Tuesday, June 2, 2009

83. 1938, Miss Philippines of the Philippine Exposition, GUIA GONZALES BALMORI

1938 MISS PHILIPPINES, Guia Gonzales Balmori, a petite UST beauty won the national title in the waning years of the Carnival. The Balmoris, of Sppanish-Kapampangan descent, were longtime Ermita residents. Guia was named after Ermita's patroness, Our Lady of Guidance.

Guia Gonzales Balmori was the 2nd known winner of the 12th National Beauty Contest of the Philippine Exposition (as the Manila Carnival was now known) with Kapampangan roots. She was born on 13 November 1920 to Joaquin Balmori of Bacolor, a well-known labor leader and Rosario Gonzales, originally from Pangasinan. (It is interesting to note that the Pangasinense Gonzaleses produced 2 beauty queens—Nieves Gonzales, Queen of the Pangasinan Carnival in 1919 whose grand daughter, Maria Margarita Moran became Miss Universe 1973). The Balmoris were of Spanish stock, and this showed clearly in Guia’s fair and finely chiselled mestiza features.

THE YOUNG GUIA. A popular Thomasian student at the time of the contest, Guia's fair mestiza beauty is evident in this official portrait done for the Carnival.

The Balmori family settled in Ermita and Guia was named after the district’s titular patroness, Nuestra Sñra. De Guia. During the annual fiesta, Guia was a regular participant in the "Bota de Flores", where young ladies and their escorts in sailor's costumes re-enact the 1918 return of the revered image to her Ermita shrine in a traditional procession.

was a secretarial student at the University of Santo Tomas when the contest beckoned. Her exquisite beauty was evident at a young age, and the Philippine Free Press immediately included her in their magazine-run search for Miss Philippines, eventually emerging as Miss Mindanao. But at the 1938 edition of the Carnival, Guia did even better. Her candidacy however, stirred quite a ruckus, from her father who saw the pageant as a frivolous exercise, to the religious nuns in school who frowned on such beauty shows. Nevertheless, she surprised everyone with her victory.

AS MISS MINDANAO OF THE PHILIPPINE FREE PRESS. Guia Balmori placed 4th in the magazine-conducted search for the 1938 Miss Philippines, won by a Boholana.

GUIA'S GRACE. The young queen in her coronation attire designed and executed by the couturier of the day, Ramon Valera, now a National Artist.

At her coronation, she wore a Ramon Valera gold gown and was escorted by a dashing Kapampangan collegian, Ernesto “Gatas” Santos, son of Don Teodoro and Dña Africa Santos of San Fernando and Mabalacat. Her prize money of P1,000 was discreetly tucked in her bouquet.

QUEENS OF THE NIGHT. The court, resplendent in their formal gowns, at their proclamation. L-R, Miss Mindanao Marinza Lopez, Miss Luzon Rosario Ferro, Miss Philippines Guia Balmori and Miss Visayas Belen de Guzman.

The members of Guia’s court included Rosario Ferro (Miss Luzon), Belen de Guzman (Miss Visayas) and Marina Lopez (Miss Mindanao). Later in life, Guia married Jose Avelino Jr., a future Senate President, with whom she had 7 children: Enriqueta (+), Marlene, Jose III, Eduardo, Esther, Armando, and Bernadette.

GOLDEN GIRL. Guia Balmori basks in her triumph as queen of the Philippines, dressed in a gold lame terno. for this formal photo.

She settled in Parañaque and operated a beauty parlor in Makati with her daughter for many years. Living a long, meaningful life, she passed away on 12 December 2006. A scant 5 days after, her husband, Jose Avelino Jr. joined her beloved in eternal life; as one granddaughter mused—even in death, they could not stand to be apart.


ELISA MANALO, Miss Luzon 1937

Kapampangan Elisa "Ely" Manalo was also elected Miss Radio of 1937, a contest that counted previous contestants like Lina Flor and Carmen Rosales. Like many beauty queens before her, she was lured into showbiz and was cast in the movie "Anna Maria", produced by Silangan Movietone Pictures in 1939.



