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Inspirational finish for Bataan beauty

By ROBERT R. REQUINTINA

Miss Philippines Janine TugononManila, Philippines – Miss Philippines Janine Tugonon came tantalizingly close to winning the Miss Universe pageant Wednesday night, finishing second behind Miss USA Olivia Culpo in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Holding hands as they awaited the announcement, Tugonon and Culpo embraced after the verdict was read.

In Manila, many Filipinos moaned in disapproval, but reserved their praises for Tugonon, a 23-year-old lass from Balanga, Bataan.

Social networking sites were filled with messages congratulating Tugonon for placing the country in the world map.

Erienne Sierra, a student at University of Santo Tomas, wrote on Facebook that Miss Universe does not need a crown to be a queen. “Congratulations Miss Janine Tugonon. You made Philippines and the whole Thomasian community proud,” she said.

Tugonon, a cum laude pharmacy graduate of UST, was impressive in the question-and-answer portion of the event.

During the final interview read by famed photographer Nigel Barker, Tugonon was asked: “As an international ambassador, do you believe that speaking English is a prerequisite to being Miss Universe? Why or why not?”

“For me, being Miss Universe is not just about knowing a specific language. She should be able to influence and inspire other people. Whatever language you have, as long as your heart wants to serve the people, and you have a strong mind, then you can be Miss Universe,’’ Tugonon responded, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Meanwhile, Malacañang congratulated Tugonon for representing the country well.

“Ms. Janine Tugonon, by winning 1st runner up in the Miss Universe pageant, held up the country’s banner and showed the world, once again, the grace, sophistication, and beauty that Filipinas possess,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a statement.

“With the victory of Ms. Tugonon, we find even more proof of the exceptional characteristics of Filipinas and Filipinos to be truly world-class,“ she added.

It marked the third straight year that the Philippines landed in the Top 5 of the contest. Ma.
Venus Raj placed fourth runnerup in 2010 while Shamcey Supsup ended third runner-up last year.

The last Filipino winner of the annual event was Margie Moran in 1973, four years after Gloria Diaz won it for the country for the first time.

Culpo, 20, of Rhode Islands, brought the Miss Universe crown for the first time to the United States in nearly a decade. She is into cello, movies, museums, concerts, and making people laugh. Culpo added that she hopes to land a career in either film or television.

Culpo’s question was read by Miss Universe 2010 Ximena Navarette. “What is something you have done that you would never do again?“

She replied: “Every experience, no matter what it is, good or bad, you will learn from it. But something I would never do again would be picking up with my siblings. But I don’t regret it.”

Completing the Top 5 were Miss Venezuela Irene Esser, second runner-up; Miss Australia, Renee Ayris, third runner-up and Miss Brazil, Gabriela Markus, fourth runner up.

Other candidates who made the Top 16 semifinals were representatives from Turkey, France, Peru, Russia, Mexico, Poland, Hungary, South Africa, Croatia, Kosovo, and India.

Tugonon has come a long way since finishing second to Supsup during the Bb. Pilipinas contest in 2011.

Early this year, Tugonon made a last minute-decision to join the Bb. Pilipinas beauty contest, winning it last April. She endured seven months of preparations.

From current events to her signature “cobra walk,” Tugonon entered the pageant confident of faring well.

“Ang masasabi ko, siguro ang nagbago sa akin, mula ng nagtrain ako, is `yung nagkaroon na ako ng confidence. `Yun ang malaking pinag-bago sa akin,’’ Tugonon said.

She believes that it is high time for the Philippines to win again.

“Filipinos should be recognized for their determination and strength. The Filipino women are strong and determined and they deserve to be Miss Universe,” she said during a previous interview.

Tugonon left for Las Vegas without her boyfriend whose visa application was disapproved.

“Hindi na-approve ang visa n’ya, it was denied. Sayang. Mami miss ko siya,’’ she said before boarding the plane.

“I love you! Don’t worry. I’ll come back!’’ Tugonon told her boyfriend. (With report from Madel Sabater-Namit)

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