MANILA — Miss Universe Philippines 2nd runner-up Michele Gumabao said she was “heartbroken” and “devastated” after hearing things she “wasn’t supposed to hear” after the coronation was filmed, the night before it aired.
In a half-hour vlog released on Monday, Gumabao addressed speculation surrounding the pageant results, initially spurred by a fellow candidate Sandra Lemonon calling for “justice” over supposed “cheating”; and the circulating photo of the top five candidates, including winner Rabiya Mateo, but without Gumabao.
“I am speaking up for myself. I am empowering myself. I am fighting for my story. I am fighting for my experiences,” she said in the opening minutes of the video.
“Because people have been trying to taint my name, and drag me down [with] so many issues that are not real and didn’t happen. I’m not sharing all this to attack anyone or to hurt anyone,” Gumabao explained.
“I just want to share the truth. I want to share my story. I want to be true to myself, because I know that this will be the only way to look back at all this and happily move on.”
‘I PASSED OUT’
Gumabao recalled that weeks before the pageant, she had her team undergo testing for coronavirus so they could temporarily stay at her home in Manila. It was her part of her preparation to be “independent” when it comes to styling, hair, and makeup during the competition.
As part of safety protocols amid the pandemic, the Miss Universe Philippines organization (MUP) limited the number of people allowed in the pageant venue in Baguio City.
Before heading to Baguio, on October 11, Gumabao figured in an incident which left her “devastated.”
She narrated: “That day, I woke up, and as I took my first steps, I passed out. I collapsed.”
At the time, Gumabao had been juggling her preparation for the pageant, on top of her professional commitments.
“I cut my head, I sprained my knee, I broke my toe. It was all very challenging, because as a beauty queen, you have to walk in high heels, you have to look your best, your face has to be presentable at all times,” she said.
“It was depressing for me, it was devastating for me. I spent the whole day in bed. I didn’t know what to do. I decided to do my rehab at home, and to whatever I could at home.”
The incident took place three days before the candidates were due to check in in the Baguio venue.
‘ANXIETY, PRESSURE, EXHAUSTION’
Fortunately, by the time she arrived for the competition proper, Gumabao was able to manage her apprehensions and what was left of her injuries, “like nothing happened.”
But further challenges awaited her in Baguio, she said.
“More than the pain, more than the struggle these past few weeks, it was more of the schedule that we really had to keep up with that gave me so much pressure, and that gave me… That was difficult for me,” she said.
“I was prepared to do things on my own, but I wasn’t prepared for schedules being so delayed, days wherein we weren’t able to eat because of our hectic schedules that we had to really keep up with. There were days when we were kept in our rooms not knowing why, and we were just there in our rooms.
“Those little things all built up at the end. The anxiety, all the pressure, the exhaustion… It was a lot to handle.”
On October 24, Saturday, Gumabao and her fellow candidates filmed the preliminary competition and the coronation event.
She recalled the end of that day as a “night of fun.”
“We had the best night of my journey as a candidate, and I had my best memories of getting to bond with all the girls, getting to spend time with them. I was so thankful.”
However, she started the receive “cryptic messages from people about the results” as the party went on.
“I didn’t mind them. I chose to have fun. I chose to spend time with the girls. I chose to spend time with my sisters,” she said.
‘I WITNESSED THINGS’
But Gumabao could no longer hold her emotions when, at around 3 a.m. of October 25, Sunday, “I heard things that I wasn’t supposed to hear.”
In the description of the vlog, Gumabao wrote similarly: “I heard things I never should have heard, witnessed things I never should have witnessed as a candidate.”
“It hurt,” she said in the video. “I must admit, I went back to my room, and I cried so hard. All these questions just came back to my head – everything that I’ve been hearing for the past two days just came rushing in my head,” she said.
“I was heartbroken. I was devastated that night. I called my family and I wanted to go home. My car was waiting outside, and I could have gone home. But they told me to think about it, that whatever I decide, they would support me a hundred percent. They told me to pray.”
Gumabao did not reveal what she heard or saw that caused her “heartbreak.”
She proceeded to narrate Sunday morning, when she finally decided to emerge from her room upon the encouragement from a fellow candidate.
“I put on my makeup, I got dressed, I smiled, I looked pretty and went down, deliberately when it was already long gown. The top 16 was already walking for their long gown,” she said, referring to the airing of the taped coronation event.
The day prior, during the finals taping, five different candidates were filmed to be wearing the crown, according to host KC Montero.
