Beneath the gorgeous smiles and grace, Miss Universe contestants assume a critical role in terms of broader global and international politics. In essence, pageants like these represent another form of diplomacy, one that is softer and more amicable. International beauty pageants fundamentally cover political agenda or try to assume a normalized relationship especially between countries in dispute. Just remember how the netizens reacted when Miss Philippines Maxine Medina got cozy with Miss China for a friendly photo-op. Even this simple picture can launch a thousand tweets and become a subject to several diplomatic interpretations because of the territorial sea disputes between Philippines and China.

Though organizers try to suppress any forms of political agenda surfacing, women joining this pageant cannot help but become more careful of their actions as they were seen by the world not just any other women, but as representations of their homeland. And this is where political flavor inevitably comes in.

For example, controversies surfaced when in 2002, Christina Sawaya skipped the Miss Universe because of border tensions between Lebanon and Israel. Even the much awaited display of national costume can be a source of controversy because of how it depicts situations and practices in the countries the contestants represent. Yamit Har-Noy, Israel's 2002 Miss Universe delegate, had been controversial when she wore a national costume embellished with the map of Israeli state depicting the disputed territories of West Bank and Gaza. (, 2015)

Miss Universe candidates have no immunity to racism and other forms of discriminations. Just take for example our very own 2013 Miss World Megan Young, who was thrown with racial slurs for being a Filipina by a Singaporean Devina DeDiva. The latter said that Filipinos are uneducated, poor and smelly, and that Miss Young do not deserve the crown. A Filipino filed a case against her. She reportedly apologized for her racist comments but still a lot of Filipinos were angered by her remarks.

The “dreaded” Q&A portion is also critical as the candidates’ answers become subjects to public debates. They have to formulate answers not only relevant to the question but is also sensitive to the audience. I remember in 1994, the beautiful and intelligent Sushmita Sen who gave a profound answer to the question about the essence of a woman. According to Miss Sen, the essence of being a woman is the fact that she is a mother and that entails the responsibility to share love and care. She was met with contradictions from other feminist groups, particularly from the West, who pointed that to define the essence of a woman within the parameter of motherhood is fundamentally limiting. Answers to beauty pageants are essentially relevant to the values held by the individual which is brought about by the society she lives in. Apparently, in India, such values are woven in its social fabric.

Unstable political environment sometimes intercepts the essence of Miss Universe beauty pageant especially when beauty queens carry political baggage with them as they join the competition. This is the reason why Miss Universe pageant organizers not only look into the preparations of the actual event but also the geopolitical affairs that may affect the whole course of planning.

In any beauty pageant, a woman is transformed into another being in the entire course. She becomes an ambassadress of goodwill, a representative of her country and an amicable diplomat. Concurrently, beauty pageants like the annual Miss Universe is an avenue for celebrating and embodying cultural sensitivity, diversity, respect, and racial harmony among all the contestants and the nations joining the pageant.
Published in Commentaries
Tuesday, 17 January 2017 10:09

Kitchen diplomacy

IT appears that the underpinnings of an incipient Dutertenomics is coming into shape with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) doing a first with an open consultation with the public on the Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022). The five planks opened for public review were creatively termed as: Malasakit (Enhancing the Social Fabric), Pagbabago (Reducing Inequality in Economic Development Opportunities) and Kaunlaran (Increasing Potential Growth). NEDA likewise asked for comments on two additional sections: macroeconomic and competition policies and infrastructure development and ecological integrity.

Dutertenomics at its core revolves around peace and order, geopolitical rebalancing, improvement of frontline service, simplicity and a lot of common sense in governance. One piece still evolving is the much-needed tax reform. Peace and order focuses on the police and the military and public order issues as well as the war against illegal drugs.

