Ah, beauty! Id quod visum placet

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jan 20 2016 10:30 PM

As we await the triumphal homecoming of our latest beauty queen, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, let us talk beauty, beauty contests and pageants. 

For starters, a shared iota of acquired erudition for the week. “Id quod visum placet.” The classic definition of beauty. That which pleases when seen. Visual. Optic. 

“It’s really a big deal at home.” “We take pageants very seriously.” Remarks by Pia during TV interviews in the US as she began her reign. 

Indeed, “very seriously” because nobody else among the contestants would have been more serious than this winner as she proudly chimed that her Ms. Universe Crown is the fruit of a third attempt contesting a Miss Philippines/Universe title back home. And she made it. Consistent determination and dedicated preparation do have rewarding consequences. 

Pia’s “really a big deal” likewise unmistakably echoed national sentiment when she further likened beauty contests to boxing and basketball as capturing faithful public allure in her country. She also expressed another prevailing national sentiment when she responded to the ritual question posed by the Pageant’s Master of Ceremonies that is asked of finalists. The question for Miss Philippines was specially crafted to address a current social issue that is drawing the usual displays of annoyance from American-hating militants. It was the matter of the return and renewed presence of the US military forces in the islands.

“I see nothing wrong with that...I think the Philippines and the US have a good relationship with each other,” Pia answered. Not forgetting that her country was once an American colony, Pia added that the Philippines is “very welcoming to Americans.” And all these raised the incorrigibly leftist shackles of the usual coterie of whining “self-declared patriots.” Yes, those ones that brandish placards and hurl invectives along Roxas Boulevard at every mention of Uncle Sam’s name! And as if to accentuate their nationalist superiority, they lectured Pia. She ought to “learn the history of our nation under US colonial rule.”

This brings about another glass half-full/half-empty-glass moment. You know, pluses and minuses. Pleasant/unpleasant. Sadness and glee. Pain and pleasure. Enrichment/robbery. Progress and disappointments. It has never been a perfect world. And nothing but nothing can ever alter the past! Look, we are talking of beauty contests along with the nationwide elation and goodwill such events generate. 

And speaking of learning our nation’s history, it appears that our local communist peanut gallery are the ones who need to revisit the subject. The undeniable antecedents of beauty contests, basketball and boxing in the Philippines are all elements of countrywide adulation brought over by our colonial legacy. We are obviously stuck. And ecstatic with every triumphant event!

Of all annual national events, nothing quite like a beauty contest has embraced popular rapture. In fact, its prominence in the life of the nation has been around much longer than our fervid passion for basketball and boxing. Pia’s answer was evidently a plus in the judges’ assessment. The panel unanimously gave her the nod for the Miss Universe title. 

But let us not ignore the belly-achers.


To pursue the thread initiated by that snide “learn the history of our nation” commentary vis-a-vis beauty pageants, we must begin with the Manila Carnivals. Nothing quite like such an event has ever stirred the nation’s imagination and attention. From 1908, just a year after our country’s journey towards self-government under colonial tutelage had began, Carnivals-cum-beauty queens carried on until just before World War II. These goodwill affairs lasted a couple of weeks and I imagine was always preceded by a year’s preparation. Truly, although socio-civic in character, government encouragement and cooperation was always a given. 

The Manila Carnival was intended to be a celebration of “harmonious U.S.-Philippine relations,” showcasing our commercial, industrial and agricultural progress. Parades, fireworks, lavish shows and displays, costume parties marked the annual event culminating in the crowning of the Carnival Queen. (I vaguely remember but as a child, I was brought to the Carnival grounds donning a costume with a hood and a mask, called “domino.” The gown sewn of ‘crystal silk’ in shimmering maroon. “Granate,” my lola called it. I think I wore sandals instead of locally made “Olympic” rubber shoes.) 

There is so much to remember and to tell. Some enterprising folks among our imaginative and talented writers and publishers ought to come up with a historical coffee table book--it will weigh a couple of kilos, for sure. We have absolutely no space in a blog to house all these beautiful memories. 


Let me instead attempt to recall, what I can recall, of some newsy-juicy items, to mention a scant few. Evidently, politicians had already taken some participation in these “queenly” affairs of society.

There was a beauty queen in the 1930s. Manila Carnival, of course. She was Amparo Karagdag. She was also, briefly, a movie star after reigning as Miss Luzon. Her name connotes “kayumanggi,” a brown-skinned lass, not quite a mestiza. I cannot quite explain it but somehow, when I recall her, she is always in a polka-dotted dress. Don’t ask me why. But I also heard from my teen-age aunties that Amparo Karagdag was a favorite ballroom dancing partner of President Manuel L. Quezon. Manila society’s busybodies and chatterboxes gossiped that something was going on! 

And a future President, Manuel A. Roxas (guess who’s grandfather?), while he was governor of Capiz province in the early 1920s married a former Carnival beauty, dubbed Queen of the Orient. She was an heiress from Bulacan, Trinidad R. de Leon, a Spanish mestiza. The scuttlebutt was that President Quezon played a role in this romance. He avidly promoted the match. He was already eyeing Roxas as his political fair-haired acolyte and a good attractive marriage would be an asset.


Speaking of Presidents and beauty-contest winners, the first “Mrs.” Ferdinand Marcos was also a beauty queen. He was then a Congressman from Ilocos Norte while Carmen Ortega was Miss Press Photography 1949.

READ: A romance that began with deception

As mentioned earlier, a magnum opus on Philippine Carnival Queens and Pageant Beauties has to be produced. It may not be as academically essential as the annals of the Katipunan, the birth of the Malolos Republic or the origins of nationalism under American colonialism, but the volume will evoke more pleasant memories and genuine fun! 

And such compendium will be incomplete if it did not carry a chapter on how a Waray-waray “probinsiyana” lass, with good looks to be sure, almost literally clawed her way into garnering but ultimately settling for an artificially created beauty title. With a lot of spunk and chutzpah, after losing the contest for Miss Manila in order to vie for Miss Philippines, Imelda Remedios Visitacion Romualdez, then 23 years old, badgered and pestered Manila Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson until the Mayor relented (some wags claim--to be rid of her entreaties) and gave her the title “Muse of Manila.” It was the first and only time in the history of beauty contests that such a title existed and was ever used. It is a very fascinating episode in the life of Imelda R. Marcos. That beauty contest may just have been the launching pad for the “Steel Butterfly” of Philippine politics. How odd a formula can “ad astra per aspera,” be! (To the stars, through adversity!)

“If eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its excuse for being.” As an old adage puts it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Is it therefore a matter of taste?

De gustibus non est disputandum. (In matters of taste, there is no dispute.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.