Sonia Ortaliz Gamboa
is the daughter of Jose Benedicto Gamboa and Eliza Ortaliz. She is from Silay City, Negros Occidental. In 1936, she reigned as queen of the Iloilo Carnival. She married Horacio Santos, whose family founded Prudential Bank and Trust Company. Their children include: Sonia, Jose Ma., Ma. Cristina, Horacio Jr., Roberto, Alessandro, Victor Roman and Regina Victoria.


ADELA COSCOLLUELA, Miss Mindanao 1937

Adelaida Coscolluela comes from the prominent Coscolluela family of Negros. "Daiding" died young at the age of 28.


Monday, June 1, 2009

81. 1937, Miss Philippines of the Philippine Exposition, CARMEN BAYOT ZALDARRIAGA

1937 MISS PHILIPPINES, Maria Carmen "Chita" Zaldarriaga, another southern beauty with clear Spanish-Filipino lineage. Her reign coincided with another important event in Philippine history: the holding of the 13th International Eucharistic Congress in the country.

1937 was a banner year for Christian Philippines as the country proudly hosted the XIII International Eucharistic Congress, attended by leading church dignitaries and pilgrims the world over. This most important religious meeting was held on the same month that the activities of the Manila Carnival—now dubbed as the Philippine National Exposition, were being mounted in Wallace Field in Luneta, the centerpiece event of which was the election of Miss Philippines of 1937.

The eventual winner was a 17 year old Manila beauty named Carmencita “Chita” Zaldarriaga who conquered the Carnival with her pronounced Castilian beauty. Her great grandmother was Atanasia Dominguez, widow of Joaquin Bayot. A son, Francisco Maria is Chita's grandfather.

From her father’s side, Chita is a relative of Consuelo ‘Monina’ Acuña –her mother is a Zaldarriaga--who had also been a Carnival Queen seven years before. In more recent years, Chita’s niece and namesake, Maria Carmen “Maricar” Zaldarriaga, daughter of her brother Francisco, won the 1972 Miss Young Pilipinas title. Thus, the tradition of beauty ran deep in the Zaldarriaga family.

CARMEN'S COURT. L-R, Elisa Manalo (Miss Luzon), Queen Chita, Sonia Gamboa (Miss Visayas) and Adela Coscolluella (Miss Mindanao)

As a young girl, Chita was bright and studious, and was accelerated many times, finishing her elementary in 5, instead of 7 years. At the time of the contest, she was a high school student at the Assumption Convent. She was sponsored by the newspaper La Vanguardia. Joining her on the coronation dais were her equally beautiful princesses—Elisa Manalo (Miss Luzon), Sonia Gamboa (Miss Visayas) and Adela Coscolluela (Miss Mindanao).

FLYING HIGH. Chita's escort at her coronation was the much acclaimed pilot, Col. Antonio Arnaiz, who made the first transatlantic flight from Manila to Madrid. He later married her.

Her King Consort was a young man from Bais, Negros Oriental -- Col. Antonio Arnaiz, already a well-known personality for many Filipinos at that time. Col. Trained at the Dallas Aviation School, Arnaiz and his co-pilot, Juan Calvo were the first Filipinos to make a historic flight from Manila to Madrid on a single-engine plane called “Commonwealth of the Philippines”. The “Arnacal Flight”, as the aerial feat was known, made headlines around the world and, upon their return, the two were hailed as conquering heroes by their countrymen. A special commemorative stamp was even issued to mark this Philippine aviation milestone. Later, Col. Arnaiz would earn a doctorate in aeronautical engineering.

Chita and Antonio, with their good mestizo looks and temperament, turned out to be a perfect match. The handsome colonel regularly paid afternoon visits to the Queen, and the press avidly followed their courtship which ended with their fabulous wedding in February 1938, a full year after their first encounter. The union resulted in 5 children: Josefina, Teresita, Antonio Jr., Leopoldo and Vicente. The Arnaizes lived a full life, but was marred by the death of one child and the eventual demise of the colonel in 1979.

After her husband’s death, Chita busied herself with their assorted family enterprises and also got involved in civic and charity groups like the Catholic Women’s League where she served as Vice President. This she did, for the rest of her days, passing away in September of 2008.



