Tuesday, October 27, 2009


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.

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