Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Friends support dethroned beauty queen

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines—Maria Venus Raj was excited about her homecoming as a beauty queen that was planned for after the Holy Week, but before she could even set foot on her hometown in Bato, Camarines Sur, she was stripped of her Binibining Pilipinas title.

Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. broke the news of the dethronement in a text message to media organizations this way: “Today March 29, 2010, Bb. Pilipinas Charities, Inc. decided, with a heavy heart, to let Bb. Pilipinas-Universe 2010 Maria Venus Raj go, after the organization discovered inconsistencies contained in her birth records, in contrast to her personal account of her birth.”

Thus, the Indian-Filipino Raj will no longer represent the country in the 59th Miss Universe pageant in August.

“Yesterday (Monday), I cried when I learned that I would no longer be Bb. Pilipinas-Universe. I felt I was left with no other options but to wake up the next day without a crown,” the 21-year-old Raj told the Inquirer in a calm and gloomy voice.

She intentionally did not answer phone calls and text messages that day but she said the support she has been getting was overwhelming.

“Realizing there were countless people who believed in me, it gave me strength and hope,” Raj said in a mobile phone interview.

She said she could not thank her supporters and fans enough.

“I could only be so grateful that people are there to stand by me. My family has been praying for me,” Raj said.

She said two of her sisters cried with her. While her mom appeared to be tough, she knew she was hurting, too.

The Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) has yet to issue an official document about the dethronement. Raj said she has not yet received anything.

“I am leaving this in the hands of the lawyers. For the meantime I could only thank those who have supported me from the beginning,” Raj said.

“Kahit naman mahirap ka lang, pero may pinag-aralan, alam mo pa rin ang tama at mali. Alam mo ang mga karapatan mong dapat ipaglaban (Even if you’re poor, but if you’re educated, you would know what is right and wrong. You know what rights you have to fight for),” Raj said.

Raj lives in a nipa hut in the middle of a sprawling rice field in Bato town. Her mother is a farmer and a dressmaker.

Raj said that walking on rice paddy dikes was early training for walking on fashion runways.

On the social networking site Facebook, hundreds of her friends and fans expressed frustration and anger at the pageant organizer’s decision to take back the crown from Raj.

“The Bb. Pilipinas Foundation should have made the decision when it was till screening the candidates,” said one Facebook “friend” of Raj.

An online petition to return the crown to Raj has already been created.

The Facebook page was meant to send a message to the Bb. Pilipinas Foundation that its decision to dethrone Raj was a mistake.

“These are not fair. She has all the potential to win the crown in Miss Universe 2010. So what if she is half Indian? Obviously, the second runner-up is favored by the charity,” said a post on the newly created site.

“To Stella Araneta of BPCI, God forgive you for the injustice that you brought not only to Venus but [to] the whole nation. By dethroning [her], you gave up the only chance of taking back the Ms. Universe crown to the Philippines,” said another post.

Still another post said Raj should seek assistance from the government to settle the issue. “Ask for a certified memo that will state her citizenship. According to the Philippine Constitution, if one of the child's parent is a Filipino, then he or she is a Filipino citizen. Her mom is a Filipina. [It] just happened that Venus was born in Doha, Qatar.”

Several of the newly created page’s 286 members also called for flooding the BPCI with e-mails asking the reinstallment of Raj as BB Pilipinas-Universe.

In Naga City, the executive committee of Ms Bicolandia passed a resolution expressing support for Raj and disapproval of BPCI’s decision.

Nene De Asis, chair of Ms Bicolandia executive committee, said they would extend legal and financial assistance to Raj.

“We are giving her financial assistance because we know that she was also stripped of her prize. We believe in Venus’ integrity and qualification. We are supporting her all the way,” said De Asis.

Raj was Ms Bicolandia 2007.

De Asis hinted that the decision of the BPCI was also an invalidation of the rules of Ms Bicolandia, which also do not admit non-Bicol natives as candidates.

Meanwhile, Albay Governor Joey Salceda expressed dismay at the ouster of Raj and her replacement by her second runner-up.

Salceda said he would ask the organizers why Ms Diane Samar Necio, the first runner-up, did not automatically take the place of Raj.

“I know, this is very parochial, even trivial to some, but I am asking the organizers why the first runner-up, Ms Diane Samar Necio, my townmate, did not automatically take the place of Ms Binibining Pilipinas-Universe, Ms. Venus Raj, who was ousted,” Salceda said.

“Typically, we send a morena to Ms Universe, and Ms Necio was a morena beauty and she was proclaimed the first runner-up,” he said.

Over the past three years, Albay has had a bountiful harvest of beauty trophies. Last year, Melody Gersbach first won as Ms Magayon 2009 before becoming Binibining Pilipinas-International and a semi-finalist in China.

Necio, the Bb. Pilipinas Universe first runner-up, was a runner-up to Gerbasch in the Mutya ng Magayon Pageant.

