Why UST has ‘most number of beauty queens’

What do Miriam Quiambao, Charlene Gonzales, Jennifer Barrientos and Janine Tugonon have in common?

Aside from representing the Philippines in Miss Universe, they all earned their respective undergraduate degrees in UST.

Miss Univivese first runners-up are Thomasians: Janine Tugonon and Miriam Quiambao
The Philippines’ first runners-up in Miss Universe are Thomasians: Janine Tugonon and Miriam Quiambao

The University of Santo Tomas has “produced more beauty queens than any other school in the Philippines”, the now controversial entertainment columnist Ricky Lo once wrote in his Philippine Star  column, quoting beauty expert and UST alumnus Felix Manuel.

The dean’s list
To prove this claim, Manuel and his fellow experts came up with a list of Thomasian titleholders.  (Click this to see full list: UST has most number of beauty queens)

Charlene Gonzales is a Psychology graduate, while Miriam Quiambao earned her Physical Therapy degree in UST.
Charlene Gonzales is a Psychology graduate, while Miriam Quiambao earned her Physical Therapy degree in UST.

Some of the notable Thomasian representatives to Miss Universe are Charlene Gonzalez (1994), Miriam Quiambao (1999) and Janine Tugonon (2012). Evangeline Pascual, Miss World 1973 first runner-up, is also a Thomasian. Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman was studying in UST when she first joined Binibining Pilipinas.

Pageant culture in UST
Why UST has produced so many pageant kings and queens is unquestionable, mainly because pageants have been ingrained in the Thomasian culture since time immemorial. In fact, pageants are among the major projects of most academic societies and student councils in UST.

Usual scenario at the UST Medicine Auditorium during a college-based pageant.

Each degree programs under the colleges hold their mini pageants (comparable to Regional pageants like Miss Tachira in Venezuela) to choose their representatives to the college-wide pageant (which is like the national pageants such as BBP, Miss USA, Miss Venezuela). The winners of the local pageants then head on to represent their colleges in the “international” level (a la Miss Universe) ¬– the Mr and Miss UST.

Started more than three decades ago, the Search for the Ideal Thomasian Personalities (formerly known as Mr and Ms UST) has been an annual event in the campus.

Rowena Castro, former advider of UST’s Student Organizations Coordinating Council said in a Varsitarian report that “the criteria for the contest are continuously refined so that the contest would hew more closely to the identity and mission of UST” — the reason the contest was rechristened the ‘Search for the Ideal Thomasian Personality.’”

Just like any other pageants, UST beauty contests also include photo shoots. Larger-than-life tarpaulin panels showing the candidates dominate the hallways of buildings a week before the big night. To show that the candidates are indeed the “ideal” Thomasian students, the contests have pre-pageant activities like essay writing, uniform modeling, eco wear fashion show and talent showcase, among others.

Most beauty queen handlers even storm the UST local pageants to look for their girls to send in national pageants such as Binibining Pilipinas and Miss Philippines Earth.

But not all Thomasians like this “culture”.

Winners are supposed to reflect the ideal Thomasian student, promoting the USTs “3 Cs,” referring to the Thomasian values of competence, commitment and compassion.

Titleholders for 2011.

Critics claim the contest “goes against the very spirit of Thomasian values because it is nothing but a vanity trip and pure crass commercialism. It’s just a contest of show-biz wanna-be’s.”

Despite the criticisms, there is no doubt that pageant culture in UST has contributed to the Philippines’ beauty “powerhouse” status.

Photos were grabbed from the Internet

Pageant enthusiasm

The Big Four winners of 2012 (Graphics by Drew)
The Big Four winners of 2012 (Graphics by Drew)

“Mention something about you that would surprise people.”

Without batting an eye, I said, “I’m a beauty pageant enthusiast.” The HR officer almost dropped his cup of coffee. The two other newbies were grinning. “Let’s just say I have an eye for beauty.”

* * *

I can still vividly remember watching the telecast of Miss Universe 1999. The show was very festive, and I almost jumped off my seat when Philippines was called in the top 10. Miriam Quiambao almost made it, but she lost to Botswana’s Mpule Kwelagobe. But the most memorable moment was when Miriam tripped in her sky blue Halston evening gown during the preliminaries. She tripped her way to people’s hearts. Until now, she remains the best Filipina delegate in Miss Universe for me.

* * *

I never missed a telecast of Miss Universe since 2007. It was heartbreaking to see the Philippines missing the cut until 2009. So it was totally expected that Filipinos would go crazy over Venus Raj’s top 5 finish in 2010. Of all the editions I’ve seen, 2010 remains the best in terms production value.

* * *

My fondness for beauty pageants led me to Missosology, a forum dedicated to pageants. There, I interact with people from all over the globe who share the same passion. I regularly write threads about pageants and post them there. My dedication finally paid off last month when I was promoted to Pageant Expert status.

* * *

To be honest, I was never a fan of Venus, Shamcey Suspsup and Janine Tugonon. Venus’ beauty isn’t my cup of tea. Shamcey was a diamond in the rough when she was crowned. Janine’s body was in bad shape when she rejoined Binibini this year. But what sets them apart from the rest is their determination to succeed. Venus fought for her crown against all odds. Shamcey worked hard to improve her styling. Janine hit the gym almost everyday to achieve her pageant ready body. That’s more commendable than having a flawless face.

* * *

The first time I saw Janine was when she was crowned as Miss UST in 2010. Back then, she wasn’t my favorite, but she caught my heart because of her good answer to the final question. When she joined Binibini in 2011, I was among the minority who believed she has the goods to make it. Many thought she was too raw and ordinary, but I was right when she made it to the top 15and even ended up as 1st runner-up. I had second thoughts, though, when she decided to rejoin last year. Her body was obviously a disaster. However, I can’t deny that her styling had improved. Although I was rooting for MJ Lastimosa, I had Janine as my alternate for the crown. She was heavily bashed, but it seemed the bashing served as her inspiration to succeed. Look at her now. She’s just classy.

* * *

I can’t give a concrete reason as to why I fancy beauty pageants. I like the thrill of predicting the outcomes, analyzing each girl’s potential and defending the relevance of pageants at this day and age. But one thing’s for sure, I appreciate a real beauty when I see one.