Geopolitical rebalancing is based on hopefully a soon-to-be-defined foreign policy and national security framework, the components of which are ASEAN- and Asian-focused, and the redefinition of our relationship with the United States, China and Russia. Frontline service has clearly been felt in the way government delivers services to the public but it will even take a bigger structural reform, that of the change into federalism and a parliamentary system. With federalism you bring government closer to the people. With a parliament, one forces the need to have real political parties in the country. These are parties that win because of ideology and programs and not by machinations of foreign and local operators paid by tremendous sums of money that makes winning a transactional deal than a democratic one.

Simplicity and common sense are values that this administration seems to embrace to its core. Protocols have been minimized. Pomp and pageantry scaled down and common sense injected in every problem-solving exercise and decision-making process. The leader deals in broad strokes, leaving the details to the Cabinet to thresh out. There are good and bad points in doing so but it seems the system now in place may not be the best in terms of responding to issues. That does not mean the system does not work. In fact, it seems to be moving well, adjusting as the Cabinet meets a hurdle and recalibrating when needed.

The simplicity was awe-inspiring during the state visit of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. As the first foreign leader to visit Duterte (as well as Davao), it signaled to all that Japan is the chosen one as the vital partner in international relations and diplomacy of PRRD. The formalities were toned down and it was a revelation to see stiff and protocol-centric Japanese politicians do away with what they have been used to in dealing with Filipino leaders. PRRD showed Abe who he is. He opened his home and had his favorites for breakfast and Abe gamely tasted the biko, suman, kutsinta and mongo soup. It was show and not tell to Duterte and Abe was rockstar in a carefully drilled itinerary executed masterfully by Ambassador Marciano Paynor, Jr., chief protocol officer.

For Japanese businessmen, it has been said that sealing deals are off the boardrooms, and the meeting at the kitchen table of the simple home of PRRD showed to all the mastery of PRRD and his team. It showed to the West what Asian values are and what can be discussed and agreed upon outside of the formalities of office. Leaders can be just their ordinary selves and yet still be able to agree on so much. The “kitchen diplomacy” resulted in Japan matching China’s pledge to PRRD (in business, rice cakes and mongo soup for a trillion yen package will now be the norm). Who will first deliver on their pledges will define Duterte’s foreign play in the region.

Interestingly, Abenomics, the economic policies advocated by PM Abe, is based on “three arrows of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.” The ideological basis of Abenomics is also related to the rise of China as an economic and political power. There are explicit parallels between Abenomics and the Meiji- era program of fukuoku kyohei (enrich the country, strengthen the army). In addition to providing a “stronger counterweight to China in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening the Japanese economy is also intended to make Japan less reliant on the United States for defense.”

We should also give it to PM Abe for being game and positively responding to every event laid out for his visit. As our top trading partner and per PRRD, “truly a brother,” Japan is the anchor that PRRD has chosen to throw to the Asian continent in the rebalancing that is taking shape in our foreign policy. But even Japan is countering the sudden influence of China with PRRD with Abe’s pledge of a “¥1 trillion aid package to the Philippines, including government aid and private investments, over the next five years to help its infrastructure development and strengthen strategic ties with the key Asia-Pacific nation.”

As the United States’ influence with PRRD is shaky, Japan is now the countervailing force to China in the region. Duterte’s sound byte is clear and precise: “We will continue to forge ahead with our efforts to advance the rule of law in order to secure the waters in our region.” Dutertenomics further stressed that “as maritime nations, the Philippines and Japan have a shared interest in keeping our waters safe and secure from threats of any kind.”

Duterte seems to have integrated the Golden Rule in foreign policy: “Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want them to do to us.” In seven months, Duterte’s voice, emanating from a small nation strategically located in the Pacific, is no longer in the wilderness. The “little brown brother” has roared and is now primus inter pares. And yes, Juana, the kitchen does wonders!
Published in Commentaries


Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte is again meeting with a "special friend who's closer than a brother."

This was how he described Japan after his official visit there last October.

Now it's Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's turn to visit the Philippines.
Published in News