Twenty years after the Miss Universe Pageant was first held in the Philippines and in Asia, Manila became the venue for the prestigious pageant once again in 1994, attracting 77 candidates, compared to only 65 in 1974.
Competing on home ground was Charlene Mae Gonzales Bonnin, daughter of actor Bernard Bonnin and model-beauty queen [1965 Miss Press Photography] Elvira Gonzales.
It was the second year of the Fidel Ramos Presidency and there was excitement across the country, with military coup d’etats subdued and the Philippines tagged as the Next Tiger of Asia.
Gonzales won the Best National Costume award that drew flak mostly from local fans, but proved to be a worthy candidate when she made it to Top 6.
In the Q&A portion, she was asked how many islands the Philippines is composed of, famously rejoining, “High tide or low tide?” before her final answer: “The Philippines has 7,107 islands and 7,108 during low tide.”
The let-down, however, was when she was asked which fictional female heroine she wanted to play. Her answer was Superwoman, but there is no such character (the correct character is Supergirl; “super woman” comes only for a song).
Some said she could have even said “Darna” instead to expound on the popular mythical flying heroine, which could gotten her a spot in the in Top 3.
Sushmita Sen of India eventually clinched the title with her “essence of a woman” treatise in the final Q&A at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), with Miss Colombia Carolina Gomez as First Runner-Up and Miss Venezuela Minorka Mercado as 2nd Runner-Up.
Along with Gonzales in the Top 6 were Lu Parker of USA and Silvia Lakatosova of Slovak Republic.
After the pageant, Gonzales heeded the call of the limelight, hosting TV shows, doing movies [most remembered as Dyesebel in the remake of the classic mermaid story by Viva Films], but also finished her BS Psychology degree University of Santo Tomas (UST). She married heartthrob Aga Muhlach in 2001 and are blessed with twins, Atasha and Andres.
One of the candidates, Miss Australia Michelle Van Eimeren, came back to the country to do movies and eventually settling down with singer-composer Ogie Alcasid, who was the pageant mascot Manolo of Manila. They were blessed with two daughters but separated and since remarried—he with Regine Velazquez and she with Mark Morrow.
Filipinas in the rest of ‘90s and new millennium
In 1995, Joanne Santos represented the Philippines in the pageant held in Namibia. The crown was won by Chelsi Smith of USA.
Aileen Damiles may not have scored a place in 1996 but was voted Miss Photogenic. The crown went to Alicia Machado of Venezuela, who was later warned by organizers she needed to slim down or she would be stripped of the title.
In 1997, Supermodel Abbygale Arenas, who was First Runner-Up in the 1994 Binibining Pilipinas, did not land a place in the winners’ circle but nonetheless won Miss Photogenic, making a consecutive win for the Philippines in the Special Award. The winner that year was Brook Lee of USA.
In 1998, Jewel May Lobaton carried the banner for the Philippines, with Wendy Fritzwilliam of Trinidad & Tobago emerging as winner, earning the second crown for the Caribbean nation.
There was much excitement in 1999 when Filipinos all over the world pinned their hopes on Miriam Quiambao as the next and third Filipina Miss Universe. She almost made it, placing First Runner-Up to the third black winner—Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana.
Stronger hope was placed on Nina Ricci Alagao at the start of the millennium but getting into the winning circle seemed so elusive for Filipinas for the rest of the decade. Not one was lucky enough just to break into the semi-finals. Lara Dutta of India won in 2000.
The Philippine candidates with corresponding years and winners were as follows: Zorayda Ruth Andam in 2001, won by Denise Quiñones of Puerto Rico; Karen Loren Agustin in 2002, won by Oxana Federova of Russia but was dethroned and replaced by First Runner-Up Justine Pasek of Panama; Carla Gay Balingit in 2003, won by Amelia Vega of Dominican Republic; Maricar Balagtas in 2004, won by Jennifer Hawkins of Australia; Gionna Cabrera in 2005 [Miss Photogenic], won by Natalie Glebova of Canada; Lia Andrea Ramos in 2006 [Miss Photogenic], won by Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico; Anna Theresa Licaros in 2007 [Miss Photogenic], won by Riyo Mori of Japan; Jennifer Barrientos in 2008, won by Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela; and Pamela Bianca Manalo in 2009, won by Stefania Fernandez of Venezuela.
The decade saw the first ever back-to-back win of a country – Venezuela – and rare back-to-back-to-back Miss Photogenic special award for the Philippines.
Sources: www.missuniverse.com, Wikipedia