Tuesday, October 27, 2009


1922 ROYALTIES, Virginia Llamas Romulo and her two Roman princesses, lounging languidly for the camera.

As the Carnival Queens enjoyed immense following, they were sought after by corporate sponsors to endorse their products. As early as 1924, longtime Carnival sponsor Coty perfume issued advertising photo cards of the winner, Trinidad Fernandez, with a handwritten endorsement of “Les Parfums de COTY Paris--favored above all French perfumes throughout the world”. On it, Trinidad had written: “Los perfumes ‘Coty’ son mis preferidos—Trining Fernandez, 12 de Febrero de 1924”. (Coty perfumes are my preferences).

TRINIDAD FERNANDEZ, 1924 Manila carnival Queen, in an advertising trade card for COTY Perfumes, a cosprorate sponsor of the annual carnival event.

By the 1930s, when advertising in the Philippines became more sophisticated and Western in its approach, testimonial print ads featuring winners attesting to the product benefits of Coty were published in leading magazines nationwide-further proof of the pulling power of a national figure that was the Carnival Queen.

1939 QUEEN ILUMINADA, gets made up with COTY Cosmetics, a major sponsor of the Manila Carnival, in a full page endorsement ad.

Overall, the Queens of the Manila Carnival succeeded in redefining the traditional concept of beauty through their groundbreaking achievements, heightened social awareness, patriotism and moral uprightness, taking their being national role models to heart. The image of a Filipina beauty queen transformed as a powerful agent of change was concretized in the Carnival years with winners like Pura Villanueva (1908), an indefatigable suffragist and social worker, Paz Marquez (1912) who, by 1919 became a school founder after years of being an acclaimed writer in English, Trinidad Fernandez (1924) , a patroness of the arts and Trinidad de Leon (1920) who went on to become a First Lady after the election of his husband Manuel Roxas as president of the Philippines.

(Reference: Hazel McFerson. Mixed Blessing: The Impact of the American Colonial Experience on Politics and Society in the Philippines (Contributions in Comparative Colonial Studies): 2001)


FREE PRESS NATIONAL BEAUTIES. A congregation of the country's fairest as chosen by the Philippine Free Press. They came from the country's most illustrious and often affluent, families. Among those in the winners' circle is Amanda Teopaco, who became the wife of Justice Jose Abad Santos (1st photo on the left, 2nd row).

Perhaps to underscore the fairness of the competition, a 1929 Carnival ad touted: “The selection for the Miss Philippines is a real beauty contest. It is not a popularity contest. The humblest girl from the most secluded barrio has as big a chance to win the honor as the daughter of the richest hacendero”. But in reality, every one knew that the rich, the prominent and the well-connected had the upperhand.

1926 PAMPANGA CARNIVAL. Pampanga province regularly sent delegates to the annual Manila Carnivals, and its petit fairs and exhibitions drew national attention. The winners were carefully selected from Kapampangan families with irrefutable character and reputation.

When the contest was eventually opened up to any interested party in 1927, it became necessary to draw up a set of criteria to guide the jury. The souvenir program from that year stated that the judges, “in the selection of the most beautiful ladies, shall consider besides the physical beauty, the personal charms and the general refinement and composure of the candidates”.

ROYAL DUTY CALLS. As part of her obligations, Miss Philippines graced social functions, fund-raising events and national holiday rites. L-R, Anita Noble (1926 Miss Philippines), Lourdes Rodriguez (1927 Miss Visayas), Luisa Marasigan (1927 Miss Philippines) and Nora Maulana (1927 Miss Mindanao).

It was only in 1929 that the criteria became more specific and explicit. The set of criteria detailed in a recruitment ad for the 1930 Miss Philippines also reflected the changing mores and the more progressive social milieu of the times. To qualify, “any young lady born in the Philippine Islands and who is a citizen of this country may be eligible as a candidate, regardless of race". Candidates, in addition, must be “at least 18 years old and not more than 25 years old”. It was also made clear that “she must be unmarried, with no stage or screen experience, and must enjoy a good reputation in the community”.