One of the most famous beauties ever to come from the Carnival royalties is the alluring Amparo Karagdag. “Amparing” was born on 11 March 1915, the eldest of 7 children from a Reyes family in Malolos, Bulacan. She was adopted by a certain Nena Karagdag and she assumed her last name.

At the 1936 Miss Philippines finals, she placed a strong second to Mercedes Montilla. Acting as Miss Luzon’s escort was Ricardo Manotok. After the contest, she became even more popular when she joined showbiz, appearing in movies as: Dating Pugad, Angel na Tukso, Pasalubong, Kundiman and Ikaw at Ako. In the course of her short career in which her beauty title was always touted, she had as leading men Carlos Padilla, Leopoldo Salcedo, Jose Padilla Jr.

Amparing was also a favorite dancing partner of Pres. Manuel L. Quezon who caught her eye during the Carnival pageant. Quezon had always taken a strong interest in the Miss Philippines search, where his advice often influenced the outcome of the contest. Amparing and the president were always seen during government socials that she was rumored to be his “girlfriend”.



Miss Visayas 1936 Helen Bennett was born in Nueva Vizcaya, making her a genuine Gaddang beauty. She was the daughter of American Roy Bennett with Josefa Cutaran. Family tradition had it that the Bennetts descended from Rufus Bennett (b.1754) a body guard of Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution. Roy had been a Thomasite teacher who was assigned to Nueva Vizcaya to teach and to help build the local high school there. The union resulted in 5 children, of which Helen was the eldest daughter.

Coming to the contest, the elegant Fil-Am mestiza had impeccable credentials. She had been named earlier as Miss Pearl of the Orient Seas by the Philippine Free Press which conducted its own Miss Philippines search. It was not surprising at all that she would land in the winners’ circle, placing third after Mercedes Montilla and Amparo Karagdag. At the Coronation Night, she was escorted by Francisco Chanco.

The War years brought untold sufferings to the Bennetts. Because of their American blood, the whole family was detained at the University of Santo Tomas. A younger brother, Roy Jr. --an editor of Manila Bulletin--was incarcerated and tortured at Fort Santiago after refusing to operate the popular daily under Japanese censorship. The family survived the War and soon after, Helen joined the government service as Foreign Secretary under Pres. Elpidio Quirino.

She married late in life, to Joseph Schon, an engineering graduate from Johns Hopkins University. The officiating person was Justice Manuel Moran, (grandfather of Miss Universe 1973, Margarita Moran). Helen, still very active at age 98, resides in Kanlaon City. The Schons have a son, Ricky Bennett Schon who is active in the cultural affairs of the city. Another well-known niece is Lalaine Bennett, the first ever Miss Philippines to place in the Miss Universe finals, coming in fourth in the 1963 tilt.

(Many thanks to Michael Ocampo for providing some of the background information on Helen Bennett)



Cleofe or “Soping” was the daughter of a former Macabebe Scout Felix Balingit and Juliana Jaime. Long before the 1936 Miss Philippines Contest, this winsome colegiala, was already involved in civic work, lending credence to her “beauty with substance” reputation. She often acted as a welcome official of the town. On 10 September 1933, she was part of the entourage (led by Gov. Pablo Angeles) that welcomed Gov. General Frank Murphy ( 1890-1949) to the fiesta of Macabebe. As the reigning Miss Macabebe, she again was a frontliner at the 1935 town visit of U.S. Senator and Col. Rice William Means (1877-1949) of Denver, Colorado.

In 1936, Soping was chosen to carry Pampanga’s colors in the national beauty finals of 1936. Bolstered by her credentials and strongly supported by the local newspaper “Ing Catimauan”, Cleofe won the Miss Mindanao title in an all-mestiza finals. She was escorted to her coronation by fellow Kapampangan, Ricardo Paras.

Returning to Pampanga after her reign, she married Dr. Mariano Bayani of Apalit. She became even more active in socio-civic causes, most especially the Pampanga Chapter of the Girl Scouts and the local Red Cross, raising funds and pursuing related advocacies. She died in 1981 of natural causes.


