The business of hosting Miss Universe

Ms. Universe 1974

Nineteen seventy-four. The first time Ms. Universe candidates came to town. It was Martial Law, I believe, but thanks to then First Lady Imelda the impossible became possible. Mother’s recount of that time when young people like herself reveled in the “parade of beauties in swimsuits” is among my favorite stories from her. Ms. Finland was beautiful, but the crowd favorite everywhere, in the capital as well as with locals, was Ms. Aruba, she said. Strange though because these days Carribean islands representatives appear as if they’re joining just for the heck of it. Nobody notices the ladies from that side of the universe.

Ater 42 years, Baguio City will again welcome pageant candidates (32) along with reigning Ms. Universe-Philippines Pia Wurtzbach (as with Margie Moran Ms. Universe 1973, this is the second time the reigning Ms. Universe-Philippines will pass on her crown in her homeland). This time around, the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio (HRAB), chaired by Baguio City Country Club, will host. Reportedly, the candidates will have a foretaste of the City’s upcoming Flower Festival in February: street dancing and presentations in the downtown area while riding in floats covered in local flowers.

Ms. Universe 2017 schedule of activities

As host, the HRAB will pay the franchise USD500,000 (PHP25M) which is apart from taxes and out of pocket expenses for candidates’ food, accommodation, transportation, press conferences, etc. that in all roughly adds up to PHP40M (preposterous really considering that no such amount was made available when the City’s native Kylie Versoza the reigning Ms. International came home from her win, or in light of the City’s inability to address problems in waste disposal and ageing infrastructures but which HRAB insisted is worth it). There is no free lunch even with Ms. Universe, yes?

This prompted the Association with backing from the City Government to hold a month-long Christmas bazaar at the Melvin Jones Grandstand in Burnham Park, which the local court struck down after a quick thinking local businessowner filed suit. The City Government and HRAB contested the allegation arguing that their only intention is to raise funds which will defray the costs in hosting this leg of the Ms. Universe pageantry. The court however maintains that it’s only upholding existing laws, viz.:

City Ordinance No. 13 series 2012 in which the City Government regulates conduct of trade fairs not exceeding 15 days in suitable private places only (which is to say) disallows totally in City-owned or -managed public parks.

Executive Orders 695 and 224 by former President Ramos, particularly the provision on accrual to the City Treasury of revenues and collections generated from Burnham Park for purposes of Park operation, management, and maintenance and whatever amount saved to be equally shared between the City Government and the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA).

I agree with the court’s decision. Besides, who is the consumer who will knowingly go to a bazaar – and we know the kind we have here – and spend, say, PHP5,000 (I imagine, mostly to binge with family and friends on street food and what trinkets?) and not be given at least complimentary pass to Baguio Country Club (tickets sold to the public at PHP5,000-10,000) to meet and dine with the pageant contestants? Or, to rephrase: who is the Filipino who will buy street food and trinkets in order to pay for Ms. Some Country’s Beautiful Representative’s pampering and tour of the City? Acknowledging the wisdom in charity begins at home, Filipinos will first sponsor their representative. After all, isn’t the pageant a contest? That dear folks at City Hall forms the core of the case- it’s not the Park or it’s misuse but rather the end-consumer who stands to get a shitty deal in the multibillion-dollar franchise.

The Department of Tourism as well as the City Mayor did not fall short of extolling the benefits the country and City will gain as hosts: from the Mayor- “contestants will be informed and educated on the rich culture and traditions of the Cordillerans” and “added international exposure for the City”. From Tourism Secretary Teo- “boost to local businesses” and “livelihood of millions of Filipinos, and “if this translates to reality, our tourism industry stands to gain tremendously”. If. If organizers – local governments and the private sector like HRAB – knew how to negotiate with the franchise for a fair and mutually beneficial deal in which local communities would feel the benefits, then yes. Otherwise, why invest one billion when all you get out of that is ten pesos?

Let’s go in with open eyes. The Ms. Universe franchise has been running for 60 years or more now and plenty of places around the world have hosted it. But do we here for instance all know Doral? Same for Baguio City to the rest of the world. I don’t think the City made it’s mark on the global map after it hosted events back in 1974.

Manila Times article by Katrina Stuart Santiago written last year cited the Philippine Statistics Authority’s 1994 data on tourism when the country hosted for the second time:

There was no “boost” in tourism compared to 1993… there was more foot traffic but in terms of growth 1994 was lower (14.7 percent) compared to 1993 (19 percent). 1995 was even lower than 1994 (11.8 percent)… On that same Miss Universe year the Philippines had the lowest tourist numbers compared to other Asean countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. We were only a tad bit higher than Vietnam. The same rankings hold for 1995 and 1996.

When Teo says that local businesses stand to gain by having the Miss Universe pageant here, she’s really only talking about big business—and businesses NOT in competition with Sy (owner of SM chain of malls including Mall of Asia where the coronation programme will be held).

The franchise has not significantly improved people’s or communities’ lives. Not in 1974 when Imelda went all the way and thereafter (in Baguio, it’s still the same obsolete sewers as before when the Americans built them after WWII. Beauty has not inspired City dutybearers to beautify their immediate surroundings). Not in 1994 and afterward. In fact, if we recall, what did happen afterward were coup d’etats. There’s no correlation between the two, of course. It’s just observation of a weirdly random pattern.

But if there’s any higher good that’s gotten out of the pageant, it mostly impacts at the personal ie. the winners and candidates themselves who usually go on to live the Cinderella dream. If that’s not helping to fulfill every girl’s dream, what is?

All in all, Ms. Universe is increasingly a playing field for corporate businesses out to profit from sponsorship but don’t let this hinder us from enjoying the pageantry while it’s here and we’re at it. If the New York Times will pick up what’s happening in the City as it hosts the event and mentions it, well, then, hooray! cheers! But, real and significant change is initiated from within, by citizens and a forward-looking government through effective policies and consistent good practices.


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