By José Abeto Zaide
Catriona Gray was runaway winner of Miss Universe Philippines at the Binibining Pilipinas grand coronation night the other Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The Filipino-Australian television host, singer, model was the strongest and most popular candidate. The 25-year-old beauty from Albay collected several awards early on in the pageant. She received the Pitoy Moreno Best in National Costume award, was named Miss Ever Bilena and Miss Jag Denim Queen, and also won Best in Swimsuit and Best in Long Gown.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT. No big surprise. Gray was the Philippine candidate for Miss World 2016. The Big Dome erupted in applause at Gray’s crowning, convinced that she should be the Philippine candidate at the Miss Universe pageant in December with great expectations to bring home the country’s fourth such crown. Her previous stint at Miss World 2016, where she placed among top 5 finalists, gives her the edge and she will be one of the most closely watched.
BEAUTY & BRAINS. US Ambassador Sung Kim asked Catriona what her message to the women of Marawi would be at this time of recovery. Her response: “Thank you for that question. My answer and my message to the women are to be strong. As women, we’re the head of the household and we have amazing influence not only in our own families as mothers, sisters, and friends, but also in our community. If we could get the women to stay strong and be that image of strength for the children and the people around them, then once the rebuilding is complete and is underway, the morale of the community will stay strong and high.”
This year’s judges of the beauty pageant were Megawide Construction Chairman Edgar Saavedra, Novotel Hotels GM Mike Brown, two Blue Eagles (volleyball player Alyssa Valdez and basketball player Thirdy Ravena), ABS-CBN Director Martin Lopez, Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman, Ces Drilon, Colombian Ambassador Victor Echiverri, and US Ambassador Sung Kim.
Explaining his vote for the universal Philippine ID system, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said the law will have a price tag of P25 billion, spread over five years. The bill will come up to P220 per individual, based on a 2022 population of 114,009,508. He concluded, “While card holders will get their number and card for free, they will, however, indirectly pay for it as taxpayers.” Which proves the adage that there are no freebies from your government.
CLOSE-OPEN. After a series of interagency meetings, DOT, DENR, and DILG agreed to recommend to President Duterte the total closure for one year of Boracay. Closing the island resort is necessary to implement a common plan of action to fully rehabilitate this prime tourist destination for the millions of visitors every year.
DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said the interagency meeting recommended specific tasks and objectives that must be accomplished by the rehabilitation program: The upgrading of Boracay’s sewerage system; installation of all the required solid waste management facilities for full compliance with the provisions of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act; removal of illegal structures in forest lands and wetlands, easement areas and even geologically hazardous areas; road widening and construction, pipe-laying and excavations to improve traffic; rationalization of Boracay’s transportation system.
The closure of a major tourism asset to visitor traffic is not unique, or without dividends. After the tsunami on December 26, 2004, which took over 4.000 lives, the highly successful island of Phuket in Thailand was forced to close down for a year to facilitate the rebuilding and reconstruction. Phuket reinvented itself, and for the last 10 years, Thais and travel operators have been trumpeting Phuket as “Paradise As Usual.”
ESCAPE CLAUSE? But not all resorts in Boracay will be closed, says Regional Director for Western Visayas Helen Catalbas “It’s not really a physical closure. It doesn’t mean that all entry points to Boracay will be blocked.” If the closure recommendation is approved, Catalbas said that it will only affect those that have been identified as violators. Contributing to the confusion as to what the closure recommendation meant, Catalbas noted that Boracay’s law-abiding establishments will continue to be open to tourists on the island dubbed “Asia’s 24/7.” DOT Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre adds that the inter-agency recommendation needs the approval of President Duterte.
NO KINI FOR BURKINI. The French resort of Cannes has banned full-body, head-covering swimsuits worn by some Muslim women from its beaches, citing security concerns. A City Hall official said the measure, in effect until the end of August, could apply to burkini-style swimsuits. Violators risk a 38-euro ($42) fine. The mayor calls the burkini “the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion.”
Relatedly, tourists sporting beachwear consisting of narrow strips of clothing like T-back bikinis, thongs, and G-strings, may soon be banned from Palawan beaches. Board Member Cherry Pie Acosta filed yesterday a measure that wants to prohibit visitors, both Filipinos and foreigners – from being scantily clad in all beach resorts and crowded places in the province. “They will only be allowed if they are wearing tops to cover those T-backs and other skimpy swimming attires. They have to respect our culture. We are different, and when we are in their countries we also respect their culture,” she said.
ENFIN, A POSTSCRIPT ON THE WORLD AND THE UNIVERSE. My father Joe F. Zaide recalled that whe he was press attaché in the ’60s at our Tokyo embassy, two Philippine Reparations Commissioners were espied at Marunochi – Greg Abad with Miss Universe on his arm and Hermie Atienza with Miss World on his. To this wondrous sight, a foreign correspondent exclaimed to Joe: “With these two Filipinos, you have the World and the Universe!”
Greg Abad became my boss as our ambassador to Bonn, Germany. But that’s another story.
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