Her statuesque figure, confident stance and sunkissed skin make her easily stand out in a crowd.
And then when she talks, everyone listens to what Maria Gigante has to say.
Recently crowned Binibining Cebu-Charity, the 23-year-old Philosophy student would tell you that her journey towards the crown began when she was only 13, after watching a local pageant and a “light bulb” moment, courtesy of her dad, Lindo who continues to be her No. 1 supporter.
“We’ll never know unless you try,” she recalls her father telling her.
Her second runner-up finish at the Miss Cebu 2013 would turn things around for the then pageant newbie who eventually took modelling
seriously before trying her luck at the Binibining Pilipinas 2015.
Although she didn’t make the cut, Maria was relentless, bouncing back with a convincing win at Hiyas nan Carasscal 2016 pageant.
At the Binibining Cebu 2017 pageant where she was considered an early favorite, she stresses that she worked as hard as the rest of the girls and that vibe among them is one of support and positivity.
And while pageant observers are excited at the prospect of her joining Binibining Pilipinas again for another shot at the crown, for now Maria has set on her sights on one goal: finishing her studies.
Indeed, a queen with a good head on her shoulders.
How have you been since winning Binibining Cebu-Charity?
Life’s a little bit busier.
I’m enjoying it. I think of all the pageants I joined and this is the one I embraced the whole experience the most. I was bent to enjoy it. I made sure I was really there in every event.
You know I can’t be any happier. I actually enjoy getting dressed now. I enjoy working with the people in the office. It’s fun!
Do you already have specific charity events in mind?
There are sustainable and long-term projects.
We are still thinking how our batch can make an impact in the community.
As early as now we are thinking of giveaways. The spirit of volunteerism among the girls is there. We are friends.
In fact, we were cheering for each other during rehearsals. I really like the vibe with the girls. Everyone is so game to do something for charity.
Personally, what is your advocacy? I’m into hosting so I’m into personality development. I did a couple of TED Talks because I experienced student activism before.
I found myself teaching personality development workshops, speaking to Tourism majors about forms of effective communication. There are so many options in terms of advocacy.
When did you discover your love for charity?
I discovered it in a pageant before. When I attended a 888 News Forum. At that time, I was required to attend it regularly because it was part of the duties and responsibilities of the title I had before.
One day, a representative from Gawad Kalinga came to speak. That’s how I learned about the Bayani Challenge.
I was trying to find out how to help. They eventually told me that is the process. If you want to sign up, just show up at the site. Register your name.
Look where you want to work and what you want to do for the duration of the camp.
When did you start modelling and joining pageants? Who encouraged you to join?
I started modelling at the age of 16. Sa pageants, the first person who gave me an idea was my dad (Lindo Gigante).
Then, Wenwen Zaspa and (the late) Orly Cajegas. Ana si Orly nga I’m gonna be the next Miss Universe. Mama Orlah, how many years na?! (laughing)
He inspired me, he really got me to think. That time, I didn’t own any heels.
My first pair of high heels and first dress was when I was 18. I had one pair of heels for two years.
Before that I just borrowed during shows. Si Mommy Jonas (Borces) sad inspired me to join Binibining Pilipinas and then after that I met my manager Sven Chua who encouraged me to find out what career path I really wanted.
Until I met my best friend Edward James Castro. That’s when I took modelling seriously. He’s my stylist in everything. Akong tawag niya kay “curator of my life.”
He taught me so much and I’m so grateful for that.
Which beauty queen inspired you?
Kahinumdum ko ani very vividly. Nanghugas ko og plato sa among kusina and ni agi ko sa room sa akong sister nag tan-aw siya og Miss Universe.
Zuleyka Rivera. She has the same skin as mine. She’s my idol. I spent time to actually look like her. Charot! Like the hair. Remember my hair when it was slick back because that was her hair when she won Miss Universe.
Effortless. I love her. Recently, she was in the “Despacito” video.
Speaking of pageants, are you joining next year’s Binibining Pilipinas?
I honestly do not know. I am prioritizing my studies. I want to finish it. I’m doing the math.
Am I gonna have my Doctor of Philosophy before I turn 30 years old?