Mateo later confirmed that versions of the coronation with different candidates were filmed to prevent leaking of results, but the actual announcement of winner only happened during the stream on Sunday.
Gumabao, in her vlog, narrated: “I knew that not so long, we would crown the winner and everything will be over, and I would be able to go home. I went down, and for one last time, I told myself to smile for the show, for the cameras.
“News of the winner already leaked online, because the streaming, I think, it was more advanced than ours. But when I got down, I saw that our feed was so delayed, and it was only part of the announcement of the top 16.
“So many people came to me and was hugging me. A lot of tears happening around. So many questions of why, how, what overwhelming me too much.”
In her first statement after the announcement of Mateo was announced winner, Gumabao said she already “knew who won last night.”
“After knowing what I knew the past two days, everything just came crashing down on me,” she said in her vlog. “I couldn’t handle it. I admit, I wasn’t strong enough to handle that at that moment.”
“I knew was going to break down, and I didn’t want to do that in front of the cameras.”
NO-SHOW AT PICTORIAL
Gumabao then explained the reason for her absence in the pictorial of that top five candidates. She recalled telling the organizers of her plan to leave ahead, getting permission from one of the heads, Jonas Gaffud, and also congratulating Mateo through text message.
“I went to the production that it was too hard for me, that I can’t stay here. And I told them that I really want to leave. Can we please fast-forward the feed? Because they already announced online who the winner was,” she narrated.
“They said they can’t, because we have to finish the feed and we’re filming. I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ Can we please just finish? And they told me they had to take the picture, and I said, ‘Can we just do it know?’ And they said they couldn’t. I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ I had to leave. And I left.”
Appearing to control her tears, Gumabao recounted that, “At that moment, I just realized that for nine months, I kept putting this journey first, I kept putting this organization first.”
“It was my time to put myself first. And I did.”
Referring to Gaffud, Gumabao said: “I told him my reason. I told him that I was leaving. I told them everything. He said okay. He said he was worried about social media and what everybody would think, and I told to not worry, and I would handle everything.”
“I sent a message to our winner, and I congratulated her, and I told her the reason why I’m leaving. She replied, ‘Thank you.’”
Noting that she opted to rest during the ride home to Manila, Gumabao said she only knew of the flood of rumors about the pageant when she arrived home.
Gumabao said she was particularly saddened that MUP did not issue a statement responding to the speculation surrounding her absence from the post-pageant pictorial.
“What saddens me the most is that when people were making issues about me leaving and not being part of that photo, the organization knew why. They knew my reasons, they knew I left. But they never said anything. They kept quiet,” she said.
Without giving names, Gumabao said she was “not alone” in her sentiments about the handling of the pageant.
“There are a lot of us that wish things happened differently, that our journey would have been somehow better. We do understand the conditions of the pandemic. We do understand the hardships that everybody had to go through, and the adjustments that everybody had to make just to make this possible,” she said.
Gumabao went on to address her “fate” in the pageant scene. Prior to Miss Universe Philippines, Gumabao sought the same crown in 2018 when it was still under Binibining Pilipinas. She instead won Binibining Pilipinas Globe, making her the country’s representative in the Miss Globe pageant that year.
Gumabao, 28, has said Miss Universe Philippines would be her last pageant, given the age limit for beauty competitions.
“I just hope that people allowed me accept my fate and my destiny in my own terms,” she said in her vlog. “There were things that I shouldn’t have heard, I hope never heard them.”
“Accepting failure is one thing, but for it to be mixed up with so much doubt, so much uncertainty towards myself as a human being, as a woman, that was something that I needed time to process, and I needed time to accept.”
“I know I’m strong, I know I’m confident, I know I’m empowered, but at that moment, I doubted everything, I doubted how I was. I wasn’t used to that. I panicked. I did what I had to do, and I do not regret any decision that I ever made in this pageant. I do not regret joining, being part of it, I do not regret leaving,” she added.
Gumabao also addressed those behind the “online bullying” and “fake news” which she said beset the pageant.
“We should stop bashing. We should stop spreading lies and negativity. Even though we are free to speak our hearts and our minds and share our passions about a certain topic, it doesn’t mean that it is okay to bring and take people down, just because we feel bad,” she said.
Gumabao ended by sharing her hope that aspiring queens will have a better experience than she did in the past year.
“I have to speak up, I have to defend myself, I have to fight for myself, because I knew nobody would,” she said. “I’m sharing this because I hope that in the future, it would be a different experience for future girls who dream of becoming the next representative of our country.”