What was it about being a movie actress that prompted the Carnival Association members to disqualify them from entering the Miss Philippines contest? Were they really concerned of the undue advantage that their popularity generated? Or were there certain negative perceptions attached to a movie star with regards to her morals and conduct?

SWIMMING IN CONTROVERSY. Media had a field day covering the 1930 "bathing suit controversy" involving candidate Violeta Lopez, who refused to wear one, and which, according to rumors, cost her the crown.

More interesting was the way the rules expanded the definition of beauty by emphasizing that “in the selection of the different candidates, the following points shall be considered: Facial beauty, Perfection of form, Accomplishment.” This focus on physical form and body symmetry, included in the 1930 rules for the first time, triggered that year’s bathing suit controversy in which frontrunner Violeta Lopez refused to wear a swimsuit, which many believed cost her a slot in the finals. These criteria remained in force and were still being followed in 1935 although expressed differently: Facial beauty, perfection of lines, distinction.


That is not to say, however, that the Carnival participants were totally free from some form of exploitation, both subtle, overt and legitimate. After all, the Carnival was looked at as a business venture, and the beauty search was an accepted means of raise funds. Early publicity materials like to point out that every candidate representing “the piquancy of Morolandia, the grace of the Mountain Province, the charm of the Modern Filipina, not forgetting the dark-eyed Spanish mestizas, the blue-eyed daughters of American pioneers and the almond-eyed descents” can vie for, and win the queenship.

DAUGHTERS OF LUZVIMINDA. Beauties from Luzon (Miss La Union), Visayas (Miss Leyte) and Mindanao (Miss Lanao) converge at the 1927 edition of the Manila Carnival.

Those who were really in a better position to win the crown were daughters of de buena familia families who not only had the financial clout, but who also possessed sterling reputation and spotless character. Indeed, the voting public seemed to have placed a premium on the candidate’s distinguished background over physical beauty if one were to see the early list of winners. It was not necessary to make character investigations as the delegates were often handpicked by provincial officials and came to Manila with the most glowing recommendations.

REDEFINING THE STANDARDS OF BEAUTY. Carmen Papa, who, as one observer noted was "the least attractive, but certainly the gentlest", went on to win the 1925 Carnival Queen title. It also helped that his father, Ramon Papa, was a high profile member of the Philippine Commission.

Such was the case of the early winners like Pura Villanueva, whose feminist writings were already familiar to Manila society even if she wrote for regional newspapers. In 1925, queen-elect Carmen Papa, was described by beauty observers as being the least attractive among the candidates, but certainly “the gentlest”. The next year, when the choice for the Queen vacillated between Anita Noble of Batangas and Carmen Fargas of Zamboanga, the judges finally cast the deciding vote for the candidate with the more distinguished lineage—Anita Noble, who had the illustrious Agoncillos (diplomat Felipe, Maria, wife of Emilio Aguinaldo; Marcela, maker of the Philippine flag) on her bloodline.

Delegates of ethnic descent had slim chances of winning the crown given the stature of their provinces compared to imperial Manila which produced the most number of Carnival Queen winners (8), followed by Batangas with 3 (1913, 1923, 1926) and Iloilo, Bulacan and Pampanga with 2 winners. Even the backgrounds of the two Kapampangan winners were downplayed as Socorro Henson (1926) and Guia Balmori (1938) practically grew up in the city. The 1927 queen, Luisa Fernandez was actually from Tayabas, but represented Manila as she was a student in the city at the time of the contest.

PROMDI QUEEN. Provincial lasses held their own against the more sophiticated beauties from Manila and other key cities. Iloilo was the first province to have a daughter proclaimed as Carnival Queen, but only after the original Manila winner renounced her crown.

One would think that when a panel of judges replaced public subscription voting in 1926, the playing field for all contestants would be levelled. While it was true that Bala Amai Miring (Miss Lanao 1926) and Nora Maulana (Miss Sulu 1927) made it to the royal court as Misses Mindanao, the rules decreed at that time that the regional winners should authentically come from the provinces of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. This rule was revoked in 1930, and henceforth, the second, third and fourth placers were named as Miss Luzon, Miss Visayas and Miss Mindanao respectively.