I think I should at least finish my undergrad or start my Masters before joining Binibini again.
I don’t want to go back to school at 26. My goodness!
Are you now with Aces and Queens?
I’m actually part of Aces and Queens. I told them I want to prioritize my studies first.
Maybe I would join Binibining Pilipinas in 2019.
How supportive is your dad?
Very! All of this stuff is my Dad’s fault jud. Joke!
My dad was the one who brought the idea of pageantry in my head. We watched Miss Cebu 2006 when Stephanie Señires won.
Karla Henry also competed that year. Funny no kay she was the host (of Binibining Cebu) this year.
That’s how my pageant experience started. I was 13 then.
We went home that day and my Dad was brushing his teeth and said, Why don’t you try, Ms. Cebu?
Ana ko, “Dad I’m 13!” Imagine me being small, chubby, a soccer player Maria.
I said, “Me? Pageants?” My Dad said: “Yeah! We’ll never know unless you try. And you might win.”
When I turned 18, I dropped all the weight and ako dayon gi-Google ang qualifications for Miss Cebu.
“Hala no, pleasing personality.” I think I’m pleased with myself. Based man sa personality so yeko ra man.
Let’s see, I’ll apply. Maybe I’ll get through. Lo and behold I became second runner-up for Miss Cebu 2013. That’s when I realized I have a future in this.
How many siblings do you have and what kind of sister are you to your siblings?
We are six children in the family and I’m the eldest. I think I am the kind of sister that I am because of my parents’ parenting style.
We are very disciplined, they trained us to wake up (claps hands).
My parents taught me everything. That’s why the girls are boyish and boys have a feminine side.
I learned how to change door knobs, how to change bombilya. I enjoy it more.
Among the other contestants, who were you closest to?
Apriel (Smith), actually. We’ve been joining the same pageants together.
You know you’ll be suprised ‘cause we never talk about it. And during the first day, we tell each other: “Hmm naa na sad ka.”
Pirmi gyud. Like Binibining Pilipinas, sa Hiyas Nan Carrascal 2016, and Binibining Cebu.
Pareha jud mi og destiny like if ma sud mi, ma sud ming duha. If dili mi masud, di sad mi masud. Kaming duha. And also, Samantha (Lo). She’s actually close to me.
I’m happy with the Top 5 kay close man gyud mi tanan.
What’s your health and beauty routine?
It’s very important to eat right. I always try my best to eat in the morning.
It’s supposed to set your metabolism. I eat healthy food, I don’t eat rice. I try to eat healthy.
I take Vitamin B and Vitamin C, some capsules my Dad gave me. I tried fresh juices.
If you ask me products I put on my face, I have a couple of things from Bobbi Brown and Clinique 3-step, kanang facial wash and moisturizer.
Your dream job?
I wanna be like Christiane Amanpour of CNN. Mao jud na akong dream job. I love talking, traveling and helping people.
What I appreciate with the press is the capacity to cope with every situation.
Like when you’re reading the news, you don’t realize na intense diay kaayo, like when you cover a demolition and you’re interviewing somebody. I really admire that.
What kind of music do you like?
I love reggae. Always have. Same thing I’d say if you asked me six years ago before I started all of this. I like wearing slippers, kanang rasta nga shirt.
Hangtud karon di gihapon nako ma-leave behind.
I love classical music, too. I like things with a lot of character.
Are you into sports?
Right now, I’m into working out. I used to be in sports— soccer, chess and scrabble.
Looking back at the Binibining Cebu pageant night, what do you consider as your most memorable experience?
It was when Binibining Tabogon answered the truth (about being in a relationship with a woman). Everybody clapped for her.
We were yelling for her backstage.
What’s your stand on same-sex relationships?
I think it’s wonderful. You know love doesn’t choose.
I’m supportive of what they choose. Because when you fall in love, you fall in love with that person, not with the appearance or the idea.
If you love each other, then why not? Love always wins.
What about you—are you in love now?
Very much! I think you should always be proud of your partner.
It’s healthy. He is very supportive. If you checked the footage. He was seen running there when I got the crown.
He also understands the things I want in life even if they might not seem easily understandable. He’s amazing.