughness. And so the evening dragged on, and finally, the first of the final girls made her appearance on top of the stage.
The Final Question was: “How do you relate the Miss Silliman pageant to the whole person education of Silliman University?" Miss Mass Communication said something about knowing Silliman like the back of her hand. Miss Business Administration said something about how the pageant taught her the lesson that beauty was beyond skin-deep. Miss Arts and Sciences reiterated that there was no question that Silliman University could produce holistic graduates, and Miss SPAG also said that holistic graduates were what Miss Silliman was all about. Miss Nursing reminded everyone Silliman University revolved around the Via, Veritas, Vita, the school motto. And finally, Miss Engineering and Design, last but not the least, said that a Silliman woman was one who kept her faith in God.
And then another long lull after all the final girls have exited. A forgettable matinee idol from GMA TV tried to make light of the sense of doom pervading the venue by galloping around the area in an effort to sing a song -- but ended up doing more selfies than doing any performing. Then there was more lull.
Out of the darkness, Mr. Braganza came up to the stage again to join the hosts and make another announcement. It had been decided that, following strictly the rules of the pageant, eight finalists and not five or six were to be announced — and joining the six were Miss Education and Miss Institute of Clinical Science. There was going to be apparently a Top 8.
Again, the crowd roared — but now out of confusion, and perhaps out of desperation to finally go home. It was nearing midnight, and the puzzle was only getting to be more intricate.
And that was when host Mark Fabillar interjected, and reminded everyone that Miss Education and Miss Institute of Clinical Sciences, because they were not sequestered like the rest of the final girls, had already heard the final question — and it would be unfair for the Top 6 if this new change was to push through.
After another lull, the next decision came: there was going to be a new question, and all the Top 8 girls had to go back on stage, one at a time, and go for another round of questioning.
Finally, a representative from the organising committee took to the stage, made an apology for the bewildering turn of events — and explained the following:
That the rules of the pageant had, in fact, stated the announcement of eight finalists. That the organising committee had asked the candidates to sign a waiver agreeing to a decision to pare down the number of finalists from eight to five. Also revealed was this: that Miss Engineering and Design was in fact only Top 8 in the overall ranking, having apparently done not so well in the Press Launch, which was assigned a weight of 30 percent of the final score. And that Top 6 and Top 7 were Miss Education and Miss Institute of Clinical Science, respectively. And that if Miss Engineering and Design had to be accommodated, fairness dictated that the other two had to be considered as well.
Pandemonium. And then another long, uncomfortable lull. Such were the extremes for the night.
Backstage, the girls were adamant about not going through another round of questioning again. In the meantime, in the middle of all this tense back and forth, Miss Engineering and Design, only 17 years old, had crumbled from the pressure and the humiliation — and finally, tearfully decided to withdraw from the Top 6. (Reports that she would later end up that night in the hospital are false, however.) The candidates also voted among themselves: only the Top 5 could go on.
And from that final decisiveness coming from the girls, the results were announced.
In fifth place was Dae Narah Garcia from the College of Mass Communication.
In fourth place was Maria Christina Goodwin from the College of Nursing.
Miss Silliman Headline Girl, or second runner-up, was Shamah Bulangis from the School of Public Affairs and Governance.
Miss Silliman Cover Girl, or first runner-up, was Jeva Rhoden from the College of Arts and Sciences.
The College of Business Administration once again won the Miss Silliman crown. Genin Amiscaray was Miss Silliman 2015.
And this is the thing about the final night: it has become an afterthought despite visual evidence to the contrary. They do put on a big show. They do bring in big name judges. But their efforts become almost ceremonial, their judgment practically having no bearing on the eventual winner.
It does create a kind of a shock for those seeing the events from the Final Night, to see a girl winning consistently -- only to be told that she was not winning at all. Worse, that she had no chance, ever.
It is jarring.
It is unfair to the girl. And to all the other girls. To quote Miss Dumaguete 2014 and former Miss Silliman candidate Malka Shaver: “It's hella hard getting up on stage and putting yourself next to other girls for the purpose of being judged. It's worse when you do your best, prove to be deserving and start expecting, let down, then called back up, then judged because people are saying na
-‘biased,’ and have to answer a final question while trying to keep calm and poise as if all these emotions aren't building up inside you. It's really such a shame! No one is more affected by this Miss Silliman fiasco than Miss Engineering. She was an awesome candidate and she deserved better than that.”
