MANILA - At least three contestants at a recent international beauty pageant in Manila have accused one of the sponsors of sexually harassing them with indecent proposals, sexual innuendos and inappropriate touching.
In separate posts on Instagram, Miss Earth contestants Jaime VandenBerg of Canada, Abbey-Anne Gyles-Brown of Britain and Emma Mae Sheedy of Guam said they felt exploited, vulnerable and sexually harassed in the month leading up to the pageant finals last Saturday (Nov 3).
Ms Sheedy named Mr Amado Cruz, a sponsor who purportedly owns several restaurants here, as the one who repeatedly approached and contacted her and other contestants asking for sexual favours.
Mr Cruz has yet to comment on the allegations against him.
Miss Earth, a beauty pageant that promotes environmental awareness, is the smallest of four international pageants held annually. Through a foundation, it has tie-ups with the Philippine government and the United Nations Environment Programme, and works with groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation.
Ms VandenBerg took to social media on Wednesday (Nov 7) to reveal that a sponsor was given her phone number without her consent and began asking for her hotel and room number.
"It did not work. (But) he showed up at almost all of my events telling me he could take care of my needs and asked for sexual favours in exchange to get me further in the pageant," she wrote on Instagram. "I was disgusted."
Ms VandenBerg said that at one event at the Manila Yacht Club, the contestants were made to pose for sultry photos and dance while on board Mr Cruz's yacht.
She and six other contestants refused to participate and were led to a waiting bus.
"We felt unsafe at that event," she said. They complained to their team managers, but "(they) just laughed and told us to be nice".
Ms VandenBerg later brought up her concerns to Ms Lorraine Schuck, executive vice-president of Carousel Productions, which ran the Miss Earth pageant. Ms Schuck assured her that Mr Cruz "would not be around any more".
"But I had advised Lorraine of several other issues that were not resolved… I went through almost two weeks of sexual harassment before anything was done about it," said Ms VandenBerg.
She eventually withdrew from the pageant and returned to Canada.
Ms VandenBerg did not name the sponsor in her post, but Ms Sheedy tagged Mr Cruz as the culprit.https://www.instagram.com/p/Bp5Wz9UnAAR/
In an interview, Ms Schuck told GMA News that she did address Ms VandenBerg's complaints, but she was informed about them a week after the pre-pageant events began.
"She never told us. She came here on the sixth (of October). We found out about it on the 14th. She never told anyone," she said.
Ms Schuck insisted that Mr Cruz was banned from all events, although he was in the audience during the coronation.
"Because the coronation night was a public event, we could not control his appearance. Even the police couldn't do anything about it," she said.
She added that all the contestants were provided police escorts for their safety.
Ms Gyles-Brown, the British contestant, said in her Instagram post that she had a similar experience as Ms VandenBerg.
"I was approached by a sponsor on many occasions who asked for sexual favours in exchange for the crown... Myself and (Miss) Canada approached team manager to express our disgust only to be laughed at."
She said half her experience at the pageant was overshadowed "by feeling exploited, vulnerable, unnerved (and) sexually harassed".
"I felt traumatised by this experience, and had many sleepless nights," she said.
Like Ms VandenBerg, Ms Gyles-Brown raised concerns about Mr Cruz with the pageant's minders, but one of them simply told her "not to cry as I would ruin my make-up".
Ms Sheed of Guam, in her Instagram post with the hashtag #MeToo, said Mr Cruz "became a problem for many of the delegates, including myself".
"I was pulled aside multiple times to be invited to Boracay, private islands and into his house, and (he) insisted that I and the Latino women dance for him," she said.
She claimed that Mr Cruz grabbed her "bare backside" and "consistently told me not to tell anyone about any of the instances".
"I joined the pageant to make a difference and be a role model to those around me. I enjoyed a majority of the pageant. But what I did not know was that a specific sponsor… would change the way I see pageantry and sponsors," said Ms Sheed.
Ms Schuck did not say if Mr Cruz would remain a Miss Earth sponsor. But she urged all three contestants to file official complaints against him.
"They can sue the guy, and I will support them," she said.