By Atty. Mel Sta. Maria
Catriona Gray is the new Miss Universe. She is beautiful, smart, and a hard worker. Despite the Caucasian and Asian blood blending in her veins, she genuinely loves being a Filipina. “Raise the Flag” she said was to be the title of the song she will write for all the 104 million Filipinos who love and support her.
She is a unifier. It is rare for millions of Filipinos of different persuasions to be galvanized by one. We saw it in Cory Aquino but, though redemptive, she was in a way polarizing. Pacquiao’s fights made the people pause from their busy schedule only to watch a brutal and oftentimes bloody match. Catriona’s aura is different. She made us all behold a Filipina’s beauty from the physical and intellectual angles. It was uplifting, lovely, and so wonderfully refreshing.
Catriona competed ready to do battle, precisely knowing how long her hair would be, what accessories to wear — the rays of the sun and the stars embellishing her right ear — and make-up to put on enhancing her natural radiance. And that red lava-inspired gown — “quite daring and different” as one annotator praised it — honoring Mayon Volcano was just incandescently captivating, visually separating her from the South African, Venezuelan, Vietnamese, and Puerto Rican contestants, all beautiful ladies. It was a master-stroke, a strategy only a highly driven contestant can design.
As the cliché goes, she was “poetry in motion.” And this was exhibited in the way she walked the stage — “sultry” as one commentator described it —- and made spontaneous eye-catching gestures, both grand — like that ethereal “slow-mo turn” in her swimsuit — and small — like when Neyo, singing his hit-song “Miss Independent,” offered his arm and Catriona placed her hand over it but, quickly changing mode, gently and properly held Neyo’s arm obligingly as all respectful escorted ladies would have done. Then she smiled — joyful, alluring and sincere — displaying so much glow and elan. When Neyo let Catriona go, he just finished crooning the line “that’s the kind of girl I need.” The timing was perfect.
The question-and answer portions were challenging. And she rose to the occasion. “We owe it to our children to believe in them” she said, undeniably a powerful and meaningful plea. And the expression of her desire to provide hope for poor children — a ray of “silver lining” — inspired by her experience caring for them in the Manila slums was a focused response, an advocacy no less, absent in her competitors’ generalizations. It was the coup de grace exhibiting a gentle tenacity extinguishing whatever chances the other ladies had. She was, by that time, enjoying the moment, sensing perhaps that, if it were basketball, she was Michael Jordan flying high and already raising her hand, a prelude to a highlight slam dunk.
For all of us who witnessed the coronation night, there was in the air an anticipation filled with pride. We somehow felt the confidence exuding from Catriona’s depths — a sense of certainty that, in the denouement of her storied journey, she would be victorious. She created for herself a masterpiece of a performance – a work of art in itself, a magnum opus – marveled not only by pageant-enthusiasts the world over, but likewise by the untrained eyes of ordinary spectators. It was riveting enough to perhaps make the judges compellingly believe that to choose another will be a travesty. The contest became uncontested. It turned into a no-brainer.
And just like all fallible human beings and for some fleeting moments before the announcement of the winner, Catriona might have entertained doubts just like all of us. But the jitters immediately vanished replaced by immeasurable joy. And the irony was that, after all her personal sacrifices, back-breaking preparations, and mesmerizing work, she, expectedly, did not hear her name “Catriona Gray” shouted out as the victor but instead heard Steve Harvey excitedly declare “the new Miss Universe is Philippines!” And that was what she longed for — for the world to know that her hard-earned triumph was not solely hers but more so her country’s.
When she made her first walk as Miss Universe, Catriona Gray was the Philippines in her most glamorous, composed, joyful, grateful, peaceful, and majestic representation, transforming into the world’s embodiment of grace, beauty, and hope.
The Filipino people owe you a ton of gratitude, Catriona Gray, and for that, you will be loved and remembered deeply. You truly raised the flag.