Mariel de Leon and the Philippines are on the cusp of beauty pageantry history.
Tonight, the 23-year-old daughter of drama king Christopher de Leon and actress Sandy Andolong will vie for the country’s seventh Miss International crown, and effectively, a back-to-back win with current titleholder Kylie Versoza in Tokyo, Japan.
De Leon is considered by international pageant observers as one of the strongest candidates to succeed her fellow Filipina. If and when she wins, the feat would be a first in the 57-year history of the pageant.
Already, the Philippines holds a record of sorts in Miss International.
To begin with, six of the pageant’s eight winners from Asia are from the Philippines. They are Gemma Cruz in 1964, Aurora Pijuan in 1970, Mimilanie Marquez in 1979, Precious Lara Quigaman in 2005, Bea Rose Santiago in 2013 and Verzosa in 2016. The Philippines is second to Venezuela as the country with the most number of winners at seven.
[The other two Asians who won Miss International are Christina Sawava of Lebanon in 2002, and Ikumi Yohimatsu of Japan in 2012].
USA, Colombia, England, Spain, Poland and Australia have three winners each while Germany, Costa Rica, Norway and Mexico have two. Other countries with one winner each are Netherlands, Iceland, Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand, Finland, France, Yugoslavia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Greece, Portugal and Panama.
Meanwhile, a very interesting bit of trivia involving the pageant and the Philippines is how its first ever winner, Stella Marquez of Colombia, married Filipino tycoon Jorge Araneta. As everyone knows, Marquez-Aranate has since established Binibining Pilipinas, considered the breeding ground for Filipina beauty queens who continue to bring honor to the country.
Inspired by Pia
In an interview with The Manila Times during her send off party with fellow beauty queens Elizabeth Clenci [she placed second runner-up to Maria Jose Lora of Peru at Miss Grand International in Vietnam on October 25], and Nelda Ibe [she placed first runner-up to Do Tran Khanh Ngan of Vietnam at Miss Globe in Albania on November 4], de Leon said her decision to join Binibining Pilipinas the second time was wholly her decision.
“I was pushed to join the pageant in 2013, but when I joined again this year, it was my personal decision—my own resolve,” she said.
De Leon related she was inspired by Pia Wurtzbach’s determination—placing first runner-up the first time she joined Binibini, then Top 15 the second time, to finally with the Miss Universe crown no less on her third outing.
And while the pressure is on her to clinch a back-to-back win with Versoza, the levelheaded beauty is taking everything in stride. Saying she just wants to be as natural as possible in the contest, she told The Manila Times that she also learned basic conversational Japanese to help her out.
“I don’t think about the whole back-to-back pressure. I just want to stay focused and happy. But I know for sure that I will do my best as Miss International, and I will give it my all,” she said.
Movie with Coco
All through her Binibining Pilipinas experience, de Leon has always said she will continue to pursue her passion in music. A classical singer, she is a member of the Opera Belles group, which has seen substantial TV exposure.
And while her parents are esteemed movie personalities, she initially said that acting was not part of her plans until prime time star Coco Martin asked her to be his leading lady in the remake of Fernando Poe Jr.’s “Ang Panday” for the coming Metro Manial Film Festival.
“I’d be out of my mind if I rejected the offer. Coco Martin is Coco Martin. Besides, contrary to what many people thought, I shot my scenes only on weekends, twice-a-week, so my training [for the pageant]was not affected,” she told The Manila Times .
She wrapped up her scenes before leaving for Tokyo, and just a few days ago, it was revealed that besides de Leon, Verzosa will also play an important role in Panday. In other words, two Miss International beauties will be part of Martin’s movie project, which incidentally also marks his directorial debut as Rodel Nacianceno [the actor’s real name].
Proof that de Leon is strongly in the running for the Miss International crown is how she even caught the eye of Madam Akie Abe, wife of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to join her in a shopping spree, as reported by a beauty pageant site.
Fans are also hoping that President Rodrigo Duterte will serve as a lucky charm to de Leon, just as he was thought to be when Versoza competed in 2016. It will be remembered that the President visited Japan just before Versoza’s win, meeting the beauty queen complete with a selfie she immediately posted. Mr. Duterte again visited Japan on October 30 for related Asean activities, during which time de Leon was already busy with pre-pageant activities in Tokyo.
Tonight, more than 70 candidates from all over the globe will compete for the Miss International title and its famed Mikimoto pearl crown at the Tokyo Dome City Hall. The pageant begins at 3 pm, Japanese time.