And if this is the case for Final Nights, why do we spend so much on these big name judges when they are practically ceremonial? In the final analysis, the girls did not deserve a farce. We have asked them to participate in a tradition that has probably lost its meaning. What was Miss Silliman for when it first began again? To boost morale. Does it still aspire for the same? If not, why are we still holding it?
This is a story of shattered expectations and great disappointments. None of them are villains in the whole spread of the story. For the organisers, their story is that of following as best as they could the provisions of their rules -- and perhaps their biggest mistake was panicking at the height of the challenges that came their way. For the judges, their story is that of making their presence matter in the sum of all things -- and perhaps their biggest disappointment was finding out that an arcane set of weights robbed them of the influence that was due them. For the candidates, their story is that of loss of innocence, and getting dragged into circumstances they should have been protected from. If there was one villain in this story, it was the sheer inability to do the proper mathematics to weight the measures of the win. Math, to quote Ms. Delos Santos once more, actually matters, even in beauty pageants.
In the end, the girls had the final say, and voted not to be played around anymore in a system that was frightfully flawed, it diminished everyone, even those who tried to make it work.
Lurlyn Mae Carmona had premonitions about what could happen on the night of August 24th. But she was, by her own admission, a naturally paranoid girl — and she took her fears that night as unfounded, perhaps something borne out of the typical organizer’s fear of Murphy’s Law.
Because there are really only two things that can happen in any event of this magnitude: it can either be a resounding success or a resounding flop. But Ms. Carmona had felt the same kind of crippling fear when Pre-Pageant Night was about to unfold on August 20th — and that event came off without any hitches, perhaps admitting a hiccup or two. What event could be perfect after all?
True, the Press Launch that happened on August 3 was completely rained out, and the organizers had to scramble to transfer the hordes attending that event from the open-air amphitheatre to the nearby but more confined space at the second floor of old Oriental Hall. But that was an event marred by an act of God, and the interiors of Oriental Hall had always been their Plan B, albeit a bad one in hindsight. Still, they had apologised for that snafu in their social media sites — and everyone, it seemed, had been appeased by that. Rain is rain, and Founders Day in Silliman without rain is an impossibility.
And so here Ms. Carmona was, the head of PR for Miss Silliman, battling with the feeling that things were about to go wrong, and telling herself she didn’t need this bout of paranoia right now. True, the ushering was already a mess, and she was getting angry: Why wasn’t the Corps of Ambassadors — traditionally the ushers for Miss Silliman — not tapped to help out this year? Why did anyone forget that very important detail? There was already a mess in the seating arrangements, especially around the VIP area. Seats meant for the sponsors were being taken by people who were not supposed to be there — and nothing it seemed could be done about it. She also just learned that tickets were being printed far more than the venue could handle — but she told herself to take it easy: looking around her, Macias didn’t seem like it was bursting out of its seams. Everything will be all right, everything will be all right, she made herself think.
It was already 6:30 PM.
For some reason, she chose not to go backstage, preferring to help out by being in the audience area herself, managing what she could from the small chaos of accommodating sponsors and guests who could not be seated. Plus, there were already too many people going about backstage, trying to do their jobs, and she didn’t want to add to the needless traffic. Sha’ianne Lawas, the chairperson of the Miss Silliman Organizing Committee, should be around already, helped out by a plethora of vice-chairpersons and various committee members. (They had started with a hundred student volunteers in May — which trickled down to only 30 by the time August came.) Their adviser Joan Generoso, a faculty member from the Department of English and Literature, was also already out front, prepped to help out with any emergency.
Still, it had not been an easy organisation to handle, to be sure. They had started early to prepare for things — in May, in fact, three months earlier than most organising committees in the recent past — but the first person tapped to chair the committee had won an exchange scholarship to go to Korea for a year, and so had to drop out. Mr. Lawas, already a veteran of many student-ran events, had to step in — and there was no reason not to trust him with the gargantuan task of handling Miss Silliman, an event so passionately followed by many people, something every one always had an opinion about, most of them starting with the words, “In my day, we did it this way….” There could be no pleasing everyone when it came to Miss Silliman.
The incoming Student Government president Kirk Philip Emperado presumably had his fullest trust in Mr. Lawas’ capabilities, and while Mr. Emperado was not exactly much too hands-on with the detailed handling of every aspect of organizing Miss Silliman, he wasn’t hands-off either. (By the time the fiasco was unfolding, he was backstage trying to iron out delicately the fast unraveling of the 69th edition of the pageant.) Already Mr. Emperado had been gaining kudos from many students for how well he had been handling student events since the beginning of the new school year. In many ways, the supreme success of those events — the First Week, the Acquaintance Party, and others — created a level of expectation for the Hibalag Festival that was much too high that any false moves — even how little — could have been a trigger for a miasma of disappointment. Success always breeds detractors armed with sharp knives, waiting for that singular mistake for them to pounce and go for the jugular.
