Miss Universe Philippines winners & where they are now
Winning a pageant as big as Miss Universe is only the beginning for a beauty queen. Our very own Miss Universe winners Catriona Gray and Pia Wurtzbach, for example, went on to spread positivity and forge successful careers in the limelight even after earning their crowns. But before our recent Miss Universe queens came the OG candidates, whose life stories post-win have also been equally admirable.
For those who’ve been wondering where these past candidates are now, we’ve looked into the lives of 12 Miss Universe Philippines winners, from Lalaine Bennett, our 1963 rep who became the first Filipina finalist, to Maxine Medina, Top 6 in the 2016 pageant.
Table of Contents
- Miss Universe Philippines winners & where they are now
- 1. Lalaine Bennett – first Filipina finalist
- 2. Pilar Pilapil – first Cebuana rep
- 3. Maria Isabel Lopez – was asked to give up her title
- 4. Geraldine Asis – narrowly missed the 5th spot at the 1987 pageant
- 5. Charlene Gonzales – famous for her ‘high tide or low tide’ answer
- 6. Miriam Quiambao – 1st runner-up at the 1999 Miss Universe
- 7. Nina Alagao – Bb. Pilipinas-Universe 2000
- 8. Anna Theresa Licaros – known for her beauty and brains
- 9. Venus Raj – 4th runner-up at the 2010 Miss Universe
- 10. Janine Tugonon – 1st runner-up at the 2012 Miss Universe
- 11. MJ Lastimosa – of Saudi Arabian-Filipino descent
- 12. Maxine Medina – made it to the Top 6 of Miss Universe 2016
- Miss Universe Philippines winners through the years
1. Lalaine Bennett – first Filipina finalist
Bennett in Manila
Image credit: Pageanthology 101 via Facebook
Lalaine Bennett gave the Philippines its first taste of being a part of the Miss Universe finals when she placed 3rd runner-up at the 1963 Miss Universe held in Miami Beach, Florida. The 5-foot-9 Filipina-American is from Nueva Vizcaya, where she also held a Miss Bayombong title.
She has acted in several movies before and after Miss Universe. Ligaw na Daigdig (1962) was her first foray into cinema, and she even depicted her own story in the biographical musical film Lalaine, Mahal Kita (1964).
Lalaine Bennett (left) and Catriona Gray (right)
Image credit: Pageant Trend via Facebook
Bennett left the Philippines when she married Felix Skievasky, a Polish-Filipino officer in the United States Navy, whom she met during the pageant. And today, according to the blog Dear Miss Purdy, she’s managing a bed and breakfast in the United States. She’s also become a favorite topic among pageant fans because she resembles Miss Universe 2018, Catriona Gray.
2. Pilar Pilapil – first Cebuana rep
Young Pilapil (left) and Pilapil (right) in the movie Etiquette for Mistresses (2015)
Image adapted from: James Vargas Lagnas via Facebook, ABS-CBN Star Cinema via YouTube
Hailing from Liloan, Cebu, Pilar Pilapil is the first Cebuana who represented the Philippines at the Miss Universe pageant. She took the stage at the 1967 pageant held in Miami Beach, Florida.
After her pageant stint, she became an award-winning actress, starring in several movies with actors such as Andy Poe and the late Comedy King Dolphy, whom she almost married. She has one daughter with Salvador “Doy” Laurel, a former Vice President of the Philippines.
Today, while still acting, she manages the Pilar Pilapil Foundation, which is dedicated to helping abused women. Her recent works on television and film include First Yaya (2021) and First Lady (2022).
3. Maria Isabel Lopez – was asked to give up her title
Lopez at the 1982 Miss Universe pageant (left) and Lopez (right) in an art studio in 2020
Image adapted from: via Pageant Mania, @beautyqueenmil via Instagram
The Philippines’ bet at the 1982 Miss Universe held in Peru, Maria Isabel Lopez is one of our Miss Universe beauty queens marred with controversy. During her stint, she was asked to give up her title when she was discovered modeling in sexy lingerie at a fashion show – something no one would blink an eye at if a beauty queen did so these days. Still, she managed to keep her title to represent the Philippines.
After her reign, she starred in various sexy films from Silip (1985) to Dingding Lang ang Pagitan (1986). But more recently, she’s starred in indie Filipino films such as Kinatay (2009) and Ma’ Rosa (2016), both recognized at the Cannes Film Festival. And aside from her showbiz career, she also pursues her passion in the arts through her mosaic artworks.