79. 1936, Miss Philippines of the Manila Carnival, MERCEDES MONTILLA MONTILLA

1936 MISS PHILIPPINES, Mercedes Montilla Montilla of Kabankalan, Negros, was the daughter of the first Speaker of the Philippine Assembly, Gil Montilla. One of the prettiest winners of the Miss Philippines title, she would later become a well-loved politician.

In 1936, a Southern beauty made her mark in the annual Carnival by capturing the crown of Miss Philippines, leaving three beauties from Luzon to fight for the regional titles. Mercedes Montilla of Negros Occidental was born on 14 July 1915, the daughter of Gil Montilla, a prominent sugar planter and the first Speaker of the Philippine Assembly. She was named after her mother—Mercedes Sr.—who was also a Montilla from Pulupandan, and a second cousin of Gil. The Montillas had Spanish roots, and this was evident in Mercedes’s fair and delicate beauty. But behind her refined femininity, a woman of strong character, influence and power would soon develop.

At the time of the contest, “Merceding” was a 20 year old young woman who grew up in an affluent home. As it was the fashion then, she was sent to a convent school in Hong Kong and later returned to study at the Philippine Women’s University for her high school. Her schooling was momentarily interrupted with the advent of the 1936 Carnival, when she was drafted to run for the queenship of the greatest annual event of the Orient.

Mercedes’ candidacy earned approval from her family, as it eventually served to heighten the popularity of her politico father. She, however, faced stiff opposition from Bulacan belle, Amparo Karagdag, who, after the contest would be linked to Pres. Quezon. Nueva Vizcayan-born Helen Bennett, an American mestiza posed another threat, as she had been the Philippine Free Press winner of Miss Pearl of the Orient. In the homestretch, Mercedes emerged victorious, relegating Amparo Karagdag to second place (Miss Luzon) while Helen Bennett and Kapampangan Cleofe Balingit captured the Miss Visayas and Miss Mindanao titles, respectively.

At her coronation, she was escorted by fellow Visayan Zafiro Ledesma, later the mayor of Iloilo City She wore a sequined gold lame native gown and her Crispulo Zamora-made crown had a more traditional design Her crown was of silver studded with rhinestones and with three colored stones of red, white and blue, set brilliantly in front. True enough, Speaker Montilla rode on the crest of his daughter’s triumph, often taking her with him to state functions attended by all sorts of VIPs. Those were heady times for the 1936 Miss Philippines, a role she played with aplomb.

Three years after the Carnival, she met a sugar planter and a chemist—Genaro Alvarez, from Kabangkalan, Negros. They got married in 1939 and initially settled there, until the War, where they moved to Sipalay. They fell in love with the town and remained there even after the war’s end. The couple had three children, Genaro Jr., Rosemarie Alvarez Isidro (a U.S. based doctor ) and Aurora Alvarez Guariño.

In the mid 1950s, Genaro Alvarez ran for mayorship of Sipalay and won, serving two consecutive terms. He tried running for a third term, but he was stabbed to death four days before the elections, a politically motivated murder. Mercedes, his widow, took his mantle and ran in his place, winning by an incredible margin. She proved her political mettle by running successfully for a second and third term, retiring undefeated in 1976.

She spent the rest of her days in Bacolod City with son Genaro Jr., but would also find time to visit Sipalay where their old house still stands. Our 1936 Miss Philippines passed away on 24 September 1993 due to kidney failure. She rests next to her husband Genaro in the family's mausoleum in Bacolod that has a stained glass picture of her as a Carnival Queen. Genaro Jr. today is a member of the House of Representatives, from the sixth district of Negros Occidental.

FAMILY UPDATE: The old house in Sipalay is already gone but the ancestral home in Kabankalan still stands, home to the present generation of Montillas-Alvarezes. Daughter Rosemarie, a practicing psychiatrist, lives in Washington. Aurora and her family are Manila residents. Son Genaro Jr. is now the vice-governor of Negros Occidental. His two children are also in politics: son John Paul Alvarez is the Mayor of the Municipality of Ilog, while daughter Mercedes is a congresswoman of the 6th district of Negros Occidental. (Many thanks to Cong. Mercedes "Chedeng" Alvarez for these updates!)