But first let me begin with what is right with Miss Laoag, lest I be accused of being a pessimist, a grinch, a KJ or KSP (No, dear friends, my lovely dog Lady Jaja Colleen has totally changed my worldview; this charming licker has taught me to find joy in the simplest of things, and so I have been thinking brightly these days).
Indeed, there are many things we are glad about the pageant, and first among them is its employment of world-class talents in its production team, foremost of them Randy Leaño, now Hawaii-based but who comes home every year to direct the grand spectacle; prodigiously talented Aian Raquel, the show’s creative consultant; and multi-awarded choreographer Rowell Tagatac. I am not only a friend to these three artistic mavericks; I am also a big fan. Should any university offer a Ph.D. in Beauty Pageant Production, these there must be given honorary degrees outright.
Another plus factor for Miss Laoag is its wide viewership. And organizers say there are now fewer viewers on site but more on television and on the Internet, especially this year when two rival cable television networks covered the event. “Are you going to Miss Laoag?” I have been asked this many times by a wide range of people—from my esteemed colleagues in the academe to tambays in my neighborhood. Surely, the event reaches a wide audience.
I did not go this year’s Miss Laoag. I would have wanted to see the magical, world-class stage they put up every year. Their set design has always proved to be a work of art that transports you to another place as good as, if not better than, the Miss Universe stage. I know that the organizers conceptualize the event many months before February, and that putting together the whole show is a product not only of talent and genius, but also of hard work and commitment.
Having said these, it should be clear that I am no longer, as I previously was, opposed to the holding of the beauty pageant as a fiesta activity. It does not matter to me anymore that millions are spent to stage the event. If you don’t spend the money for that purpose, it might end up being used for the construction of politicians’ mansions anyway, or for the purchase of more luxury cars for them. Better to spend it for something that, though ephemeral, can leave a lasting impression on our third-world minds.
It does not bother me anymore that there are more people who watch sexy ladies at the Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena than those who pay homage to St. William, our city’s patron, in the cathedral named after him. That’s the least of my problems, and I’d rather listen to candidates’ outrageous answers in the Q&A portion than hear priests speak against things they don’t understand, like sex (with apologies to priests who are sexually active).
Lastly, it does not disturb me anymore that politicians deliver long, empty, self-aggrandizing speeches during the night. I have downloaded a lot of games in my computer tablet, and many of them are still waiting to be played.
So, what is wrong with Miss Laoag?
The more appropriate question really is “Do we really have a Miss Laoag?” And the answer is clearly, “no, we don’t.” For how, in good conscience and proper sanity, can I consider a lady who has only been in Laoag for a few days, and who will leave Laoag after the competition, as Miss Laoag? The winner this year is from Isabela. She is now wearing the crown won last year by her predecessor, someone from La Union who has also won titles there and in Baguio City.
A few years ago, the organizers transformed the “Search for Miss Laoag” into “The International Quest for Miss Laoag City Pamulinawen Festival Queen.” They tried to project the pageant as a global event in keeping with the global character and presence of the Ilocano. This, they said, will give Laoagueñas and their descendants opportunity to participate. In practice though, the pageant is open, wide open, totally open. Anyone who wants to join, so long as she meets the mainly physical criteria, are welcome. Actually, a number of those who join this search are professional Bikini Open contestants who hop from one beach, pool, bar to the other.
There is something organizers are not saying, in public, at least. They did not limit Miss Laoag to beauties from Laoag because such would result to “poor casting”. If only ladies from Laoag will be allowed to join, organizers are afraid that they will not meet “the standards they want to achieve.” This, dear karikna, is actually a sanitized way of saying “Based on our standards, we do not think there are enough beautiful ladies from Laoag who deserve to walk on the marvelous stage we designed.”
The Search for Miss ABC Laoag, the other beauty pageant held during fiesta, is more forgiving. It accepts contestants below 5’4” which is the minimum height requirement for Miss Laoag. Moreso, only Laoag City residents may join Miss ABC Laoag, many winners of which have been rejected by the Miss Laoag City Pamulinawen Search because of height requirement.
But whose standards of beauty is that? Who says that anyone below 5’4” is below par? Is the legendary Pamulinawen really tall? How tall?
If you want to be more cognitive about it, let’s ask why, aside from entertainment, do we hold beauty pageants anyway? Personally, I want someone who will represent the best, everything beautiful that we have. Attractiveness inside and out. Intelligence and wit. Grace under pressure. And we need someone whose very presence in the city will continue to remind us what a great people we are, and what a beautiful city we have. We yearn for those days when the likes of Mary Jane “Majang” Pascual-Leaño (Miss ABC Laoag 1999, Miss Laoag 2000, and Miss Ilocos Norte 2001) serve Sunshine City in every beautiful way they know. Majang is now a high school teacher, still beautiful, and, most importantly, still in Laoag, and serving her own people.
Today, winners of the Miss Laoag Search have no obligations aside from turning over the crown to next year’s winner.
One could argue that purists–i.e. those who demand for an all-Laoagueña search–can always watch Miss ABC Laoag, the less prestigious, less budgeted, less viewed pageant. But that is beside the point. Moreover, I would even argue that we should just hold one beauty pageant of, by, and for Laogueños exclusively. We want only one Laoageña who will embody not only ABC, but CDE, FGH, and all letters, numbers, and characters we know in Sunshine City.
For the one big folly of the international, intercontinental, global, interplanetary, intergalactical, universal quest for Miss Laoag is that the crowned Miss Laoag may not actually be from, much less care for, Laoag.
And what is supposed to be a celebration of local beauty has become a perennial insult.