MANILA - Thousands lined the streets of metropolitan Manila on Monday (Jan 25) as the Philippines - a beauty pageant-crazy nation of over 100 million - welcomed home Ms Pia Wurtzbach, who won the Miss Universe title in a controversy-marred pageant last month.
Ms Wurtzbach, 26, rode a large float shaped like a crown that snaked through three cities in the metropolis: the capital Manila, the financial district of Makati, and the most populous district, Quezon city.
In Makati, people stepped out of their offices to wait on both sides of the normally busy Buendia and Ayala avenues, handphones at the ready for a glimpse of Ms Wurtzbach, the third Filipino to win the title. A few wore carton cutouts of a pageant crown.
Hundreds of police and traffic aides were deployed to keep order and secure a parade route of about 30km that began at a hotel in Manila and would end at a huge stadium in Quezon city.
This year's Miss Universe pageant was made memorable when the show's host, American comedian Steve Harvey, named Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez as winner only to retract it minutes later and announce that Ms Wurtzbach had actually won.
That gaffe, described as one of the most embarrassing moments in TV history, drew global attention to the pageant, closely followed in the Philippines but written off as shallow, even exploitative, entertainment most elsewhere.
Earlier on Monday, Ms Wurtzbach met Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who presented her with the key to the city and called her an "adopted daughter of Manila". The beauty then went to the Senate where she was handed a "citation of excellence".
Ms Wurtbach was born in Cagayan de Oro city, 1,400km south of Manila, to a Filipino mother and German father.
In a news conference a day after she landed in Manila on Saturday, Ms Wurtzbach announced that she would have herself tested for HIV in a public event in New York as part of her anti-Aids campaign.
She also defended her response to a question in the finals when she said she "had nothing against" the presence of US troops in the Philippines.
"Military presence to me is an aid, or a helping hand - very different from military bases. I accept anyone who has a different opinion and will be willing to discuss it if necessary," she said.
An anti-US bases senator and nationalists criticised her for her response, saying it smacked of "subservience".
On the flub by pageant host Harvey, who initially named her as first runner-up, Ms Wurtzbach said she remembered thinking: "What a pity. I was so close."