Miss Cebu 2016 Gabriele Raine Baljak: ‘Cebuanos have genuine passion, we care about our people’
THERE was no Steve Harvey moment nor did the final result come as a surprise but the 32nd staging of Cebu’s most prestigious beauty pageant shone just like it has in past years with Gabriele Raine Baljak being named Miss Cebu 2016 during the much-awaited coronation night on Wednesday night at the Pacific Grand Ballroom of the Waterfront Cebu Hotel and Casino.
A radio DJ, TV host, model and musician, the 19-year-old Filipino-Croatian can now add beauty queen to her sparkling résumé as she stood head and shoulders above the latest crop of Cebuanas vying for the crown, with her soft features that nestled a quiet calm, remarkable grace and a quick yet sincere wit.
This was never more evident than in the final question and answer portion of the program when the five finalists were asked what they would say to Miss Colombia to convince her to come to Cebu—the latter being Ariadna Gutierrez Arévalo, the Miss Universe contestant who was mistakenly announced as the winner of this year’s pageant by host Steve Harvey. Filipina Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach was the eventual Miss Universe.
Without batting an eyelash, Gabriele quipped, “As a proud Cebuana I would tell her to visit Cebu it is where the heart sings. Cebuanos have genuine passion; we love to share and we care about our people. Miss Colombia is gorgeous, but she has too much confidence and sometimes that goes the other way. Coming here to Cebu, Miss Colombia will learn to enjoy simple things in life because Cebuanos are happy no matter and that’s what makes Cebu, truly where the heart sings.”
In the months leading up to the pageant night, Baljak’s campaign for the crown has gained traction with her have-it-all package of beauty, brains and humility. It also didn’t hurt that success runs in her genes with Gabriele’s mother being none other than Merce Abellana, one of Cebu’s Five Prettiest, a precursor of Miss Cebu, back in 1986.
Apart from winning the newly-redesigned crown dubbed as “Kaugmaon,” Gabriele also bagged the Best in Evening gown award in a sepia-toned creation crafted by Dino Lloren. She also added the ABS-CBN Kapamilya Star of the Night award to the two other special awards that she won during the pre-pageant night held last weekend—Miss Epson and the Best in Funwear.
Completing Baljak’s court were fresh-faced Argao-native Tracy Maureen Perez who won 1st runner-up, aspiring dentist Shaila Mae Rebortera who was the 2nd runner-up, future pilot Merl Gayo who won 3rd runner-up and spa owner Felina Joyce Lim who won 4th runner-up apart from bagging Miss Friendship and Miss Photogenic special awards earlier in the evening.
The winners were decided by a panel of judges led by chairperson, fashion legend Christian Espiritu, actor and director Rowell Santiago, photographer and model, Joanne Bitangcol, stage designer and author Gino Gonzales and Frederick Go, president and chief operating officer of Robinsons Land Corporation.
While the annual pageant celebrating the Cebuana’s beauty, passion and grace was arguably muted, it still delivered some memorable segments via powerful renditions by Danielle Mae Ozaraga, Awit Awardee Tria Bascon and The Voice finalist’s Etore “Thor” Dulay.
Several video productions by outfit Digital Minds that featured the contestants at different cultural and heritage sites in Cebu also wowed the crowd as did the creations of Cebu’s top fashion designers.
The contestants’ opening number vibrantly showcased the Hablon, a local indigenous fabric from Argao being revived and applied to modern design by designers Rey Villegas, Hadji Godinez, Peewee Senining and Roni Yu. Another production featured the Barong in innovative designs created by Brian Aloquin, Yvonne Quisumbing, Valerie Alvez and Edwin Ao.
The pageant’s fashion high-point though, was the evening gown competition wherein the beautiful ladies donned ensembles inspired by antiquated photographs of Cebu created by celebrated designers Ditas Rodriguez, Marichu Tan, Albert Arriba, Ren Manabat, Philipp Tampus, Wendell Quisido, Arcy Gayatin, Oj Hofer, Harley Ruedas, William Manahan and Jun Escario, who was named Best Evening Gown designer.