Philippine beauty contest turns ugly over actress
From MICHAEL BOCIURKIW in Manila
FEW beauty contests in the land of beauty contests have aroused as much controversy as this year's Binibining Pilipinas (Miss Philippines) pageant.
The Philippines' premier beauty contest almost didn't happen at all because of a decision by organisers to allow one of the best-known actresses in the country to run as a contestant.
Fortunately, except for some technical difficulties and agonising ad-libbing by renowned rent-a-host Rafael Ongpin, the nationally televised pageant itself went off with hardly a hitch on Sunday evening.
Even though the contest is clearly meant for amateurs, movie star Charmaine ''Ruffa'' Gutierrez was allowed to enter at the last minute and, as expected, landed one of the three main titles - Miss Binibining World.
According to press reports, other contestants were so peeved at Miss Gutierrez entering that 39 walked out, leaving 53 to compete. During the contest screening sessions on March 11, the actress was frequently booed by fashion designers, recruiters and other contestants.
Ruffling egos even more was that Miss Gutierrez was the last contestant to sign up for the contest, arriving just before a midnight deadline dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.
Among the judges was Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who is waging war on girlie bars in the Ermita tourist district.
Sheela Santarin won the Miss International title and Dindin Gallardo won the top prize of Miss Universe.
Throughout the pageant, an unruly audience cheered loudly as Miss Gutierrez appeared. Few contestants could match her expensive wardrobe of outfits, professional poise and 90-62-92 figure. And with beauty and figure accounting for 70 per cent of the judges' score, Miss Gutierrez clearly had an edge.
During the question and answer section of the pageant, Miss Gutierrez defended her decision to enter, saying becoming a beauty queen was a life-long dream.
''Ever since I was a little kid I dreamed of being Miss Universe,'' the actress said. ''It's for the experience and I wanted to take the risk.'' Manila Standard columnist Emil Jurado was among those who attacked the actress' inclusion.
''The pageant organisers were obviously unfair when they allowed a well-known movie actress like Ruffa to participate,'' he wrote.
He said the pageants, which dominate local tabloids and television year-round should be scrapped as they reflect a ''misplaced and distorted sense of priorities''.
''They can do little to rehabilitate the international image of our women as domestics, entertainers, hospitality girls and even prostitutes.''