Since the triumph of Margarita Moran (now Mrs. Floreindo) in 1973, the closest the Philippines got to winning the Miss Universe title was when Miriam Quiambao placed 1st runner up in 1999.
Now comes this alluring lady, Maria Venus Bayonito Raj, who despite the controversies which hounded her, has seemed to reignite the flame of hope among our countrymen that the Philippines, this time, could have a big chance in actually winning the Miss Universe title to be held at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Aug. 23.
Raj made her mark as the first crowned Binibining Pilipinas Universe to be dethroned--because of inconsistencies of her birth records—then taken back again due to insistent demand not only on her part but also from the stream of fans who petitioned and initiated a signature campaign just so she could represent the country in this year’s Miss Universe.
In fact, it has been reported that in the ongoing voting in missuniverse.com, Raj remained number one with Miss Venezuela coming in next to her.
"Everything that happened, God plotted it. After my experience, I knew myself better and I became a stronger person. If it hadn’t happened, I would just be an ordinary candidate," she said in an interview.
Raj’s simple lifestyle and humble beginnings can be considered a possible factor connected effectively to her supporters. Back home in Camarines Sur, she lived solely with her mother in a nipa hut without electricity in the middle of a rice field in a town called Bato for 20 years. She once said in an interview that walking on a rice field dike served as an early training for her for walking on fashion runways.
"Before, I only dreamed of building my mother a house and finishing my studies. The opportunities that came my way broadened my horizons," Raj said at her send-off party last Aug. 3.
Despite the exotic appeal and outstanding facial feautures, this 22-year old proves herself worthy for the description: "beauty and brains". She graduated cum laude in Communication Arts, major in Journalism at Bicol University in Albay under a scholarship granted by Francis Papica Foundation.
As she prepares for what is yet to be the highlight of her career, Raj chose to keep a low profile despite the extravagant offers handed to her by rich and influential people so as to protect her image being the country’s pageant representative.
"We just rode taxis and rented a cheap apartment in Pasay during the months of our trainings. Anyway, I am not used to comfortable living being poor myself." She added.
Raj also revealed that one of the things that is keeping her composed despite the pressure, physical training, and mental drills is her faith in God. She was reported to have come back to her hometown in Bicol before leaving for the US to seek blessing and praying over the pastor of a Christian congregation that she was a member of. (Reposted from Asian Journal)