By Armin Adina
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:44:00 08/04/2010
Filed Under: Women, Entertainment (general)
MANILA, Philippines—Controversial Binibining Pilipinas Maria Venus Raj is set to leave for Los Angeles on Wednesday, a few days before the official start of the Miss Universe beauty pageant which will take place in Las Vegas.
Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) founder and chairperson Stella Marquez-Araneta told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Raj has been selected by the Miss Universe organization to help promote the pageant.
“I just got an e-mail several days ago. It was different from the [usual] instructions. It said: ‘Would you like to send your candidate to Los Angeles four days before the official start of the Miss Universe [pageant]?’” Araneta said.
“I immediately said ‘yes’ because it was to promote the Miss Universe [pageant] to the world,” she recounted.
Shrugging off the possibility that Raj’s invitation could have some bearing on the pageant results, Araneta said: “It’s a great opportunity to represent the Miss Universe organization and sell the idea of Miss Universe around the world.”
She added that representatives from Haiti, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Mexico were likewise invited to the four-day media tour in Los Angeles.
Araneta said she was certain that Raj will deliver: “She has a very exotic, beautiful look. She stood out from other candidates from the start. She has a presence onstage that is very important in a competition. I think after all her training, she has become more confident. I believe she’ll do very well.”
Farm girl dreams big
At the beginning, the farm girl from Camarines Sur province simply wanted to build a concrete home for her mom.
But after the beauty queen almost lost her right to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, she has learned the importance of dreaming big.
“Before, I only dreamed of building my mother a concrete house and finishing my studies. The opportunities that came my way broadened my horizons,” Raj said at her send-off party last Tuesday at the Gateway Suites on the fourth level of Gateway Mall, Araneta Center in Quezon City.
“I realized I can have bigger dreams. If I work hard, I can make them come true. Maybe if I win [Miss Universe], my mother would not be the only one to get a house, perhaps other needy people would get homes as well,” she said.
Stripped of her title
But the 22-year-old Bicolana’s path to the Miss Universe pageant has been anything but smooth. A month after she was crowned Binibining Pilipinas in February, the BPCI stripped Raj of her title due to “inconsistencies in her birth record and her actual birth date.”
Official records showed that Raj was born to legally married parents in Camarines Sur. She was, in fact, born out of wedlock in Doha, Qatar, according to the BPCI.
Raj fought to have her title reinstated and her plight was widely covered by the media.
Thanks to loyal online fans, who launched a signature drive to get Raj’s crown and title back, and media’s coverage of her dilemma, the BPCI relented, saying it would reinstate her if she can submit a Philippine passport.
Raj was able to meet the BPCI requirement—she produced a valid passport—and got her title back.
The experience, she said, was part of God’s plan.
“Everything that happened—God plotted it. The experience allowed me to know myself more and made me a stronger person. If it hadn’t happened, I would just be an ordinary candidate,” Raj said.
The Miss Universe pageant will be held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The coronation night is set on Aug. 23 (Aug. 24 in Manila).
Only two Filipino women have won the international pageant—Gloria Diaz in 1969 and Margie Moran in 1973. Miriam Quiambao finished second to Botswana’s Mpule Kwelagobe, who was proclaimed Miss Universe in 1999.