By Joel Pablo Salud
I’m not one to spend an hour or two watching television, least of all a girly beauty pageant. A day worth spending, for me at least, is one where I could curl up in a cushioned corner with a thick book by a beloved author. And in the off-chance that television is the only option, there are always reruns of Criminal Minds and my collection of Asian horror flicks. Many may find this rather strenuous cerebral exercise an absolute bore, but that’s me—the paper bug warm between the pages.
Today’s Miss Universe pageant, however, was worth the time spent away from the perennially nauseating human condition. Shamcey Supsup, the Philippines’ bet in the pageant walked and glowed on that stage in Sao Paolo, Brazil like no other Filipina contestant of past pageants had ever done, except perhaps the dazzling Ms. Universe queen, Gloria Diaz. That deep chocolate morena skin, eyes confident as they were lovely, Shamcey’s ruby lips, the well chiselled face—they were everything royalty could ever want. It was a proud moment for Filipinos that day—as I always have been—but more so because after so long a time the country was suddenly represented by one who was worth the crown.
I dropped everything I was doing and sat with my wife Che to watched the Star World telecast. It was at the middle of the contest proper, the top ten candidates vying for the crown had been chosen, and everyone in the house was cheering Shamcey on. I was literally lying in wait for the question and answer portion.
It didn’t take long until I saw Ms.Angola—Leila Lopes—on the screen. I said to myself, darn it, here’s the queen to beat. I could no more paint her face in words than I could a glistening spectacle like the Aurora Borealis. How someone so divine and lovely could come out of a nation so racked by violence and human rights violations is no less God’s work if you ask me. She was proof of the divine, that there’s an ethereal Hand that creates a beautiful smile notwithstanding the wreckage left by war and profound grief on a life. The even, smooth dark flame on her skin only proved that white is not always synonymous with divine light. A running joke on Facebook: Belo might start selling darkening cream from now on.
Inasmuch as it would be worth a hand and a foot to see Shamsey bring home the crown, a voice nagged the back of my head: “Ms.Angolawill win this one.” After hearing her answer to the question posited by one of the judges, I said, she just clinched the crown. This is probably one of those rare moments when losing was something sweet. I mean, think about it. Competition was stiff!Chinawas a stunning and headstrong beauty on her own, answering graciously as any coming from a land tainted by events atTiananmen Square, with that simple proud look that said we’re not all rooting for Spratlys.Costa Ricawas another stunner, so was MissVenezuela. The Latinas were showstoppers as these well-endowed women (and I’m not talking of implants) graciously pranced around the stage for all to see.
I failed to catch the full question thrown at Ms.Philippines. As I understood it, it was: “Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you love?” Her answer, as I remember reading it in a Facebook post, was: “I owe my life to God and it is him who placed me on earth. He who loves me must love my God, too.”
I noticed offhand that she failed to take some time to think through the question. It was a bit hasty, and haphazardly thought through, and with obvious risk of losing wind, a bit nervously delivered. I felt that the country’s jab at first place was done for. However, my confidence that she would make it within the top three was stronger than ever. In fact, my bet, if Ukraine or China comes close in the final run for three, Shamcey could place second. Her answer to the question, however, was something totally unexpected from one who comes from a freedom-loving nation.
One could never go wrong with honesty, but in a competition where the winner would stand as the world’s ambassador of beauty and goodwill, an all-too-honest answer may not make the cut among the judges. See, as a universal ambassador for beauty and good will, the winner of the Miss Universe should not show any allusion toward prejudice, or even just the slightest hint of predisposition when it comes to race, religion, color, gender and the like. I am not saying at all that that was her intention. Far from it. She might be perceived as someone who is. She must stand for the rights of people everywhere, with a mind set on fundamental principles of goodness, not a restricted or particular system of belief.
For one, religion and God are two very different entities, and by misconstruing God to be the same as religion rang smack of a misunderstanding of what or who must come first in the exercise of faith. Too, the Christian faith teaches that love encompasses all things and, according to 1 Corinthians 13, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If anything, marriage is an ongoing pageant of who might endure the most.
An answer well worth saying would’ve been: “Yes, I will marry the man I love despite differences in our religious beliefs. To change one’s religion is not the issue in marriage; it is to change one’s outlook in life, one’s character if need be. Whatever changes we have to make are totally up to us as a couple. What is important is that we must both be open to talking about it.” Or something close to that. Miss China’s answer to her question—one that highlighted respect for the culture and practices of every nation—is a thing Shamcey must learn from, suffice it to say. It was an answer one would not readily expect from the People’s Republic.
But then again, Shamcey’s honesty was, at best, reassuring. She said it as she believed it, sans pretensions. Her faith shall figure seriously in the choices she will make, marriage most of all, and that’s that. A woman who can speak her mind is always a good thing.
The Philippines came in third, with Ukraine second and Angola, first. Wise and worthy choice. The judges did their names proud. And to Miss Angola, your experience in a country tossed and torn by violence and war makes you the best candidate for being the world’s ambassador. To reach out and to understand, to grasp and hear even the littlest of voices crying for help—this is your job now. As for Shamcey, the country can never be prouder than what you have accomplished in Sao Paolo. No, it’s not a missed universe of possibilities, but one that will open new doors for you. It was a shining moment for the Philippines, and let no one tell you otherwise. Congratulations, all.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.