Miss Philippines Earth: ATHENA MAE IMPERIAL (Casiguran, Aurora)
Miss Philippines Air: JONAVI RAISA QUIRAY (Puerto Princesa City)
Miss Philippines Water: MURIELLE ADRIENNE ORAIS (Cebu City)
Miss Philippines Fire: MICHELLE GAVAGAN (Las Pinas City)
Miss Philippines Eco-Tourism: TARHATA CLIO SHARI RICO (Makati City)

THE Sunday Times Magazine meets the Top 10 finalists

By Ed Uy Staff Writer

If the fate of the environment were left in the hands of the candidates for Miss Philippines-Earth, then it would be left in some very beautiful and passionate hands.

Besides, if these ladies were the ones to approach you and tell you what to do, I’m pretty sure you’d be all ears and thinking of Mother Nature in no time.

Distinguishing itself from the myriad of other pageants through its environmental advocacy, the Miss Philippines-Earth is the annual search for the special pool of ladies who do not only possess the beauty of face and figure, but could also be ambassadors of the environment.

“Dubbed as ‘Beauties for a Cause,’ they become advocates of Mother Earth as they go around communities and hold seminars to heighten the awareness of the public, and to encourage them to an eco-friendly lifestyle,” explained Cathy Untalan, executive director of the Miss Earth Foundation. “Moreover, they engage themselves into various activities like tree planting and coastal clean ups, which aim to encourage more people to help lessen the problems of the environment.”

On its 11th year, the candidates take on the role of Amazon guardians as the pageant aligns itself with the International Year of the Forests and centers this competition with the promotion of forests conservation.

From 50 candidates, and after a series of grueling eliminations, the names of the final 10 candidates were announced during the talent and cultural costume competitions at Thunderbird Resorts in Binangonan, Rizal.

These 10 ladies survived the four elimination rounds and will again try to impress the panel of judges with their exceptional beauty, grace, intelligence and environmental awareness during the grand coronation night today, June 5, at the Puerto Princesa City Coliseum in Palawan.

“I have been observing how each batch of reigning queens strives to bring their respective projects to life since 2006. I must say that I am very impressed with the previous winners and am looking forward to the legacy of this year’s batch,” stated Carousel Productions Inc. executive vice president, Lorraine Schuck. Carousel Productions Inc. founded the Miss Earth Pageant in 2000.

Beasides highly anticipated swimsuit and question and answer portions, the ladies will also compete in a long gown competition donning creations of Sidney Eculla, Gerswin Qua, Arielle Agasang, Robert Zamora, Junji Banat, Pepe Quitco, Joel Acebuche, and other noted designers.

The Miss Philippines-Earth 2011 grand coronation night will be telecast live on ABS-CBN 2 at 10 p.m. tonight.

Despite their hectic schedule the Top 10 finalists visited The Manila Times offices on Tuesday, a couple of days before they flew to Palawan, to discuss their advocacies and share their most memorable experiences as they prepare for the biggest night of their lives.

Miss Mun. Casiguran, Aurora, Athena Mae Imperial
If the competition were based on eloquence and confidence then Miss Casiguran would definitely be in the top spot. The ever outspoken 24-year-old works as a program researcher for one of the country’s biggest networks and hopes to become a news reporter.

Even as a child, she recalls being very goal-oriented. She said while other girls were busy playing with their dolls, she was playing with the elders in the hopes of beating them in their grown up games.
She was also brought up to be disciplined and aware of her surroundings and the environment.

“I was taught that living in a place with a clean surrounding helps you think more clearly and work much better. I was also educated that doing small acts in saving our environment can eventually be a huge influence to other people,” she says.

For Miss Casiguran, the most important issue is global warming. “We are among the contributing factors of global warming but we can be a part of the solution to address this environmental problem. Even small significant acts such as unplugging appliances and switching off lights when they are not in use, not burning fuel, and avoiding excessive emission of carbon dioxide can be of great help in the fight against this critical environmental issue.”

Miss Cebu City, Murielle Adrienne Orais

Representing the Queen City of the South, Cebu City, the 19-year-old nursing student has been a consistent favorite throughout the competition, especially after winning most of the special awards during the preliminaries. (See side story).

Raised by a single mother, Orais says she’s been very fortunate to have the support of her paternal relatives for her to be able to attend to a good Catholic school and a very prestigious college. Having survived a recent general surgery, she feels she has been blessed with a second life and plans to make a difference by advocating a low carbon lifestyle.

