MANILA, Philippines — Filipino entrepreneur Maria Luisa Varela topped the 2023 Miss Planet International pageant in Cambodia on Jan. 29, capturing the crown in the competition that 2022 Binibining Pilipinas first runner-up Herlene Nicole Budol was supposed to participate in.
Varela bested 13 other international contenders to inherit the title from Monique Best from South Africa in ceremonies staged at the Koh Pich Theater in the kingdom’s capital in Phnom Penh.
The international competition caused quite a stir late last year when multiple delegates, including Budol, withdrew their participation. They had already arrived in the African nation’s capital of Kampala, and had already appeared in a few preliminary activities, when a looming cancellation put the contest on hold.
The pageant originally scheduled a Nov. 19 coronation night, but tensions in Uganda caused by an Ebola outbreak prompted local organizers to postpone the competition Budol was not even supposed to join in the first place.
When she finished first runner-up in the national pageant, no international competition was assigned to her by the organization. But her manager Wilbert Tolentino said he sought the approval of the Bb. Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) for him to send his ward to a global contest. He said the organization gave in to his request. He found the Miss Planet International whose national franchise was held by Shandy Montecarlo. They agreed to send Budol and eventually shared national directorship for the global tilt.
But now the manager is up in arms, threatening the Miss Planet International organization with legal action. The organizers announced in a Facebook post on Dec. 20 that the contest will resume in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this January. Tolentino said he would not send Budol anymore.
On Jan. 20, the Miss Planet International organization announced on Facebook that it is recognizing the participation of Varela as the Philippines’ official representative in this year’s competition. It also declared the appointment of Michael “Miki” Antonio as national director for the Philippines for the 2023 pageant.
Tolentino said in a Facebook post that he still holds the “sole authority to appoint a representative for the country.” He has not made any recent post related to the Miss Planet International pageant after Varela’s triumph.
Finishing second to Varela on Sunday night’s pageant was Jemima Mandemwa from Zimbabwe, with Ono Aya from Japan rounding up the circle of winners in third place.
The Miss Planet International pageant was founded in Cambodia in 2019 to support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and lists environmental preservation and poverty eradication as some of its missions. EDV
Source: The Philippine Inquirer, January 30, 2023
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