4. Geraldine Asis – narrowly missed the 5th spot at the 1987 pageant
Asis (left) at the 1987 Miss Universe and Asis (right) in her hometown Roxas City, Capiz in 2019
Image adapted from: normannorman.com, Geraldine Villarruz Asis via Facebook
Geraldine “Pebbles” Asis represented the Philippines at the 1987 Miss Universe held in Singapore. She almost made it to the pageant’s finals, as she missed the 5th spot by a slim margin.
After her Miss Universe stint, she starred in a few movies such as Action is Missing, and Crack Platoon (1987) with comedy king Dolphy. But through the years, she has still focused on modeling and even plans to open a modeling school in her hometown Roxas City, Capiz.
Today, while living in Roxas, she’s focusing on running a lodging house business and on her apostolic outreach charity work that includes a community feeding program.
5. Charlene Gonzales – famous for her ‘high tide or low tide’ answer
Gonzales (left) at the 1994 Miss Universe and Gonzales (right) modeling for Metro Magazine in 2019
Image adapted from: PADDYLAST INC., @itsmecharleneg via Instagram
At the 1994 Miss Universe held in the Philippines, Charlene Gonzales was our country’s bet. She made it to the Top 10 at the 6th spot and bagged the Best in National Costume honor.
She gave one of the most memorable answers in Miss Universe when Bob Goen, the host of the 1994 pageant, asked her how many islands there are in the Philippines. The witty Gonzales responded to ask Goen whether he meant during “high tide or low tide, ” and proceeded to tell him the exact official number of islands in both circumstances – 7,107, and 7,108 at the time.
Today, she has made a successful career in Philippine showbiz as an actress, host, and model. With her husband Aga Muhlach, she is also a supermom of twins Andres and Atasha Muhlach.
6. Miriam Quiambao – 1st runner-up at the 1999 Miss Universe
Quiambao (left) at the 1999 Miss Universe and Quiambao (right), with her husband, speaking at a conference in 2020
Image credit: Pageanthology 101 via Facebook, @miriamq888 via Instagram
The Philippines hadn’t won a Miss Universe crown in 26 years when Miriam Quiambao inched close to the crown. She came close to winning, earning the 1st runner-up position at the 1999 Miss Universe pageant held in Trinidad and Tobago.
She slipped on stage during the pageant’s preliminary competition, but she was able to regain her composure – though this has since become one of the most popular moments among Miss Universe Philippines queens.
After taking home the 1st runner-up, she went on to become a familiar face on Philippine TV, hosting several TV shows in the early 2000s such as Extra, Extra, and Pinoy Meets World, both with Paolo Bediones.
Recently, Quiambao has been devoting her time to entrepreneurship and inspirational speaking while also raising a family with her second husband, entrepreneur Eduardo Roberto Jr.
7. Nina Alagao – Bb. Pilipinas-Universe 2000
Alagao at the 2000 Miss Universe (left) and Alagao (first from left) with her fellow Showtime judges in 2020
Image adapted from: Pageant Pilipinas via Facebook, @ninaalagao via Instagram
Nina Alagao represented the Philippines at the 2000 Miss Universe in Cyprus. She was expected to win the crown that year, as she was a favorite among pageant enthusiasts on betting sites and online forums.
She was even compared to India’s Lara Dutta, who would eventually win the crown. Fans thought Alagao lost because of poor styling and gown choice.
After her reign, she started a career in showbiz by starring in films such as Got 2 Believe (2002) and TV shows. To this day, she is still gracing our TV screens, and her most recent works include her news anchor stint on NET25’s Mata ng Agila. She is married to actor and dancer Michael John Flores, with whom she has three kids.
8. Anna Theresa Licaros – known for her beauty and brains
Licaros (left) at the 2007 Miss Universe and Licaros in 2020 (first from right) with fellow former beauty queens
Image adapted from: Missosology Philippines via Facebook, Pageanthology 101 via Facebook
Anna Theresa Licaros was the Philippines’ bet at the 2007 Miss Universe pageant held in Mexico. Known for her beauty and brains, she graduated summa cum laude from her undergraduate class at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and was even studying law at the same university when she joined the Binibining Pilipinas 2007.
While she didn’t make it to the finals of the 2007 pageant, she went home with a Miss Photogenic award. After her stint, she focused on her law studies and became a lawyer in 2010. Today, she’s practicing her legal knowledge in the banking industry in Hong Kong while living a quiet life with her husband and two kids.
