From iska to beauty queen

| Written by J. Mikhail Solitario

To say that beauty pageants are big in the Philippines would be an understatement. Year after year, millions are glued to their TV sets watching Filipinas compete on the international arena as beauty queens become heroes who dominate the national conversation. The battle, however, begins at home and two iskolars are among this year’s Binibining Pilipinas 2018 candidates, both of whom are striving to stand alongside powerful, elegant women such as Theresa Licaros, Venus Raj, Shamcey Supsup, Ariella Arida, and Catherine Untalan.

Driven by dreams

A native of Nasugbu, Batangas, Jerelleen A. Rodriguez, Binibini #25, is a cum laude graduate of BS Business Administration and Accountancy from UP Diliman where she teaches basic and advanced accounting as well as public accounting practice. On the same campus, she is currently taking up law in the UP College of Law. She placed sixth in the accounting board exams and after a brief stint at SGV & Co., she is now also working with small- and medium-sized enterprises to secure funding for their business.

 

Jerelleen Rodriguez graduated BS Business Administration and Accountancy, cum laude. (Photo by Jerelleen Rodriguez)
Jerelleen Rodriguez graduated BS Business Administration and Accountancy, cum laude. (Photo by Jerelleen Rodriguez)

 

Wynonah Van Joy C. Buot, Binibini #26, hails from Cebu where she graduated from UP with a BA in Mass Communication, cum laude. She worked as an executive assistant to design superstar Kenneth Cobonpue from 2015-2017 after focusing on her modeling career which led to multiple pageant victories, such as Miss UP Cebu in 2012 and Miss Cebu in 2015. She wanted to pursue graduate studies in arts and journalism in New York, but due to constant prodding and encouragement from family and friends, she eventually tried out for Binibining Pilipinas.

At 24, Wynonah wants to be able to tell herself that she was able to accomplish something. Her family has been very supportive, particularly her sister who prodded her, and her mom whom she thinks is a “frustrated beauty queen.” Her supporters keep her going every day. “They help you get up in the morning and motivate you to be someone,” she said.

 

Wynonah Buot winning Miss Cebu in 2015 (Photo by Epic Events Photography)
Wynonah Buot winning Miss Cebu in 2015 (Photo by Epic Events Photography)

 

Joining Binibining Pilipinas had always been Jerelleen’s dream. When she finished high school, she witnessed how Theresa Licaros won the crown and competed while being a law student. Jerelleen even initially applied for the same undergraduate degree program (Broadcast Communication) that Licaros took. She eventually shifted to Accounting for practical reasons and put academics as top priority until she graduated, aced the board exams, and passed the Law Aptitude Examination. After turning 25 last year, she finally decided that it was time to pursue her dream.

However, it is the vision of bringing her family together that truly drives Jerelleen to stay determined to achieve success. She grew up in a family of modest means, and when her father worked overseas to provide for them, she used this as her primary motivation.

Advancing advocacy

Wynonah firmly believes that advocacy should be something that a candidate carries with her naturally as her passion, and not just something forced on or demanded from a Binibini. Fortunately, as a UP student, being exposed to various discussions on social issues coupled with the expectation from people for iskos and iskas to be socially aware, she realized that she could use her background as a communicator to be involved in the peace process, focusing on terrorism and conflict in the Philippines. She feels that events in conflict areas are not as factually reported in mainstream media as they should be. She adds, “As a communicator, I can help by going to the communities, talking to stakeholders, and being a voice in providing concrete solutions.” Excellence and social responsibility are values Wynonah holds dear, both as a UP graduate and a Binibini contestant.

 

Binibini 26 Wynonah Buot (Photo by Erwin Lim)
Binibini 26 Wynonah Buot (Photo by Erwin Lim)

 

Women empowerment has always been a key theme in beauty pageants but as a teacher, Jerelleen envisions this to be a centrepiece in education reform and instruction. “We’ve seen women become presidents, Supreme Court justices and judges, and leaders in their respective fields. These women became icons but their awakening came later on and I hope to change that by instilling this idea in little girls early on.” She laments the fact that textbooks in basic education still reinforce gender stereotypes, e.g. how men should be architects and construction workers and women should be teachers and nurses. “We should be taught that we can do anything, regardless of whether we’re men or women. Equality must be taught at an early stage,” she adds.

Regardless of the outcome, Jerelleen sees the Binibining Pilipinas experience as a boost to her confidence in gaining a voice in society. As a law student, she seeks to use the platform to make use of her technical knowledge by reaching more people. As a true-blue probinsyana, she was taught by UP what it was like to be a newcomer—she was the only one from her high school who made it to Diliman. She learned how to catch up by exerting twice the effort, which she also finds herself doing in Binibini as a first timer. “Although we are sisters, this [Binibini] is still a competition. We all have to step up but I have to step up more because I’m coming from zero experience. The perseverance and persistence in my days in UP really helped,” Jerelleen recalls.

Countering criticism

Their advice to those considering a beauty pageant stint? For Jerelleen, it’s simple: just accept yourself, given social media and heightened “bashing.” “Think of the pageant experience as a normal school—you come to class and learn every day, you have tests here and there, and come coronation night, you graduate and become a better person.” Wynonah advises, “She must really know if she wants to be in the pageant or not.” As someone who has had extensive experience in pageants, she believes it is critical that you are “101% sure that you really want this. Ask yourself: is it really ‘do or die’ for you? Have courage, be prepared, and tiwala lang sa sarili. Laban!”

 

Binibini 25 Jerelleen Rodriguez (Photo by Jun Madrid, UP MPRO)
Binibini 25 Jerelleen Rodriguez (Photo by Jun Madrid, UP MPRO)

 

In last year’s Miss Universe question-and-answer portion, one of the questions asked was “What do you think is the most important social movement of our generation and why?” Wynonah thinks that her generation is trying to search for its collective identity. Older generations see millennials as people with short attention spans and fleeting ideas who settle for mediocrity. She posits, “It’s a challenge for us to prove them wrong, that we have dreams and aspirations and that we can reach them. We should stand out and be our own selves. I’m proud to be part of this generation.”

On the other hand, Jerelleen believes the campaign “think before you click” is relevant today for the generation living in a time of advanced technological developments where involvement in issues is almost second nature. Because of social media, a larger portion of society is more socially and politically involved. By thinking before they click, comment, or post, people are encouraged to examine all sides before forming an opinion.

The Binibining Pilipinas 2018 is set to crown its new queens on its Coronation Night, March 18, 7 pm at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

 

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