By the time the pageant was in full swing, Ms. Carmona allowed herself to relax. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. Soon, after the Top 5 was announced, she turned to her ex-boyfriend, who was her date for the night, and said, “I’m going to the CR before this segment starts. This is my favourite part of the show, and I don’t want to miss it.”
By the time she returned, the bomb had already dropped. Her worst fears from the beginning of that evening had been realised. The chaos was already heaving between instances of shrill shock and stupefying silence. By the time it was announced that they were going to go from Top 6 to Top 8, all she could think of was: “Who made the call to go for the Top 6 in the first place? This is a very, very big mistake.” When she finally decided to go backstage, she found people with shell-shocked faces.
For co-host Kim Covert, the sense of trouble came gradually, from the sum of small things that did not exactly add up. She and Mark Fabillar had already announced the Top 5, and while waiting for the Final Q & A to start, she felt something was amiss. She was about to go back to the stage with her co-host, the final question already in their hands — and then she noticed something strange. “How come the judges are not in their seats?” she asked Mark and anyone around her who cared to listen. They could not very well begin the segment when the judges themselves were missing.
From what Ms. Covert could observe, a furious deliberation was taking place in private, attended to by some university officials. Ground Zero was a room in the venue designated as the “candidates’ booth,” the isolation room, and try to imagine the personas raging inside: the judges themselves, the frazzled candidates, the officials trying to do damage control, and the candidates’ furious handlers — most of them opinionated, all of them busy poring over the score sheets, all of them trying to do what’s best for the situation with nerves already fraying.
One of Ms. Carmona’s committee members asked her whether they should go inside the room to help clarify things — and she said, “Don’t. You’re only going to enter the snake pit.” They did anyway, and soon came out of it bruised and on the verge of tears, more from confusion than anything else. Other drama unfolded. Outside the room, near the stage, one of the hosts was throwing a fit over something that was not received well, and threatened to walk out.
According to Miss School of Public Administration and Governance Shamah Bulangis, the Top 5 were shocked when one of the organisers suddenly ushered Miss Engineering and Design into the isolation room. "We didn't know what was happening onstage," Ms. Bulangis said. "We were just informed that the judges wanted her in the Top 6. We were oblivious as to the ranking, but I had a hunch what was going to happen if Lex was going to answer the question. It was left unspoken -- but everyone's stares said it. She was going be crowned queen."
Most of them in the initial Top 5 signalled hesitant receptiveness to the idea -- because what else could you do? But apparently, for the handlers outside, it was a big thing. According to one witness, they were boo-ing and then trying to stop Miss Engineering and Design from going outside to answer the Final Question. "There was confusion and I didn't know who finally told her to go out, the organizers or her handlers," said Ms. Bulangis. They were sitting next to each other and Ms. Engineering and Design said she didn't want to go out anymore.
But she was indeed told to go out, and Ms. Engineering and Design finally relented. Out front, she faced the glare of the spotlight and the expectant crowd and some boo-ing. The hosts rattled off the final question -- and in the despair of trying to regain composure and still look poised, she answered, slowly, trying to make sense of everything that was happening. With every pause she made, some in the crowd would snicker, and then shushed by the rest.
When the ordeal was through, she exited in a hurry -- and Ms. Bulangis remember receiving her backstage with a hug. Ms. Engineering and Design's voice was cracking as she sobbed into Ms. Bulangis' shoulders: "I was not prepared, I was not prepared... I've accepted that I was not part of the Top 5. I was really not prepared for the question."
They all went back to the isolation room. By then, some key people -- including the handlers -- finally learned of the rankings, and that was then when Miss Education and Miss ICLS signalled that they felt cheated. Their handlers were also pushing them to go out and answer the final question. Some of the candidates were already arguing with some of the organizers.
When it was announced that there was going be a Top 8, and there was to be another Final Question, they went ballistic. Someone threatened legal action. Some of the girls were already crying, others were angry, but Miss Business Administration remained calm. "I remained silent," Ms. Bulangis remembered. "Which is rare -- but I didn't want to weigh into the discussion anymore because the tension was already high. I personally didn't mind answering another question, but I was not the only candidate."