MINDANAO MAIDENS. Nora Maulana and Bala Amai Miring (left and middle) were both named as Miss Mindanao in the 1926 and 1927 Carnival. Rules dictated then that the regional winners should come authentically from the region. No other Mindanao beauty won after the rules changed in 1930, where the regional titles were awarded to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th placers, irregardless of their origins . The third girl is Scott Rasul , Miss Sulu of 1926.

For ‘minority contestants’, the rule change practically reduced the chances of winning to virtually nil, paving the way for more Manileñas to place in the finals. There was quite a dissonance in the victory of Louise Stevens as Miss Mindanao 1931—as she was an American-mestiza and a Manila resident.

ALBAY CARNIVAL QUEEN OF 1935. Teresa Barrenechea. Provincial petit fairs were all the rage in the 1930s, with mini-carnivals staged everywhere from Cebu to Sorsogon, Capiz to Cagayan , Pampanga to Baguio.

The provinces thus, concentrated on their provincial fairs and expositions which, like the Cebu Carnivals, were said to rival the national event in Manila in terms of pomp and pageantry. Provinces like Baguio, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Tarlac, Sorsogon, Capiz and Pampanga held their own spectacular carnivals, electing Queens who did not have to go to Manila to compete for the Miss Philippines title; their royal duties were exclusive to their provinces alone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


When the very first Carnival began its search for the Queen to rule over the national festivities, emphasis was put on the ‘quality’ of candidates. W. Cameron Forbes called on the pater familias of the country’s most prominent families, to field in their daughters and lend their distinguished presence and participation to the biggest fair of the land. Indeed, the candidates’ lists read like who’s who from the elites of Philippine high society. The pedigreed beauty queens were extolled through street parades and discussed constantly on every leading paper and magazine, meriting prime space and enthusiastic coverage.

MISS FREE PRESS PHILIPPINES CANDIDATES. Free Press sponsored its own canddiates to the annual Manila Carnivals. The paper invited individuals to send pictures of beauties from whom they selected the finalists. Top middle picture shows Marcelina Cuenca, who won Miss Manila of Free Press and who later won Miss Visayas in the 1934 Manila Carnival finals.

An editorial from Philippine Free Press observed: “During the Carnival, we glorify Woman, placing her on a high pedestal and showering her with praise and attention. Thus, we pay due homage to the eternally feminine qualities of womankind, to her beauty and grace and charm.”

But by putting them on pedestals to be worshipped and honored, we have also unwittingly excluded them from the real world, removed from the strifes and struggles of daily living—in sharp contrast to the desire of the new Filipina to reinvent herself and be more than a beauty to be objectified. On the surface, it would seem that the Carnival Queens embodied the women who stuck to society’s patriarchal definition of her sex.

BEAUTIES TRANSFORMED. Two candidates to the 1934 Manila Carnival : the brain and beauty UP coed Consuelo Villamor and the socialite Pacita Madrigal, who later became a Senator in the Magsaysay administration.

In truth however, a review of the winners show them to be forward-looking women of the times who are ready to descend from their lofty pedestals to join the hurly-burly of life. The Free Press editorial gave proof to the Filipina’s coming-of-age as emerging leaders of the new 20th century: “Witness the recent convention of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs where members of the fair sex discussed everything from politics to hygiene. Witness also the invasion of women in the various professions once believed to be the exclusive field of men”.

When the delegates to the 2nd National Beauty Contest convened at the Colegio de Señoritas, the school directress, Socorro Hernandez, took note of the women power gathered inside the halls of the school, leading her recognize the significance of the event: “Above all, this gathering is replete with meaning for while it is intended as a consecration of beauty, at the same time, it is an eloquent manifestation of the tremendous transformation that is going on in the soul of the Filipino woman.

WHO'S THE FAIREST FILIPINA OF THEM ALL? A bevy of Philippine beauties from where Carnival candidates were chosen. Philippine Free Press ca. 1930s.

