Miss Caltex: Walking the Ramp of History

Edu Jarque (The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Every day, we are bombarded with new beauties: A face you have never seen before lands on the covers of magazines or an unfamiliar body is plastered on a print ad or even on a billboard. New celebrities are born every day and sometimes, we forget them as quickly as their rise to fame. And yet, there are women who not only stand and survive the test of time, but they walk the ramp of history.

It may have been one of the most significant marketing strategies of its time — an advertising and publicity guru’s dream project. It may even have been the stuff of genuine pop culture. But not many people these days can recall just how prestigious being Miss Caltex was back then — some would even argue it was absolutely more distinguished and esteemed than the still-running pageants. However, many remember with great fondness these ladies’ names, if not only by being Miss Caltex, then by the myriad roles they have come to assume after winning the most-coveted title. After all, being a beauty queen then — most especially being Miss Caltex — truly meant being more than just a beauty queen. It declared having both brains and beauty, so one could carry oneself with exemplary grace and meaningful impact in the world.

In such times, it’s good to catch up with five of the winners of the most laudable search we all miss. Launched in 1961, Miss Caltex is a landmark not only in beauty contest history, but in the history of the Philippine pop culture at large. These winners bring us back to an era when we looked up to beauty queens not only for their good looks but for their beauty — that is to say good looks mixed with a sophisticated mind.

Of the winners, we were able to get together with Mila Amunategui Abad, Miss Caltex 1962; Elsa Velez Payumo, Miss Caltex 1963; Cecilia Borja Chiongbian, Miss Caltex 1966; Amy Gustilo Lopez, Miss Caltex 1969; and Naida Benedicto Angping, Miss Caltex 1970.

At the eve of their crowning itself, they already had gone very far in their youth. But they have gone even farther since then, proving that youth — like beauty — knows no age. They have gone to become the best they could be, whether as a devoted wife, a caring mother, a doting grandma, a professional, an entrepreneur and even a public servant — setting that benchmark that beauty title holders of our time must not pine but reach out.

For this heartwarming series of individual reunions, we asked our five lovely ladies two questions: How becoming Miss Caltex affected them and while mentioning some highlights of their lives, what is their world today like. Here’s what they have to say.

Mila Amunategui Abad, Miss Caltex 1962:

“I had to get over my shyness and hone my communication skills in order to represent Caltex for an entire year. During that time, I had to meet people, attend events, speak in public — generally represent the company in the best possible way. This naturally included traveling to many places, both in the Philippines and abroad.

“All of these prepared for me for what later would be my career at Philippine Airlines. As vice president of advertising and marketing support, I was responsible for the worldwide advertising and promotion of PAL. This would include the launching of the B-747 in Manila, the inaugural flights to Los Angeles and London, a major launch in Chicago of the Manila-Chicago-Manila service.

“Then as vice president of the inflight service, I got to supervise on board during the official and state visits of then President Corazon Aquino and the flight of Pope John Paul II from Manila to Port Moresby.

“After an eventful stint at PAL, I availed of their early retirement program. This has allowed me to become a realtor specializing in islands and beachfront properties, hotels and resorts and other commercial estates — offering not only services in acquisitions, but also in related legal aspects as well. The best part of it is that it has allowed me to travel and island-hop even go trekking or visit Philippine natural treasures such as the Underground River in Palawan and get involved in several local activities.

“My children — a son and a daughter — have grown, established their careers and gotten married. My son Anthony is chairman and president of TA Trade Advisory Group and has his own son, Xavier Antonio, with his wife, the former Jacqueline Swann. My daughter Anjou is married to Anthony Bengzon, senior partner at Bengzon, Negre, Untalan Intellectual Property Lawyers.”

Elsa Velez Payumo, Miss Caltex 1963:

“Of course, winning Miss Caltex was a great honor in itself. What it really gave me was initial fame. Looking back, I realize there is something more to life than the frivolities of renown. But the title nevertheless helped me join the travel industry where I was given the chance to initiate novel ideas of promoting tourism. For example, as president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association. I spearheaded a project I was especially proud of — the Outstanding Taxi Driver of the Year Award. It was so successful that the Department of Tourism adopted it to become part of what was known as the Annual Kalakbay Award. I believe it was becoming Miss Caltex that paved the way for such opportunities that brought about different tourism citations such as being chosen as one of the Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) in the field of travel and tourism. In time, I became a public servant — a pro-people Makati City Councilor where I organized and became an adviser to various youth association and women’s clubs.

