The Precious Lady - A Tribute

Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman...

Ask Precious Lara Quigaman exactly how she felt when her name was called as 2005 Miss International during the grand finals on September 26 in Tokyo and all she can tell you is “It was all a blur.” Not unusual, really, because that's what almost all beauty queens say about that one moment in time when, after their names are called as “the most beautiful woman in the universe, world or internationally,” the crown is placed on their heads. A blur – until maybe a year later when they relinquish their crowns to their successors and everything comes into focus. Oh, sweet, sweet memory!

“All I was hoping for was to finish a runner-up” Lara told People Asia. “I thought all the while that Miss Venezuela would be ‘it' because she was very pretty, she looks like Britney Spears, and she was the crowd favorite. In the Miss Universe Pageant, 12 semi-finalists are chosen and then the five finalists from whom the winner is chosen. In the Miss International contest, the process is different. The winner is named from among the 12 semi-finalists.”

The 12 semi-finalists included Misses Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, France, Japan, Peru, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, Dominican Republic ad Finland, chosen from a field of more than 55 beauties form the same number of countries. First to be called was Miss Finland , second runner-up, and then Miss Dominican Republic, first runner-up.

“So I thought that Miss Venezuela was the winner,” recalled Lara.

And then, her name was called. Everything else that followed was “a blur.”

Lara's victory came 26 long years after another Filipina bagged the Miss International crown. The last to win before Lara was Melanie Marquez in 1979, following Gemma Cruz (1964) and Aurora Pijuan (1970). Lara brought to four the number of Filipina Misses International in the contest's 45-year history, starting in 1960 when Colombia 's Stella Marquez (now Mrs. Jorge Araneta) was named the first winner. (The Philippines has two Missed Universe, Gloria Diaz, 1969, and Margie Moran-Floirendo, 1973.)

Asked what made Lara win, Stella said it was a mix of several factors. (Stella is the president of the Bb. Pilipinas Charities, Inc., which sponsors the annual search for three Bb. Pilipinas winners who represent the country in the Miss Universe, Miss International and Miss World contest).

“She has confidence,” said Stella. “We trained her before she went to Tokyo and through it all, she was saying, ‘I'm training to win.' She has fighting spirit. When she was competing in Tokyo , I would talk to her on the phone and she was always in high spirits, very confident. She was very positive, very optimistic.”

When Gemma Cruz went to Long Beach, California, to compete in the 1964 Miss International contest, she said she was “expecting the worst but hoping for the best.” Lara didn't go to Tokyo unprepared.

Added Stella, “I asked Karen Agustin (2002 B.b Pilipinas-Universe) and Maan Bayot (2004 Bb. Pilipinas-International) to teach Lara how to walk, how to deal with the press and how to behave with her fellow contestants. Karen and Maan taught Lara what they learned from their own experiences during the Miss Universe and Miss International contests. They taught Lara what they learned during their training in Colombia before they went to the international competitions. A team of nine people was with Lara every single day of the training. She attended classes at the Dale Carnegie School and took lessons in Japanese.”

The efforts paid off. Thanks, too, to “a lot of prayer.” Among those “very sure” that Lara would come home with the Miss International crown was her father, Nelson Quigaman, a driver in the UK. After Lara won the Bb. Pilipinas-International last March, Nelson said, “Now I can die. I'm glad that Lara won (as Binibini) because she has a good chance of winning an international contest if given the chance.”

Sadly, Lara's father didn't live long enough to relish his daughter's victory. He succumbed to cardiac arrest barely three months before she won in Tokyo .

“What a pity,” Lara said. “I offer my crown to my father. I'm sure he's happy wherever he is.”

Born on January 3, 1983, Lara has been a beauty-contest fanatic since she was a kid. She didn't just watch beauty queens on television being crowned Miss This and Miss That, she actually dreamed of being one.

“I remember when I was little,” said Lara, “I watched the Miss Universe Pageant on TV and for several days afterwards, I imitated how Miss Universe walked and even how she cried when the crown was placed on her head.”

Then, she became a “joiner” (in all sorts of beauty contests). For a start, Lara joined the GMA 7 noontime show Eat Bulaga's search for Tee Vee Babe, showing her the spic talent by acting in imaginary drama scene for the talent portion. She finished first runner-up. Then, she was chosen as one of the Circle of Ten (a search for models). She aimed higher and at 17, Lara competed in the Bb. Pilipinas Pageant in 2000 but, sob and sigh, she didn't even make it to the finals. Undaunted, she competed again this year. The rest is history.

Through it all, Lara has remained down-to-earth, gracious and level-headed, bearing in mind what she has learned from the grandmother who brought her up until she was 12 and her mother, Princesita Agustin, a nurse—“Be humble. Always keep your feet on the ground.”

Standing 5'6”, Lara is the “shortest” Miss International, the first ever below-5'9” beauty to win the title. (At this writing, said Lara, she weighed 100 lbs. and measured 33-23-34)

“I grew up with my Lola but later on, I went wherever my parents were working.”

She finished elementary school at the New India School in Bahrain , where her parents worked. When they came back, she enrolled in high school at the La Consolacion College in BiƱan, Laguna. Then, her parents moved to the UK , where Lara entered college. She graduated with a degree in VCE Media Communication and Production from Filton College in Bristol , England , where she also fed her craving for acting in appearing in Casualty ( Britain 's version of the popular American TV series ER).

Lara is the classic example of beauty and brains.

Here are some of her views:

On women today being on equal footing with men: “The fact that our president is a woman proves that (Filipino) women are on equal footing with (Filipino) men. Do I like chivalry? No, I don't. I don't like a man opening doors or pulling a chair for me.”

On birth control: “I don't see anything wrong with it. If people need to do it, by all means do it.”

On the relevance today of beauty contests: “They were relevant then, they are relevant now and they will be relevant in the years to come. Beauty contests open opportunities for women not only in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well.”

During the Bb. Pilipinas Pageant, Lara beautifully acquitted herself during the final phase of the contest by answering the same question—What's the essence of being a woman?—that helped Miss India Sushmita Sen bag the Miss Universe title here in 1994.

Answered Lara with confidence, “The essence of being a woman is being a good mother, a good daughter, a good sister and a good friend to everyone.”

And that's what Lara will have to be during her reign as Miss International—and beyond: Be a friend to everybody. As a role model, she said she's aware of the responsibility the title brings. She's careful now about what she says and does because one little mistake and, she gasped, “I could be criticized.”

A year later, who knows, Lara might conquer another field by being an actress, also a childhood dream. She'd like to play any kind of role to prove her versatility, but not do “bold” scenes.

Twenty-two-year-old Lara coyly and, at first reluctantly, admitted that, yes, she has a boyfriend. She refused to talk about her love life, but according to people close to her, the lucky guy is Michael Dulay Catacutan, 26, a nurse, with whom Lara has been going steady for more than two years. The two first met in August 2001 and became “steadies” in February 2003. Michael was quoted by friends as saying (before Lara won as Miss International) that he and Lara did discuss (maybe casually) getting married but Michael would rather give Lara time to enjoy her career.

She is a real epitome of beauty, elegance, class and brain.

Turismo Pilipina   Miss International


"To God be the Glory".