Wednesday, July 30, 2008

7. TEMPEST OVER A TITLE

By December of 1907, Filipino, American and Spanish communities have started naming candidates to the queenship of the first-ever Manila Carnival. The initial list of Filipina bets included Josefina Ocampo, Purita Villanueva, Leonarda Limjap and Pilar Reyes Cobarrubias, all of them beautiful and wealthy.

The public got caught up in the excitement and added their own nominations: Nenita Lukban (from Esteban de Infante), Filomena Francisco (a Liceo de Manila student noted for her intellect and moral values) , Maria Paz Zamora and Trinidad Zamora of Intramuros, Carmen Francia of Pagsanjan, Felicidad Villarica (“Talagang Tagalog”), Maria Paz Rafael Yangko (‘refined in manners”) and Pepita Rodriguez Serra. From Navotas, a certain Rufina Policarpio was singled out as “the most beautiful girl there, patriotic, educated, she can face anyone, by “tapat ng loob”.

Newspapers had a heyday selling their papers as ballot coupons were avidly sought, filled up, cut and cast. It was said that news boys no longer cry out “El Renacimiento, Castila at tagalog, walong cualta!”. Instead, they now cry out, “El Renacimiento, mayroong coupon!”. The results of the second balloting were released to the public on 23 December 1907:

Mrs. Jones – 4,169 votes
MC Baldasano – 1,978
Mrs. Beck – 1,110
Miss Leonarda Limjap – 779
Purita Villanueva – 608
Paz Yangko – 486
Carmen Francia – 457
Josefina Ocampo – 303
Felisa Hacon – 206
Inocencia Reyes – 139


Filipino newspapers like Muling Pagsilang, were quick to point out the balloting trend. Leading the contest was an American, followed by a Spaniard. The highest ranked Filipina was in 4th place. Five days after, there was a reshuffling of positions, but the foreigners still prevailed:

Mrs. Beck – 6, 647
Mrs. Jones – 6,635
MC Baldasano - 6,006
Carmen Francia – 4,352
Leonarda Limjap – 3,843
Sra. De Osorio – 3,590
Purita Villanueva – 1,089
Salud Mortera – 895
Amalia Jaime – 791
Concepcion Ocampo – 700


Also garnering votes was American Marjorie Colton, who trailed Josefina Ocampo (“Perla ng Kiapo--beautiful, humble and educated”). In the next month, the order would dramatically change for the foreign candidates, but Leonarda Limjap and Purita Villanueva consistently led the other Filipina candidates.

By January the selection of the Carnival Queen was rocked with a major controversy that resulted in the suspension of the balloting. The Carnival Committee discovered irregularities committed by newspapers and magazines. American weeklies, in particular, broke the rules when it published 4 coupons in their issues, when only 1 was permitted. A scam paper, The Sentinel, was also uncovered, printed to benefit the American contestants.

As a result, Philippine and Spanish newspapers decided to pull out from their participation; coupons ceased to be printed. Worse, the leading bets--Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Beck and Mrs. Baldasano successively expressed their desire not to be elected, with other popular candidates adopting the same attitude.

As if this was not enough, a raging cholera epidemic threatened the Carnival with postponement. The Carnival Executive Committee met quickly and decided to entrust the selection of the Carnival Queens to the Philippine Assembly.

But the epidemic eventually fizzled out, no postponement was necessary and the first Manila Carnival—with 2 queens to preside over Asia’s grandest annual event—was on its way!

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