What is lasting in this gathering is not the image of physical beauty that in a short time fades from our memory, no. What is everlasting in this brilliant festival is the awakening of a consciousness of personality in the Filipino woman. It is the conquest of her real place in our society that makes gatherings of this kind valuable”.

88. The Carnivals in Restrospect: ENDINGS AND EXPECTATIONS

The very 1st Carnival in 1908 was conceived by Americans with the publicized aims that the event would be good for the country , and would make the world take note of the growing prosperity of the Philippines-- in essence, a showcase of America’s successful colonization.

But an unspoken intended objective was the complete obliteration of ill-feelings Filipinos still had for the Americans, generated by their painful defeat in the Philippine-American War, this, after a successful campaign against Spain. That victory allowed them to enjoy a brief period of political independence, to be taken away again by a new master.

American leaders realized that this slow-burning animosity could be a barrier towards their governance, hence the holding of a fun Carnival. But prejudices reared its ugly head many times even in the Carnival—like the discourtesies experienced by the 1908 Filipino King and Queen, leading El Renacimiento to write: “If the Americans, as excessively democratic sons of capital and labor, do not know nor recognize the rituals of etiqueta palatina, let them not take part in the farce of reality”.

Incidents like these, though minor annoyances, only served to fan the desires of Filipinos for complete independence. The fantastic floats that proclaimed the commercial and agricultural advancements of the country had the same effect, sending a strong message to Filipino spectators that they were indeed, ready for self-rule.

In 1916, the Jones Act was passed, creating the Philippine legislature composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives and promising to grant independence to Filipinos as soon as a stable form of government is established. But it also gave America the prerogative to decide when this “stable government” has been achieved. All the hopeful Filipinos could do was wait.

Thus, even in the midst of a unified Filipino-American Carnival gaiety, important reminders to America’s promise were dropped at every opportunity. The national beauty search provided that important platform from which at least one winner raised her voice to bring this message to a wider audience.

In a stirring speech given at her school to honor the candidates that had gathered there, Luisa Marasigan, the 1927 Miss Philippines, reminded her guests and friends that “ this yearly gathering should also be an occasion for renewing our faith in the righteousness of our sublime aspiration—the freedom of the Philippines. Because what is physical beauty unaccompanied by a spiritual grandeur, and what is spiritual greatness that does not aspire to liberty, the supreme of all sentiments?”

The school directress of Centro Escolar de Senoritas, Mrs. Socorro Hernandez, amplified this when she articulated her thoughts about what constitutes real beauty: “We think of it deeply that the holding of a national beauty contest every year is only a means to an end. A people that admires physical beauty is a people that possesses artistic temperament; but let us caution our people lest we forget, that there is another form of beauty more everlasting and of much more importance to us in these days of national construction; I mean the beauty of the soul, that soul which revolts to be under a foreign tutelage, that beautiful soul which aspires to nobler ambitions, that soul which spurns slavery and yearns for the sublime of all sentiments—the liberty of our country.”

In 1934, the first queen of the Carnival, Pura Villanueva, reminisced about the fabulous Carnival years. When asked which Carnival was the best, she replied: “For me, the best Carnival was that in which my daughter was elected queen (Maria Kalaw, 1931) because it was a Carnival that could probably be called Filipino.”

Indeed, Pura’s Carnival—in which she had been the star—was ironically orchestrated and administered by foreigners, and not by her countrymen. It took her 26 long years to realize that the ones who got the most out of the “greatest event in the Orient” were the Americans themselves.

The same year that Pura was interviewed, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was approved, finally providing for self-government and for Philippine independence from the United States after a transitional period of ten years. Underlining the preparedness of the country for the promised freedom, the 1937 fair downplayed the carnival aspect of the national event by calling attention to the great strides accomplished in the name of progress. From that year till the fairs ended in 1939, the national carnivals were renamed as the “Philippine Exposition”.

The war extended the period for another two years, but for the millions of Filipinos who had dreamt and aspired freedom all their lives, the long wait was still worth it.