Another Albay beauty, Ms Jane Bañares, won as Mutya ng Pilipinas 2009 even after losing in Mutya ng Magayon but winning Ms Polangui.

Salceda said these titles are a source of local pride and, to a certain extent, a uniting force for Bicolanos.

“We provided assistance to three candidates in this year's Binibining Pilipinas (Raj, Necio and Santos from Daraga who was actually the winner of Ms Magayon 2009). We sent a delegation to China to support Ms Melody Gersbach,” Salceda pointed out.

Raj won the title from last year’s winner, Pamela Bianca Manalo, in a glittering four-hour pageant at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on March 7.

She was voted Miss Friendship by fellow candidates and also won the Best in Long Gown and Best in Terno awards.

She graduated cum laude with a degree in Communication Arts from Bicol University last year.

GMA 7 contract artist Krista Kleiner was proclaimed Binibining Pilipinas-International and named Best in Talent and Best in Swimsuit.

Czarina Catherine Gatbonton from Malolos, Bulacan, was the winner of the Binibining Pilipinas-World title.

The three titleholders bagged a prize package that included a P250,000-contract with Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc., accident insurance worth P2 million, wardrobe and accessories from Cumbia worth P150,000, as well as cash and products from Natasha worth P50,000.

Raj’s fellow Bicolana, 17-year-old Dianne Necio, was first runner-up, while Pampanga’s Helen Nicolette Henson was second runner-up. Henson was also named Miss Photogenic, Miss Fit n’ Right and Miss Philippine Airlines.

Broadcaster Mike Enriquez, boxing champ Nonito Donaire and 1970 Miss International Aurora Pijuan were among the judges of the competition televised on GMA 7. Reports from Ephraim Aguilar, Jonas Cabiles Soltes and Mar Arguelles, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Saturday, March 06, 2010

'Jueteng' whistle-blower laid to rest

By Ephraim Aguilar, Mar S. Arguelles
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 18:50:00 03/06/2010

DARAGA, Albay, Philippines—Illegal gambling scam whistle-blower Wilfredo “Boy” Mayor, 54, who was shot dead last Sunday, was laid to rest in a simple interment rites here Saturday afternoon.

More than 500 people, mostly family members, friends and supporters, brought him to his grave at the Pristine Memorial Gardens in nearby Legazpi City.

Speaking for the bereaved family, Mayor's daughter Maybell said they were leaving his father's murderers on the hands of God for justice.

“Bahala na saindo an Dios. Maabot man an panahon nindo (May God deal with you. Your time will come),” she said with trembling hands in her eulogy at the Tagas Chapel.

“I know that my father has already forgiven you. But you have given the Lord no choice but to deal with you just as your conscience is dealing with you now,” she added.

Maybelle added that his father was not perfect but she asked the people who had nothing good to say about him to respect his memory.

No politicians were seen in the burial, except for the writhes they had sent.

One of the bouquets came from Senator Panfilo Lacson, the one who brought Mayor to the Senate to reveal the alleged involvement of the First Family in “jueteng” payoffs.

Lacson is currently hiding, shunning his pending arrest in relation to the Dacer-Corbito murder case.

Not even Mayor's friend and fellow whistle-blower Sandra Cam was present in the event.

Mayor's supporters from Barangay (Village) Tagas, where he lived and once served as barangay chairman, wore black shirts with Mayor's face printed on them.

“Tagas” literally means tough in the local dialect, and they used it to describe their former leader.

“Talagang matagas ka (You are really tough),” the T-shirts bore.

Words written on a ribbon on Mayor's silver-grey coffin read, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept my faith.”

A task force that was formed by the Philippine National Police arrived here Tuesday to gather leads about the murder.

Chief Supt. Cecilio Calleja, Bicol police director, said the task force had been interviewing people related to Mayor and had also been verifying statements released by Cam to the media.

Cam, who visited the wake of Mayor at his residence in Daraga, Albay, on Thursday, said she believed that Mayor’s planned exposé on public works projects triggered the plot to kill him, but she did not rule out the jueteng and casino debt angles.

She added that she was not accusing businessman Zaldy Co and his brother of masterminding the killing of Mayor. In a previous radio interview, Cam said Mayor mentioned Co as the biggest contractor in Bicol, cornering most of the public works projects in the region.

A successful businessman and a philanthropist, Co incidentally owns the Pristine Memorial Gardens.

Cam said that in her conversation with Mayor, he told her about a P40-million public works project he was pursuing at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and that a public works official told him to shell out a 20-percent SOP (standard operating procedure), a euphemism for commission in order to get the project.

Cam, however, did not name the DPWH official.

Running a local construction firm, Mayor has shifted to the construction business after the “jueteng” scam controversy.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz supported Cam's claims in a statement made through the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website.

Cruz, who spoke to Mayor four days before his death, said Mayor was about to identify eight or nine lawmakers involved in the public works scam had he not been liquidated.