Vanessa A. Balbuena – The Philippine Star

October 8, 2021 | 12:00am

Cebu has long been home to national and international beauty titlists of all sorts — from representatives to the Big 4, to middle and low-tier pageants that run the gamut from traditionalcandidates, to teens, moms, LGBT and even grandmas.

So as any pageant fanatic this side of the country would crow about, the southern province’s reputation as a pageant powerhouse isn’t just a recent occurrence.

Cebu, in fact, is a Hall of Famer at Reyna ng Aliwan, which, while not a major tilt, has been a pit stop for many of its beauty queens before moving up to the more prestigious ones.

But a back-to-back victory in the big leagues injected a renewed sense of pride for a people known to take its pomp and pageantry seriously.

Still on a high after Cebu City’s Beatrice Luigi Gomez was declared the new Miss Universe Philippines (MUP), Cebuanos — or those who couldn’t be bothered staying up for a six-hour streamcast — woke up Monday to news that one of its own, Tracy Maureen Perez was crowned Miss World Philippines (MWP).

That’s like Christmas for avid Cebuano pageant fans who are looking at a busy December as they follow and support the journey of Gomez for the 70th Miss Universe in Israel, and Perez for the 70th Miss World in Puerto Rico.

Gomez, 26, is the third from Cebu to be a Miss Universe Philippines delegate after Pilar Pilapil in 1967 and Gazini Ganados in 2019.

Perez, 28, is the second Cebuana who earned the right to vie for Miss World after Ma. Karla Bautista in 2004 where she finished among the Top 5 and was named Queen of Asia and Oceana.

The second runner-up finish of Steffi Aberasturi last Sept. 30 at MUP, as well as the crowning of Shaila Rebortera as Miss Multinational Philippines Monday dawn cemented Cebu’s so-called domination in Philippine pageantry.

In a Facebook post, the Office for the Presidential Assistant to the Visayas (OPAV) lauded the four women for “conquering the World and the Universe.”

“The Cebuanos are proud of our queens and will continue to support your journey to the international stage,” its statement read. “Let that Cebuana magic take the Miss World 2021 and Miss Universe 2021 crowns. Proud tanang Bisaya ninyo (Bisayas are proud of you!)”

Asked by host RJ Ledesma during the Q&A for MWP’s Top 24 what she thought was the Cebuano trait that has made many into “beautiful women with character, passion and purpose,” Perez replied, “I think a lot of people will agree that we Cebuanas are beautiful. In fact, all three Cebuanas who joined Miss World Philippines are part of the Top 25. And we are doing it not just for ourselves,” referring to fellow Cebuana candidates Shaila and Megan Deen Campbell.

“We do have a purpose, and knowing that we are here standing not just for ourselves but also for our families and friends, despite all the setbacks and failures. I have lost a lot of battles in my life but I always told myself that I should get back up,” said the industrial engineer who also talked of how the province and city of Cebu are “standing ground” and “getting back on track” after being badly hit by the pandemic.

In an online interview months back, Perez also cited how Cebuana candidates are resilient and come with the expectation of being “well-spoken” once they introduce themselves outside their turf as Bisaya.

Top fashion designer and beauty queen/model mentor Albert Andrada, who designed the swimsuits worn by MUP 2021 finalists, echoed the observation to The STAR’s The Freeman back in February.

“It’s either they speak Cebuano or English. When a pageant candidate comes from Cebu, I know she’ll be good at speaking English. It’s not very hard to train when they’re from Cebu,” he said.

For the newly-crowned Miss Universe Philippines, she offered another explanation to that “Cebuana magic” — one that can be traced from 500 or so years back.

“We descended from Queen Juana, so Cebuanas by nature are very empowered women. We speak our truth. I think that’s what makes us stand out,” Gomez said in an online interview early this year.

She also said that a Cebuana on the national pageant stage is important so that the rest of the country be made aware that the island has more to offer from its 50-plus cities and municipalities, as each of these “celebrate different festivals, they all have their own pride such as delicacies and tourist spots.”

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