“One way would be using a bicycle as means of transportation, especially when travelling short distances. This could help in reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere and lead to a much cleaner air.”
Her fellow candidates also point to her as the one most likely to pursue a showbiz career although she asserts she hasn’t received any offers yet.

Miss Malolos City, Mary Denisse Toribio
The reigning Lakambini ng Bulacan 2010, Mary Denisse Toribio is a nursing student and a basketball player at the University of Santo Tomas.

Admitting she was quite the “tomboyish type” and often chose to play with boys when she was a child, she recalled the many cuts and bruises as proof of her repeated attempts at learning how to ride the bicycle. This, she said first taught her that with enough perseverance and determination nothing is impossible.

She describes life as a book—as one chapter ends, a new chapter begins. “People come and go leaving lessons that we can use for the rest of our lives. When my dad died because of cancer, it was the time I learned the true meaning of the word ‘independence.’ Because of him

I grew up as a girl with a strong personality,” she narrated.

A member of one of the influential families in the province, she says she’s been wooed into entering politics before, but prefers to stay in the background, taking care of guests and just helping out during campaigns. She enjoys dealing with different kinds of people from all walks of life, which has made her a lot more confident in pursuing her goals.

She believes in the promotion of ecological solid waste management as the best way to solve our garbage problems. “Incineration is not only harmful to our health but also to our environment.”

Miss Cotabato City, Edan Dafilmoto
A registered nurse and current medical student, Miss Cotabato says she had a childhood full of laughter and adventure, which could explain why she is one of the most cheerful candidates this year.

“I can still remember the scent of the rice field in our farm, the vividness of the small hills and green meadows where we used to play,” she recalled.

As she grew up, she realized that life isn’t all about being carefree and that maturity should be accompanied by responsibility. Just like the responsibility each of us has in taking care of the environment.
She thus decided on the advocacy of empowering Filipinos in reducing their carbon footprints through simple and easy measures, such as eating more vegetables and less meat, using less energy, conserving water, keeping vehicles tuned-up and going for organic food.

“Each of us should be able to understand the essence of minimizing the greenhouse gases emission since this would be the ground for global warming, which would initiate climate change. I believe that if we become aware of the consequences of every action we take concerning our environment, then there will be change within us and we will start to make some resolutions,” she explained.

Miss General Santos City, Catrine Rosary Ocampo
The proud representative of General Santos City, Ocampo is a travel management student at the University of Santo Tomas.

Another goal driven beauty, Miss GenSan said she has already thought about making a difference and leaving a legacy even as a young girl.

Growing up, she challenged her talents and gifts by taking up lessons in piano, voice, tennis and ballet. She said this taught her how to deal with people and overcome her insecurities and lack of self-esteem.
A stern advocate of stopping all harmful environmental activities, especially illegal logging, she believes there are enough laws, policies and programs. “All we need is the conviction to implement these laws strictly.

“The worst regret we can have in life is not for the wrong things we did, but for the right things we could have done but we never did. Regret is always at the end, so let us stop all the activities that can harm our environment before it’s too late.”

Miss Fil East Coast USA, Brenna Cassandra Gamboa
The only remaining candidate from Filipino communities in the USA, Miss Fil East Coast is a 21-year-old nursing student at Olivarez College-Tagaytay. Her towering height has made her one of the most easily recognizable of the finalists.

Growing up in an above average middle class family in the US, she said she was shocked to see poverty when they first moved back to the Philippines. It became an eye opener for her and made her understand the importance of hard work. “It also gave me the drive to help the world and hopefully make a difference in someone’s life,” she stated.

“Time is very important, despite what age you are, you must realize every day that you are getting older. Responsibility comes in all shapes and sizes. And it comes whether you want it or not. You learn to deal with it and find ways to accept every challenge.”

To save the environment, she believes everyone can help by self-education and by adopting healthy practices.

“It is very important to make people aware of the environmental problems that our world faces. Every action or inaction of any person with regard to her or his surroundings has an effect—be it good, neutral or bad—on the environment. By becoming aware and doing the right action, we choose to be part of the solution. We can lessen pollution by lessening cigarette smoking or just living a healthier lifestyle, never use open fires to dispose of waste, avoid loud noises to prevent noise pollution, recycle, avoid littering and much more. If we took the time to change our unhealthy habits we can maintain the beauty of the earth today as we’d want to see it in the future.”

