Iloilo loves Rabiya

Published October 30, 2020, 9:32 AM

by AA Patawaran

Once considered ‘the ‘Queen’s Favored City in the South’ during Spanish colonial times, Iloilo hails its new queen—2020 Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Occeña Mateo

With Rafael Jardeleza Jr.

Iloilo is the heart of the Philippines and, right now, that heart is full to bursting. Known for many things, such as the lilt and the tenderness of its language Hiligaynon, its diverse treasures as “food haven of the country,” its grand mansions and historical sites, and its many underrated gems, the city is rejoicing the victory of Rabiya Occeña Mateo at last weekend’s Miss Universe Philippines. The 23-year-old licensed physical therapist from the town of Balasan, about 129 kilometers from the provincial capital, will represent the Philippines at the 69th Miss Universe pageant at a venue yet to be announced. Meanwhile we asked a few Ilonggos, some of them very close to Rabiya, what they consider her most winning traits.


‘She was my mother’s physical therapist.’

We are proud of her win. Her win is a win for Iloilo and it has given hope to all Ilonggos. We so need a win these days given the times.

Rabiya helped with my mom’s rehab as her physical therapist in 2017, which makes her victory all the more meaningful to me.

Rabiya is very hardworking. She did modeling stints on the side to put herself through school, and she graduated with honors. She wouldn’t easily get flustered under pressure. During my mom’s rehab, we would see Rabiya at least three times a week for three months. She was so patient that my mother looked forward to seeing her and talking to her. She’s unassuming, unpretentious, simple, smart, very gracious, very professional. Ka buot gid nabata, as we say in Ilonggo, a very good girl.


‘She is my best friend.’

As her classmate and best friend, I am very happy for Rabiya. She is the pride of Iloilo and now our country. I never doubted that she would be crowned Miss Universe Philippines. She has always been so focused on reaching her goals. Her good attitude and her good heart add to her resolve. She gave this competition her heart and soul. Many doubted her, but instead of letting their doubt stop her, she used it as her motivation. She turned all the challenges into inspiration. So I am very happy she made it as Miss Universe. I’ve known Rabiya since college. She was so dedicated to her studies. She was a full scholar and, in order to maintain that scholarship, she needed to maintain her grades. It was not very easy because she was working as a part-time model to finance not only her studies but also her brother’s. Yet, despite her many responsibilities, she was fun and she was very helpful. Even when all she had in her pockets was 20 pesos, she would give it to a beggar on the street, especially the elderly. I would ask her, “Anong ipamamasahe mo sa jeep (what about your jeepney fare)?” She would reply, “Ok lang malapit lang naman yung boarding house namin, kaya ko namang lakarin (It’s ok, the boarding house isn’t too far. I can just walk.)


‘I haven’t known her a long time, but when it’s just the two of us, I feel like I can share anything with her without being judged.’

Rabiya winning the Miss Universe Philippines crown is an amazing feat for Iloilo City. She embodies how it is to be a true Ilongga. I know she will be able to represent the Philippines well and conquer the Universe. Even during her Miss Iloilo stint, I saw how driven and passionate Rabiya was toward winning. It was this same spirit that enabled her to bag the Miss Universe Philippines crown and carry her Ilongga beauty like her heart on her sleeve through it all. The universe indeed conspired for Rabiya and this is just the beginning. She is a true queen, dedicated to being the best version of herself. ‘I haven’t known her a long time, but when it’s just the two of us, I feel like I can share anything with her without being judged.’ She has a knack for making the people around her feel welcome and comfortable. Rabiya transforms into whom we need her to be, whether in the pageant or as our friend.


‘Personally, I don’t know her, but she has given the Ilonggos so much pride.’

We are proud of her. She has given the Ilonggos so much pride by winning the Miss Universe Philippines. It is a delightful development in our city amid the pandemic. She worked hard. She deserves the crown.


‘On rehearsal break, she said to me, “I’m going to win this, direk.”’

As the pageant director of Miss Iloilo 2020, I saw how unassuming Rabiya was from the start.  I handled the Q&A during her screening. I don’t exactly remember now what she said but I felt a burst of fire in her answer.  At rehearsals, she was always quiet, carefully listening to instructions. I remember Raymond Villanueva of Binibining Pilipinas, who trained them, telling me, “I love a dark horse, Kevin.” Then on the week leading to the Miss Iloilo pageant, while giving them directions, I saw a glint in her eyes that I had not seen before. On rehearsal break she quietly approached me and said, “I’m going to win this, direk.”  That burst of fire I felt in her became clear. She is power from within. 

Rabiya had very humble beginnings. She told me they had to struggle to get by, but she believed that education was very important, that it was the foundation of anybody’s success. Despite her struggles, she graduated cum laude.  And she became an educator too, an advocate of humble beginnings and that no obstacle should be able to stop us from getting where we want to be.  Now, the crown rightfully rests on her head.