Rousing homecoming for third Filipino Miss Universe

MANILA • Thousands lined the streets of metropolitan Manila yesterday as the Philippines - a beauty pageant-crazy nation of over 100 million - welcomed home Ms Pia Wurtzbach, the third Filipino to win the Miss Universe title, albeit in a controversial contest last month.

Ms Wurtzbach 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 raised for a quick shot of Ms Wurtzbach. A few wore paper cut-outs 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 ended at a huge stadium in Quezon City.

This year's Miss Universe pageant was made memorable when the host, American comedian Steve Harvey, named Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez the 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 in many other places.

Earlier yesterday, Ms Wurtzbach met Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who presented her with the key to the city and called her an "adopted daughter of Manila". Ms Wurtzbach was born in Cagayan de Oro city, 1,400km south of Manila. She then went to the Senate, where she was handed a "citation of excellence".

Raul Dancel

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'Rousing homecoming for third Filipino Miss Universe'. Print Edition | Subscribe