She also dreams of starting a very interesting anti-smoking project called, “Ikaw Hawak Ang World” or “IHAW” wherein they will plant trees in exchange for all cigarette sticks smoked.

Miss Las Piñas City, Michelle Gavagan
Another strong contender for the crown is Las Piñas City candidate Michelle Gavagan. Born to an Irish-American father and Filipino mother, Michelle is 21 years old and currently a mass communications student at Southville International School.

Despite being a self-confessed daddy’s girl, she learned how to be independent from her father even at such a young age. Her Filipina mother, on the other hand, taught her the importance of valuing your family, which helped her become stronger when her father passed away when she was just 9 years old.

Reforestation is her personal environmental advocacy. “This is the opposite of deforestation,” she explained. “For every tree that is chopped down, a new tree should be planted in its place. To also save our trees, we must reduce, reuse and recycle paper products. The less paper we use, the more trees and forests we can save.

“One other thing I learned from my childhood was that anything is possible, as long as you set your mind to it and you work hard to reach your goals so I believe there is still much hope in saving our forests.”

Miss Puerto Princesa City, Jonavi Raisa Quiray
Hometown favorite, Jonavi Quiray of Puerto Princesa City used to be a cartoonist for their school paper and her love for the visual arts led to her taking architecture in college.

Growing up in a family who regularly held their gatherings outdoors made her appreciate the beauty of nature at a young age. It also became a very important part of her spirituality. “I was taught to hold on to what is good even if it’s a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here. Hold on to your faith, even if it’s easier to let go. Hold on to God’s hand.

“As the representative of Puerto Princesa—the ‘City in a Forest’ my vision is to be a role model of sustainable development. It has been our dream to harmoniously co-exist with the other members of our ecosystem and to preserve its natural state, especially the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. I am advocating the protection of the environment and rehabilitation of what has been destroyed by planting more trees for the benefit of our future generations.”

Miss Pagadian City, Ma. Alicia Elena Ariosa
This 23-year-old registered nurse admits to being fascinated by beauty pageants and all the glamour that goes with it since she was a young girl. After winning the title of Miss Pagadian City a few years back, she is ready to take a bigger and bolder step in the pageant scene.

She recalls growing up with a lot of bittersweet memories, but says she has learned that no matter what has happened, you should not let obstacles or misfortunes become a hindrance to your dreams.
Her advocacy is all about forest preservation and increasing the environmental awareness of the people through education and actual implementation of solutions like tree planting.

“Our environment is the greatest gift that God has given us. The air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we eat and the fertile land that we stand on are all integral parts of our environment,” she explained.

Miss Makati City, Tarhata Clio Shari Rico
This tourism graduate of UP- Diliman grew up with responsibility deeply rooted in her values. Being the eldest in a brood of three she said she got frequent advice from her mother, which made her more conscious of her decisions.

“I have learned that one should always be thinking ahead, and be aware of the consequences of our decisions. Our future depends on all the choices and actions that we make; thus, we must always have a plan.”

Living in the most urbanized city in the country, her advocacy is to promote the construction of “green buildings.”

“By using environmentally responsible and resource-efficient materials in building establishments, we can minimize the use of energy sources and decrease environmental pollution,” she explained.

Special awards
BEFORE the announcement of the Top 10 finalists, Miss Philippines-Earth handed out several special awards throughout the series of eliminations. Below is the list of winners. Take note, however, that these awards will not affect the judges’ decisions tonight. Like the ladies said, “It’s back to zero for all of us!”
Miss Talent and Best in Cultural Costume:
Miss Tanauan City, Diane Querrer
Miss Thunderbird Resorts:
Miss Fil. East Coast, Brenna Gamboa
Miss New Placenta:
Miss Malolos City, Mary Denisse Toribio.
Miss Friendship:
Miss Municipality of Santo Tomas,
La Union, Norella Nacis
Best in Casual Wear:
Miss Cebu City, Murielle Orais
Best in Cocktail Dress:
Miss Puerto Princesa, Jonavi Raisa Quiray
Best in Long Gown (Preliminary):
Miss Fil East Coast, Brenna Gamboa
First Runner-Up:
Miss Cebu City Murielle Adrienne Orais
Second Runner-Up:
Miss Municipality of Milaor Jaine Hidalgo
Best in Swimsuit:
Miss Puerto Princesa, Jonavi Raisa Quiray
Miss Golden Sunset:
Miss Las Pinas City, Michelle Gavagan
Gandang Ricky Reyes Award:
Miss Cebu City, Murielle Orais