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ONE can find themselves cheering against their will during the Binibining Pilipinas National Costumes Fashion Show. It’s one of the events leading to the Grand Coronation Night on July 31 at the Araneta Coliseum, preceding the Parade of Beauties held at the Araneta Center. Organized by Bb. Pilipinas Charities, Inc. (under the Araneta Group), the pageant, with 40 candidates, will determine the country’s representatives for the following international pageants: Miss International, Miss Grand International, Miss Intercontinental, and Miss Globe.
Pageant fans from all over the country filled up the New Frontier Theater and brought whistles, vuvuzuelas, balloons, and lit-up signs to cheer for their favorite candidates. The energy was akin to that of an international football game (except everyone cheered on wore heels). This isn’t your ordinary fashion show, where staid audiences would clap and gasp when appropriate. There was a palpable energy in the crowd, with this reporter noting a vibration in the walls from all the screaming from the fans of at least one candidate.
The aspiring pageant queens (as they’re known in pageant circles) had at their arsenal a fashion industry happy to send a candidate abroad wearing one of their creations. Two designers were household names in the game for two different reasons: high society designer Renee Salud designed for Bb. No. 3, Ms. Taguig Diana Joy Pinto, and celebrity Paolo Ballesteros (the future host of Drag Race Philippines who happens to bea descendant of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo) designed for Bb. No. 7, Ms. Oriental Mindoro, Graciella Sheine Lehmann.
Here are my top ten picks for Bb. Pilipinas Best National Costume, with some help from the cheering crowd.
1.) Graciella Sheine Lehmann (Oriental Mindoro); Tikbalang Costume by Paolo Ballesteros
There is no question that we would have picked this for first place. The costume, based on a mythical Filipino half-horse, half-man monster has already made the rounds of social media and some major news outlets, and people next to this reporter during the show were already looking forward to seeing it. Big, white, and equine, sheer fabric formed the Tikbalang’s tail, with a structure forming the head rising from above Ms. Lehmann’s own head. The structure, matching a staff, resembles the twisted vines of a Balete tree, while pearls and rhinestones dripped all around the costume, down to Ms. Lehmann’s “hooves.” Ms. Lehmann gamely mimed a horse about to trot as she appeared on the runway, loud cheers preceding her as a wisp of the costume popped out while she was waiting in the stage’s wings.
2.) Herlene Nicole Budol (Angono, Rizal); Higantes Festival Costume by Patrick Isorena and Ebok Sausa Pinpino
Ms. Budol, a viral TV personality transformed into a beauty queen, went on the runway right after Ms. Lehmann. She was not to be upstaged by Ms. Lehmann’s gigantic costume, wearing a giant of a costume (literally) of her own. Based on her home province’s Higantes Festival, Ms. Budol went onstage dragging behind her a giant papier-mâché puppet, with a head sculpted after the face of 2018 Miss Universe Catriona Gray. In addition to this, she wore a cape which fanned out to reveal sea creatures. This cape rested above an orange catsuit with little golden fringes (making her resemble a shrimp), which she gamely shook as she shimmied — a reference to her stint in a gameshow where she was jokingly nicknamed “hipon” (a local word for shrimp; a Filipino joke for a person with a well-proportioned body and missing a face to go with it, the way one eats a shrimp and discards its head). Who’s laughing now?
3.) Gabrielle Camille Basiano (Borongan, Eastern Samar); Virgin Mary Costume by Ken Batino and Jevin Salaysay
Another costume that has made the social media and news outlet rounds, Ms. Basiano came out on the runway with her upper body encased in a frame, veiled by curtains. Her legs shaped to look like a classical pedestal, Ms. Basiano walked slowly on the stage as the previously wild crowd held its breath. A hush fell over the crowd as she slowly parted her curtains, unveiling her in a pose with her eyes raised up to heaven, such as in paintings of the Virgin Mary. Her fully revealed face was the crowd’s cue to scream and clap, this reporter included. The costume was inspired by the Padul-Ong festival of her home province, which tells the tale of a Lady in White (believed to be the Blessed Virgin) who visits the Hamorawan Spring.
4.) Cyrille Payumo (Porac, Pampanga); Aeta Magantsi Costume by Rich Sabinian and the Aeta Magantsi
There could be some raised eyebrows here for a possible case of cultural appropriation, but Ms. Payumo proudly named the indigenous Aeta Magantsi of Porac for making the ornaments of her dress. A paneled skirt had paintings of Aeta scenes, which she took off to reveal a dress embellished with bamboo pieces and butterfly sleeves made with indigenous fabric. The noise of Ms. Payumo’s fans created a vibration which one could feel in their seats.
5.) Yllana Marie Aduana (Laguna); Maria Makiling Costume by Jomar Peralta
Whistles, cheers, and buzzing called Ms. Aduana to the stage, who wore a forest-themed catsuit and a golden headdress. Forest creatures with bobbing heads surrounded her, as she dragged around her a miniature float depicting a sylvan scene, in homage to the fey guardian of Laguna’s most famous peak, Mt. Makiling.
6.) Anne Carres de Mesa (Batangas); Holy Cross of Alitagtag Costume by Odelon Simpao
Based on a 1595 relic found in Ms. De Mesa’s home province, gold baroque embroidery, rich crimson velvet, and intricate beading formed a backdrop for a gold cross and halo surrounding Ms. De Mesa. Gold links rained down from this halo, and it shimmered as her fans did not just cheer, but screamed for her as she walked down the runway.
7.) Ethel Abellanosa (La Union); Grapes Costume by Jeric Sayno
A vision in purple and green, with a flounced skirt and spherical decor that looked ready to burst, Ms. Abellanosa was dressed as a bunch of grapes to give credit to her home province, one of the few places in the country where grapes are grown — a fact not forgotten by cheering fans.
8.) Jessica Rose McEwen (Floridablanca, Pampanga); Pinukpukan Festival Costume by Ken Batino and Jevin Salaysay
Pampanga’s Pinukpukan Festival honors many things: the local craft of making cooking utensils, the decorative metal art in the province, and St. Joseph. This one was also being whispered about by the pageant veterans sitting next to this reporter during the show, and it did not disappoint. Her fans shouted as she came out in a vision of silver, with the utensils of her hometown framing her face in a very, very high collar.
9.) Roberta Angela Tamondong (San Pablo, Laguna); Buko Festival Costume by Lanny Liwag
A crowd was chanting her name — “RO-BER-TA!” — as she stepped out on the runway. The ripples on the surface of the Seven Lakes of San Pablo were recreated in fabric to form her skirt, and techniques from the surrounding towns were used to make the dress, while green and white lattice formed the basket-shaped sleeves of the gown.
10.) Elda Louise Aznar (Davao del Sur); Sari Costume by Neil Patrick Jimlani
One of the staider entries to this list and on the show, Ms. Aznar looked tall in a green dress with golden embroidery. We would have picked another dress, honestly, but Ms. Aznar seems to be a crowd favorite, with people chanting her name early on in the show (as Bb. No. 6).
HONORABLE MENTIONSome dresses just didn’t make as much of an impact as they should have. We’re looking at you, Patricia Ann Tan (Masbate), who wore a rodeo-inspired dress with moving cows and horses (by Kennedy John Gasper). We also liked the Ibong Adarna dress of Jashmin Dimaculangan (by ER Stephen Alvarado), which had a cape that fanned out to show a rainbow, which a statement says is to honor the LGBTQ+ community. — Joseph L. Garcia