And the winners of the ‘inner beauty contest’ are...

- Paula C. Nocon () - April 6, 2003 - 12:00am
The month-long nationwide Dove Bukod Tanging Filipina 2003 search has finally come to a celebratory end. Initially hailed as a unique "inner beauty contest," Dove has awarded three outstanding ladies whose life work exemplified the self-actualization, empowerment, and fulfillment of the Filipina woman.

And the winners are...

Florian Infante, representing Luzon, for her commitment as a Barangay Nutrition Scholar in Platero, Biòan, Laguna.

Shirley Sombrador, representing the Visayas, a tribal chieftain from Bagong Silang, Bacolod, for her crusade to save her local environment.

And Baicon Cayongkat Macaraya of Mindanao, chairperson of the Bangsamoro Youth – Ranao Chapter for Peace and Development.

These three women bested nearly 100 candidates and nine finalists for their roles as unsung heroes in their chosen fields of interest.

At an elegant ceremony at the Marble Hall of the Museum of the Filipino People, the search brought an apt close to the month of March, recognized as Women’s Month. The grand event brought together the country’s modern heroines, both celebrated and unsung, in a fitting tribute to the awakening of every woman’s potential.
Florian Infante
It was having a son with cerebral palsy that inspired Florian Infante, or Flor, to get into nutrition. "I wanted to educate others on proper care during pregnancy, so that what happened to my child wouldn’t happen to theirs. But I am very proud of my son Jeffrey."

She became a Barangay Center Volunteer when she was going through a lot of personal and family problems, and found that in serving God and the community she found fulfillment.

The Dove award, Flor hopes, will help make the general public more aware of the real problems of nutrition that many Filipino communities face today. "Poverty should not be a deterrent to eating properly. There are many inexpensive foods that are nutritious – munggo, dilis, sardines. You can grow your own vegetable garden. And more people should be aware of the three basic food groups and the importance of a balanced diet."
Shirley Sombrador
When asked if it was a rarity for female katutubo (indigenous people) like her to be elected tribal chieftain, Shirley Sombrador had a quick reply. "Women are very much respected in my community. You can be a chieftain as long as you prove yourself worthy. You must have integrity, honesty and a good track record. It doesn’t matter what your gender is."Shirley’s passion stems from her love or her ancestral lands, which used to be abundant with trees but are now barren from illegal logging. "I must protect the environment. The preservation of the trees and the watershed is not just for my community but for the whole country. Global warming is a threat to all of us."

Though she did not finish high school, Shirley, a mother of four, is proud of the indigenous knowledge on the environment that she has inherited from her ancestors over many generations. "It’s our indigenous knowledge that can help policy and planning. We’re not politicians, but we can do what we can to cooperate with those in charge."

Shirley also hopes that the Dove awards would make more people more respectful towards women, given the many negative images and portrayals of women that abound in the media today. And this, she says, should also help women respect themselves even more.
Baicon Cayongkat Macaraya
The portrayal of women and Muslims in media, too, is one of Baicon Cayongkat Macaraya’s most pressing concerns. " In the news, I see incorrect portrayals of people of my religion. The media plays a great role in making Christians and Muslims understand one another better, and yet what I see are mostly stereotypes. This is one of the reasons why the conflict continues."

The misconception that Muslim women are marginalized is an example. Says Baicon, "In Islam, we are taught that it is your duty, no matter what your gender, to get a good education from birth to death. I, for one, am using my education to help others."

As Chairperson of the Bangsamoro Youth – Ranao Chapter for Peace and Development, Baicon and her group makes use of integrated rehabilitation as an alternative approach to create "Sanctuaries of Peace," reconstructing houses, repairing mosques, and organizing livelihood for those affected by the insurgents of war.

As a mother of two, Baicon also strives to enlighten her children on respect for women and their responsibility to their community.

She says, "Islam means peace – to live in peace. To be at peace with God, we need to effect change within the youth, the young ones who will be the future leaders of the Philippines. They will help reshape the destiny of Mindanao."
Not A Beauty Contest
On the success of the search, Toni Gregory of Bridges@Comm emphatically states that it is an endeavor like this that would help propagate the causes of marginalized communities that need more attention and concern from government and the media. "We hope this shows how these remarkable women, regardless of their background or education, are truly the pillars of their community. The search was a success, I believe, because we garnered the exact kind of candidates that we were looking for – women who are quietly and selflessly doing what they can for others. These women, and all women, deserve the kind of recognition and even pampering that Dove espouses."

The three winners each received P75,000 in cash, an Impy Pilapil original trophy, spa treatments at Orient Day and a collection of Dove products. They were judged by a board composed of Charito Planas, Henrietta Mendez, Sr. Josefina Magat, Teresita Lazaro and Marietta Primicias Goco.

"Now they only other thing we wish for," says Toni, "is for other companies and corporations to do their part in social corporate responsibility, and give these women and their causes the support that they need. That would make this search even more fruitful.
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