Beauty pageants in the Philippines are considered a social spectacle, as well as a means towards stardom. Filipinas join such contests in their barangay, on television shows, and established national tilts, with dreams to be crowned queen and ultimately to become famous celebrities.
One local pageant, however, aims to be different as it invites young Filipinas, aged 13 to 18, to teach them the importance of education, and at the same time, encourage them to inspire their fellow teenagers to study.
This is the Miss Teen Philippines (MTP), a pageant, which first ran from 2004 to 2007, and has been re-launched to unfold this year. Its national coronation night, wherein 40 teens are set to compete, will take place on May 31 at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City.
The Sunday Times Magazine sat down with MTP’s organizers this week at the Lusso Restaurant in Greenbelt Makati to learn more about the advocacy of this fairly new beauty tilt.
Lawyer Vicente Caoile and events organizer Karen Arceo are the two active names behind the Miss Teen Philippines pageant.
Caoile told The Sunday Times Magazine that unlikely as it sounds, a group of lawyers conceptualized MTP as a project for their non-profit, socio group called Youth Empowerment for Self-Reliance (YES) Foundation.
Under the foundation, Caoile and his partners handled cases for the youth for free.
“We encountered social problems involving the youth, and more often than not, it’s the girls [we helped]with problems ranging from child employment to physical abuse,” he recalled.
While fuelled by a good cause, Caoile said that it was still difficult for the group to get voluntary funding. “Kapag nag-handle kami ng case, it involves a lot of expenses. But it was very difficult to fund it from purely a social view. Naturally, mas maganda kung may ma-offer kami na kapalit.”
And because young, teenaged girls are often the subject of their cases, YES was inspired to organize a beauty pageant for them.
“It is quite odd [for lawyers to organize a beauty pageant],” Caoile admitted. “But more than that, it was difficult for us to shift from a particular discipline to another. It also took up a lot of time from our day jobs. Because of our lack of expertise, it [MTP] only lasted for four years. We opted to hibernate for awhile.”
Under the lawyers’ management, the annual MTP ran only for four years. But despite this short streak, the pageant was able to make a clear stand.
As a nationwide search, it crowned Miss Teens who advocated education. With this responsibility, the previous winners inspired fellow youths to get ahead in life by studying and other forms of schooling.
Six years later, Caoile met Arceo through common friends and got her on board the project. With Arceo’s 20 years of experience in events and advertising, the return of Miss Teen Philippines is now a reality.
Arceo and her siblings Ian and Kathy now serve as official organizers of the pageant, while Caoile serves as legal director.
But more than applying her expertise, Arceo mainly agreed to join MTP because she also shared Caoile’s vision for education. She said, “[My siblings and I] believed in the advocacy. I also think that these young Filipinas can really be role models [for their peers].
For Arceo, it is crucial for the youth to have someone to look up to and follow nowadays, especially with many broken families and absentee parents who work abroad. Those who lose their way often trade in education for shortterm jobs or worse, vices.
“We aim to inspire and encourage the youth to go back to school. We want them to value education because it will make them globally ready and competitive whether they work here or abroad,” Arceo added.
“This will surely open opportunities for them,” Caoile added.
With its thrust to promote “global readiness through education,” MTP immediately gained the trust of two of the country’s leading institutions, the Department of Education and National Youth Commission. Through these partnerships, the winning Miss Teen Philippines 2014 will be privileged to become DepEd’s Education Ambassador, and a delegate to the Southeast Asian Youth Program and National Youth Parliament.
So solid was DepEd support’s that according to Arceo, they even handed down memos to public high schools nationwide encouraging girls to join MTP.
“We want to be a movement of sorts that is why DepEd became our biggest partner,” Arceo shared.
Meanwhile, World Academy for the Future of Women (WAFW) joined in as MTP’s international supporter. With this, the winner of the pageant will be given the chance to interact and be mentored by members of the board of WAFW, as well as other women movers and shakers from around the globe.
“I know it’s a little ‘novel’ for a beauty pageant and education to merge, but we hope that the concept will be accepted by Filipinos,” Caoile enthused.
Search for candidates
MTP 2014 officially began in February when submission of applications opened nationwide. Qualified to join were girls aged 13 to 18 who are Filipino citizens and natural born. More importantly, they should be currently enrolled in an educational institution—home school, vocational and technical courses also included—and socially aware of issues facing teens.
Within a month, MTP received over 300 applications even after being absent in the pageantry scene for six years, to the surprise of Arceo and Caoile.
This was followed by a pre-qualifying screenings, interviews and pageants in key cities in the country namely Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Iloilo, Naga, and Manila, beginning March. MTP organizers first screened and interviewed all hopefuls to choose only 20 from each key city. Then, these contestants embarked on regional finals in which only five emerged as finalists from or within the region.
“All the contestants went to very rigid pre-qualifying activities. During the screening, we asked them questions that had something to do with education like how could they become good role models?” she explained. “But we were very surprised that a lot of the girls were very articulate even at their young age. This was why we exceeded the supposed top 5 from each city.”
Both the Baguio and Cebu legs produced seven finalists each, while the Manila leg gathered six finalists.
“From only 35 official candidates, we had to adjust to 40,” Arceo informed.
Caoile noted that the candidates’ airfares and accommodation in Manila are shouldered by MTP.
A learning experience
Only a week before the coronation night on May 31, the 40 finalists of MTP 2014 are definitely having the time of their lives not only because they successfully made it to the bigger and better MTP, but also because they are in the thick of gaining valuable lessons and experiences.
According to Arceo, for the search to be both credible and memorable, MTP created an advisory council that will hone and guide the candidates.
“Part of MTP’s development program is the inclusion of an advisory council made up of celebrity mentors who have their own expertise in training our girls,” Arceo explained.
They are Jasmine Curtis-Smith, actress, endorser and model; Ruffa Gutierrez, A-list actress and former beauty queen; Laureen Uy, style icon and social media star; Robbie Piñera, make-up artist to the stars; Jing Monis, celebrity hairstylist and entrepreneur; Bianca Valerio, model and personality development coach; and Lara Quigaman, actress and former beauty queen.
Arceo added, “Each of them are experts in their own field. Ruffa, for example, will teach them how to gain confidence and poise. Laureen will teach them how to express themselves through fashion, while Robbie on applying age-appropriate make-up.”
According to Caoile, besides being a mentor for the teens, the young Curtis-Smith also serves as the face of the pageant because she “personifies the beautiful, confident, and passionate young woman” that the candidates aspire to be.
“We want the girls to have a good time even though they are very busy. You’ll be surprised at how fast they sometimes mature during in that one week [before coronation],” he said.
Asked if they think the candidates consider MTP as stepping-stone to bigger beauty pageants in the future, both Arceo and Caoile replied that this is an inevitable fact.
“Of course, this is a beauty pageant. Hindi mo maipagkakaila na [you can’t deny]in the future they would join Bb. Pilipinas, or Miss World, or Miss Earth. All beauty pageants are stepping-stones,” Arceo admitted. “Teens view pageants as a means to gain national exposure. But what we want them to realize is that pageants, coupled with education will help them achieve their aspirations easier.”
For his part, Caoile likened MTP as the training camp for little boys who wish to be basketball players. He said, “It’s about starting training early, something to that effect.” He also enthused that through their pageant, they could give the Bb. Pilipinas a brighter and more beautiful crop of candidates.
“Beauty with education, it’s a powerful combination,” Caoile concluded.