MANILA - The cat is out of the bag. The Philippines will host the next Miss Universe pageant.
Now, the work begins for Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, who aims to secure the sponsors of the event who will shoulder the $11 million (more than P518 million) budget, and heed President Rodrigo Duterte's request to ensure that Filipinos will not be inconvenienced by the international spectacle.
There were reports that came out early Thursday claiming that Duterte had thumbed down plans to hold the beauty contest in the country. Shocked, Teo immediately phoned Salvador Medialdea, the President's executive secretary, and asked for permission to set the record straight.
"That's why I called for this press conference," Teo told reporters after announcing that reigning Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach will crown her successor in front of a home crowd, ending a 22-year wait for Filipinos.
The Philippines last played host to the Miss Universe pageant in 1994, when Sushmita Sen won India's first title.
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Teo revealed that she is targeting the Mall of Asia Arena, which has the capacity to hold around 20,000 people, as the possible venue.
She added that parts of the month-long pageant will be held in Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Palawan, Boracay and Vigan.
"The President told us that the auxiliary events should be done in the provinces so as to avoid the traffic here in Manila," she said.
Teo, however, refused to share the names of the possible sponsors, explaining: "There's only one group talking in behalf of all of them. They requested not to mention their names first. They will have a different press conference for that."
Duterte has said that he is not willing to use tax money in hosting the pageant -- a stand Teo reaffirmed: "The government is not going to spend a single centavo on it."
For Miss Universe 2016, the country will be fielding Maxine Medina, a 25-year-old interior designer who has been modelling since 2008. She will attempt to succeed Wurtzbach, the first Filipina to win the title in over four decades.
Medina expressed her excitement over the news on Twitter.
Medina, in an Instagram post a month after winning the Miss Universe-Philippines title, vowed: "Trust me mga kababayans, I am doing everything to make you and the whole country proud in the upcoming pageant. Thank you for the support and love."