The new face of pageant fever in the Philippines are young men, competing for fame, prize money and national tours offering the promise of social mobility, writes Marina Trajkovich.
For some young men and women, the glitz and glamour backstage at a beauty pageant is far removed from every day reality. And it’s this sparkly escapism that captivates millions of Filipino’s across the country.
As Australian’s cluster around tv’s and pubs to watch the latest sporting events, Filipino’s save their excitement for the three big B’s: Boxing, Basketball and Beauty.
The first Man of the Philippines pageant, held in Manila in November, 2018.
For 28 year old R-jay Falisong, spending hours in blinding Manila traffic to perform in a luxury hotel is a stark contrast to life in his hometown of Belwang, Mountain Province.
He adjusts his opening outfit and perfects the final touches of his look at the Vivere hotel in Manila, smiling as he takes to the stage.
He is a finalist in the first ever Man of the Philippines pageant, representing his local province and has been followed from the region by an onslaught of excited supporters, bearing banners of his chiselled and brooding portrait.
Basilio Jr. Falisong, known as “R-Jay,” is representing Mountain Province in the Man of the Philippines pageants in Manila.
“When I was nine years old, I used to haul half a case of beer or a carton of San Miguel after class hours,” he says.
R-Jay and his community in Mountain Province, the Philippines.
“My people are hospitable and industrious, we are grateful for whatever we have because it is always enough to meet our basic needs. Despite the poverty, our place is endowed with amazing waterfalls, caves that were instrumental in the survival of our ancestors.”
R-Jay only came to know about beauty pageants when his father bought home a television.
“We didn’t have electricity until 1999, at that time, my father bought a television and an amazing world opened before my eyes. Most of the time, I watched and dreamt of being seen in the television one day.”
R-Jay’s potential for pageantry was discovered by his chemistry professor, after he moved to Baguio City to study nursing. After a road accident forced him to take a year off studying, he returned to complete his degree and entered the ‘Miss and Mr Nursing,’ competitions at the university.
The winners of the Man of the Philippines pageant were announced at the Vivere Hotel in Manila. (Far left: R-Jay Falisong,)
Now, R-Jay has taken one of the winning titles in the Man of The Philippines pageant as ‘Man of the Philippines Ambassador’, among other titles. He is using his platform to raise awareness for his advocacies, which includes promoting the importance of indigenous knowledge and eco-tourism.
When he returned home this December, the Mayor of Sadanga hosted a homecoming and victory party, where the community gathered in proud celebration. He was also invited as the guest of honour and speaker for government events throughout Mountain Province.
Pageant blogger turned expert, writer and critic, Drew Francisco says that the Miss Universe pageant is like his World Cup.“I think pageants have been ingrained in the Filipino culture since time immemorial. It started from the pre-World War II Carnival Queens competitions, and became “institutionalized” to form national pageants. We have pageants to celebrate every festival,” he says.
The evening wear portion of the Man of the Philippines finals.
Entering your three-year old daughter in a ‘toddlers in tiaras,’-esque pageant, like ‘Little Miss Philippines,’ or going to support the local primary school’s events is a normal past time in the Philippines.
There are ‘Mr and Miss Deaf,’ pageants, competitions for the LGBTQ community, and even pageants exclusively for countries that produce bananas.
Some contestants attend training camps up to a year in advance in preparation.
“Pageants for men are becoming more popular,” says Francisco.
Carina Carino is a judge at the Man of the Philippines finals and was first runner up for the title of Miss Millennial.
“There are girls who see this as an opportunity, first to feed their family, to get out of wherever they are in life,” she says.
“In the Philippines, or at least for me, pageants are the building blocks for where you want to go in the future,” she says.