The strongest and most popular candidate proved to be most worthy of the top title, indeed.
Catriona Gray, former Miss World-Philippines, was judged Miss Universe Philippines on Sunday’s Binibining Pilipinas grand coronation night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City.
Clearly a veteran among the 40 candidates, the 25-year-old beauty from Albay collected three awards early on in the pageant, based on her performance in the run-up of activities to coronation night. She received the Pitoy Moreno Best in National Costume award (renamed for the first time this year as a tribute to the late iconic fashion designer), and was named Miss Ever Bilena and Miss Jag Denim Queen.
Following the selection of the Top 25 contestants, Gray—who naturally took her experience as the country’s representative to Miss World 2016 on the stage of Binibining Pilipinas—also won Best in Swimsuit and Best in Long Gown.
Slaying the question-and-answer portion when US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim asked what her message to the women of Marawi would be at this time of recovery following the war, she replied with intelligence and empathy, “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.”
The Big Dome erupted in applause at Gray’s seamless response, all of them convinced at that point that she should represent the Philippines to the next Miss Universe pageant, and with great possibility win the country’s fourth such crown.
Completing this year’s winners are Binibining Pilipinas International Ma. Ahtisa Manalo of Quezon Province; Binibining Pilipinas Supranational Jehza Mae Huelar of Davao City; Binibining Pilipinas Grand International Eva Psychee Patalinjug of Cebu City; Binibining Pilipinas Intercontinental Karen Gallman of Bohol; and Binibining Pilipinas Globe Michele Gumabao of Quezon City, a University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) volleybelle.
Former Mutya ng Pilipinas titleholder and “Pinoy Big Brother” housemate Vickie Rushton of Talisay City was declared First Runner-Up and Samantha Bernardo of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan was Second Runner-Up.
The rest of the winners for the special awards are as follows: Michele Gumabao, Miss Creamsilk; Muriel Orais, Binibining Philippine Airlines (PAL); Shane Tormes, Miss Friendship and Best in Talent; Eva Psychee Patalinjug, Face of Binibini (Miss Photogenic); and Samantha Mae Bernardo, Manila Bulletin Readers’ Choice.
Others in the top 15 were Anjame Magbitang, Muriel Orais, Wynonah Buot, Juliana Kapeundl, Sandra Lemonon, Maria Andrea Abesamis and Edjelyn Joy Gamboa; while Patrizia Garcia, Kristie Rose Cequeña, Sigrid Grace Flores, Kayesha Chua, Ana Patricia Asturias, Ena Velasco, Trixia Marie Maraña, Agatha Romero, Mary Joy de Castro and Shane Tormes made it to the top 25.
Hosting the pageant were Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and Richard Gutierrez. Wurtzbach’s leading man in her new movie, Gerald Anderson, was also part of the panel of judges.
Miss Grand International First Runner-Up 2016 Nicole Cordoves served as anchor.
The panel of judges was composed of Megawide Construction chairman Edgar Saavedra, Novotel Hotels general manager Mike Brown, Blue Eagles volleyball player Alyssa Valdez, ABS-CBN chief technology officer and director Martin Lopez, Blue Eagles basketball player Thirdy Ravena, Colombian Ambassador to the Philippines Victor Echiverri, actress and Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman, broadcaster-host Ces Drilon, and US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.