“I thank the Lord for all my worldly blessings and realize that I ought to give back. Though I have not entirely left some of my material concerns, my pursuit of self-fulfillment must take me to a higher realm essential to my humanity. And what would that be? I have discovered that only by God’s grace can one understand one’s purpose of sharing oneself with others — and my way of doing so is being with the Buklod ng Pag-ibig Community. I have finally found a place where I can serve the Lord and others through its healing ministry. I was even blessed by the Lord to win over a million pesos as a contestant in the TV game show, Deal or No Deal, an amount I donated entirely to Buklod ng Pag-ibig.”

Cecilia Borja Chiongbian, Miss Caltex 1966:

“It was a watershed moment in my life. It was when I knew in my heart and in my mind the kind of life I wanted to have in the future. Born and raised in Cagayan de Oro City, I had just moved to Manila for post-graduate studies, when I made my leap from Ateneo to Caltex. These two institutions were next-door neighbors on Padre Faura Street.

“The year 1966 was a whirl of activities and the experience was simply beyond compare. I was the face of the company and that brought with it a responsibility that what I did in public and in private would have to measure up the standards the firm had set.

“When the year wound down and another winner was crowned, I was ready to settle into a private and quite life. The year after my reign, I married my high school beau Albert Chiongbian from Cebu. We have two children, Justin Frederic whose wife is the former Emily Tan and Karla Cecily whose husband is Dominic Alegrado — both couples have children of their own now. Our world revolves around them.

“Being married for 40 years reminds me of one comic who said, ‘That two people can live 24/7 is one miracle the Vatican has overlooked.’ We like to think that a lifelong partnership should not be without a sense of humor.”

Amy Gustilo Lopez, Miss Caltex 1969:

“Thank God, I was given the opportunity to be part of the Caltex family. I felt blessed. I donated my cash prize and everything I earned from my one-year contract for the education of some poor Ifugao children in Bontoc.

“As Miss Caltex, I was aware and made conscious that I was loved by many people, both young and old, as I traveled around the Philippines as a Goodwill Ambassadress of the company. I thank Caltex for making a young lady’s dream, just like how the song goes, ‘When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…’

“I am a widow now, forever blessed with two grown-up children, named Angela and Louise and two grandchildren named Massimo and Rocco. I am a fulfilled woman in my golden years.

“I have rediscovered and renewed my passion in music, by composing meditative pieces that soothe and heal the soul. With my grand piano, my creative juices has started to flow once again, giving birth to two CDs titled Remembering and Offering. The third CD is on its way, titled Thanksgiving and will soon be released. Thank God I can still be life-giving, like when I am invited to give inspirational talks on my life’s journey, which I embellished with my music. Full energy and joy, I am on the road again. Just like the Caltex slogan that goes, ‘Enjoy the Journey’.”

Naida Benedicto Angping, Miss Caltex 1970:

“Being Miss Caltex broadened my horizons — personally and professionally. I met many wonderful people from whom I learned so much and who until today have remained to be my friends and advisers. It likewise gave me the confidence to be my own person, to fight my own battles and to be gracious in whatever situation I am. For me, the experience of competing in Miss Caltex has been a very rewarding opportunity, to educate myself, to build one’s character, to discover one’s strength and to realize that when you wish upon a star, your wishes really do come true. Winning the title is not only an accomplishment, it is a personal conquest.

“For more than 20 years, I worked in the office of the Governor of the province of Leyte as an executive and technical assistant. It was an extension of my experience as Miss Caltex — meeting new people, visiting different places, learning new things. It was also the time I was able to go into public and community service.

“When my husband Harry, became congressman of the Third District of Manila in 1998, I made it my personal mission to be his partner in serving the people, immersing myself in the grassroots, to find out what the people needed and how these needs could be addressed.

“In 2007, I was elected congresswoman of our district, and I continued what Harry and I started during his incumbency — prioritizing quality public education, affordable health care, empowerment through livelihood and entrepreneurship programs and sustainable economic development.

“Re-elected in 2010 and now on my second term in office, I am likewise pushing for maternal and child care as well as environment protection in addition to being the vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation and Interparliamental Relation and Diplomacy.”

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