By the time it was decided that a brand new Final Question was being formulated for the new Top 8, Ms. Covert was already calling Miss Mass Communication, the first finalist, to come out and join the hosts on stage. She did not come out. Inside, the girls were taking the matter into their own hands. “I was holding Lex’s [Miss Engineering and Design] hand throughout the ordeal,” Ms. Bulangis said. “But it wasn’t just her who was affected. Miss Education and Miss ICLS were crying as well. It was unfair, not only to Lex, but to both of them. They did well in the Pre-Pageant more than Lex daw, and just because she looked more graceful and pristine that night did not mean she should be favoured over them. They felt as if the judges, who did not know how they performed before the pageant in the first place, were judging based on looks alone and not the content. They felt they did not recognize the importance of the hard work they put in from Day 1. They felt cheated.”
"When the retention of the Top 5 was announced, everyone looked alive," she went on. "The handlers were happy, the organizers were half-relieved, and I'm pretty sure the judges were disappointed."
A minor battle was indeed averted -- but everyone seemed scarred.
In retrospect, Ms. Carmona thinks the brickbats the members of the Miss Silliman Organizing Committee are receiving are more than unfair: “We’re still students after all. This is our laboratory, and mistakes will always be made. I pity my fellow committee members who gave their all for this event — only to find them cowering now from all the harsh criticism they are getting.”
And then also this: “I think we’re forgetting that Miss Silliman is not supposed to be your typical beauty pageant. That the beauty and elegance showcased in the Final Night are not the only considerations to be had in choosing a winner. Our biggest mistake was not being able to explain that to the judges. We did not orient them. But brains do count here, more than beauty even."
But for Moira Lang, one of the judges, this contains the implication that the judges don't come up to their level of a more enlightened and higher appreciation of real beauty. "That's too romanticized. And sana 'wag magtago
behind 'youth,' behind being 'mere' students. Nagkaroon ng gulo dahil hindi pinapirma ang
judges on the results bago in
Top 5 -- sana na
-clarify at naresolba nang mas maayos
among cooler heads. And this is very important: walang nanigaw o nam
bully among the judges. Malakas ang dating ng iba
, yes, but there were more of us who were calm, even gentle, with the student organizer who faced us. Lalo na sina
Ipe [Remollo] and Miguel [Braganza]. Also, hindi kami sumugod
backstage. Tinawag kami
to discuss things. Parang lumalabas na nagpaiyak kami ng mga bata
... Not once did I feel that they tried to see it from our point of view. Bagkus ang dating sa akin ay: 'Bisita namin kayo, tapos pinahirapan niyo kami?
And extra lang naman kayo sa
process, last 40%, so 'wag kayo masyadong
feeling.' Basic message ko lang naman sa kanila is, konting
Still, for Ms. Carmona, the pageant even goes beyond beauty and brains. "Kindness also counts. Which is why in my heart, Miss Business Administration deserved to be Miss Silliman. She had been very kind all throughout this experience. She helped out every which way, and when we made mistakes, she was the first one to call our attention to it, but always in a kind way. Yes, she did use the God-card all too often in this pageant, which could be off-putting to some, but for me, her beauty shone all the more because of her kindness. She became more beautiful because of that, and I think we crowned the right Miss Silliman.”
When the night drew to a close and the new Miss Silliman had been crowned — complete with Miss Business Administration dramatically kneeling in front of the crowd in a supposed supplication to the Divine — the audience swarmed the stage to congratulate the winners, and to bask in the unasked question hovering over everyone: what the hell just happened? Someone from the organizing committee took to the mic and asked for the members to stay put and stay behind for a meeting. Nobody stayed behind.
Ms. Carmona went home and slept like a rock, like many of the rest. The next night, to relieve the stress, she swore to stay away from Facebook and got a tattoo instead, right in the centre of her backside — “9.3167° N, 123.3000° E,” the coordinates of Dumaguete itself. She was leaving for the U.S. after graduation, and she wanted to remind herself that for the most part, her Silliman stay had been a very memorable one.
After the pageant, Ms. Covert found out her bag was stolen backstage — her wallet and cards, her cellphone all inside. She stumbled across Mr. Lawas a few nights later, and told him, “Can you help me? I lost my bag during the pageant.”
“What’s the colour of your bag?” he reportedly said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said quietly. “Everybody lost something that night.”
Then he walked silently away.
Labels: dumaguete, feminism, issues, miss silliman, pageants, silliman
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