9. Venus Raj – 4th runner-up at the 2010 Miss Universe
Raj at the 2010 Miss Universe and Raj (right) at a group prayer event in 2018
Image adapted from: @onlyvenusraj via Instagram
Venus Raj ended the Philippines’ pageant prize drought when she placed 4th runner-up at the 2010 Miss Universe held in Las Vegas, USA. She almost did not make it to the prestigious pageant, because weeks after her Binibining Pilipinas coronation, she was dethroned due to issues surrounding her citizenship. Fortunately, the beauty queen could reclaim her throne, as she was recognized as a Filipino citizen by birthright due to her mother being Filipino.
During the Miss Universe question and answer portion, she was asked by the host, US actor William Baldwin, about the biggest mistake in her life and what she did to make it right. She responded that there’s no “major major problem,” in her life, and the phrase, which translates to “bonggang bongga” in Tagalog, has since become a popular expression among pageant fans.
After her comeback win, she hosted various TV shows such as Umagang Kay Ganda while pursuing a master’s degree in community development. These days, while doing hosting and modeling side hustles, she’s also visiting schools as part of her work as a minister of a Christian youth organization.
10. Janine Tugonon – 1st runner-up at the 2012 Miss Universe
Tugonon (left) at the 2012 Miss Universe and Tugonon (right) modeling for Philadelphia Magazine in 2017
Image adapted from: Adventures of a Beauty Queen, @tugononjanine via Instagram
Janine Tugonon almost won the Miss Universe crown in 2012, when she placed 1st runner-up after Miss USA Olivia Culpo. Pageant fans thought she gave a solid answer in the Q&A portion of the pageant – when asked by judge Nigel Barker whether proficiency in English should be a requirement for the Miss Universe winner, she responded that being “Miss Universe is not about being able to speak a particular language, it’s about being able to influence and inspire other people.”
Tugonon pursued modeling in the US after her pageant years. She became the first Filipino to appear in a Victoria’s Secret ad in 2016, and in the same year, she was also among the winners of a global model search. She is now a permanent resident in the US, but she sometimes visits the Philippines to attend local pageant events.
11. MJ Lastimosa – of Saudi Arabian-Filipino descent
Image credit: @mj_lastimosa via Instagram
Saudi Arabian-Filipino MJ Lastimosa was an inspiration for never giving up on her Miss Universe dream. She placed second-runner-up in Binibining Pilipinas 2011 and was part of the Top 12 in Binibing Pilipinas 2012 before being crowned Miss Universe Philippines in 2014.
At the pageant, she completely rocked the national costume despite gaining controversy for it not having a Filipino designer. MJ continued the Philippines’ streak of consistently being part of the Top 10 finalists in Miss Universe held in Doral, Florida.
Image credit: @mj_lastimosa via Instagram
Post-pageant, MJ has continued to inspire and make a positive impact in various endeavors. Whether it’s through advocacy or her vibrant presence in the entertainment industry, she’s a multifaceted model, host, and actress. MJ is also a proud vegan advocate.
12. Maxine Medina – made it to the Top 6 of Miss Universe 2016
Image credit: @maxine_medina via Instagram
Maxine Medina was the Miss Universe Philippines successor of Pia Wurtzbach. Despite the pressure following Pia and the venue being her home country, Philippines, she was level-headed and a strong contender. She showed us her exceptional walk, poise, personality, and attitude.
Maxine was also known for her alta walk, where she rolled her shoulders perfectly in sync with the glide of her hips. She finished in the Top 6 at the Miss Universe 2016 pageant.
Image credit: @maxine_medina via Instagram
Beyond the pageant spotlight, Maxine continues to shine as a model and actress, captivating audiences with her talent and beauty. She continues to portray kontrabida roles in GMA’s teleseryes, such as First Yaya (2021) and Magandang Dilag (2023).
Maxine got married to her non-showbiz boyfriend, Timmy Llana, in October 2023.
Miss Universe Philippines winners through the years
Aside from continuing a career in showbiz or modeling, our queens have also continued leading their communities, whether through a foundation or outreach programs, spreading the word about good causes even after their reigns.
We’re rooting for Michelle Dee at the upcoming Miss Universe pageant on 18th November 2023 (19th November PH time). We admire the positivity and inspiration of all the beauty queens!
Cover image adapted from: PADDYLAST INC., @mj_lastimosa via Instagram, @maxine_medina via Instagram
Article originally published on 03 March 2021 by Addie Pobre. Last updated by Gly Parañal on 14 November 2023.
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