Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Cary Santiago: Binibining Cebu must be unarguably beautiful

The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - With an eight-figure budget, a target of 54 candidates, and four main events spread out across the Province of Cebu, the first edition of the Binibining Cebu pageant is sounding like one grand undertaking almost at par with the national edition that is Binibining Pilipinas.

But even Bb. Pilipinas 2017 only has 40 in its roster– 14 ladies less than what Bb. Cebu is hoping to gather from 44 municipalities, eight cities, Cebu City North and Cebu City South.

The task appears daunting for a maiden edition, but trust distinguished Cebuano fashion designer Cary Santiago and his creative ilk – think Kenneth Cobonpue whom the master couturier brags is averse to mediocrity – to make their quest for Cebu’s ambassadress one for the books.

An avid pageant enthusiast, Santiago admits he was among those dismayed when Miss Cebu 2017, supposedly the beauty tilt’s 33rd edition, was scrapped by Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

“Ang tanang bayot and artisans in the municipalities, na-sad baya sila. This is really our culture. We are pageant fanatics,” says Santiago, who is also the chairperson of the seven-year-old transgender pageant Queen Philippines (formerly Queen of Cebu) which will have its finals this July.

Santiago said even Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino, Miss Cebu’s annual coronation night venue, wanted the January crowd-drawer to continue. But the establishment didn’t know who to tap.

Fortunately, Santiago happened to come across Cebuano personalities looking for a charity platform, and a few brainstorming sessions after, Binibining Cebu was born.

“I was just so lucky when I bumped into Kenneth in one event, I told him ‘Ganahan lagi ko’g pageant Ken uy, but it’s not the priority of the mayor.’ But he [Osmeña] had that pronouncement that anyone can produce. So I thought I will not continue the Miss Cebu because if the next mayor will continue, matangtang sad ko. Because that will be the property of the city of Cebu. So that’s the main reason that we came up with our own pageant, which is Binibining Cebu,” says Santiago.

Cobonpue, celebrated furniture designer and newly appointed Regional Development Council-7 Chair, is a member of the highly active Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu Batch ’85 Foundation that businessman and Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Lloyd L. Dino is also a part of.

Raymond Tio, also of SHS Batch ’85, is designated project chairman of Binibining Cebu.

Currently headed by its president Kenneth Lim , the group according to Santiago, has always been into charities. “So nagka-timing mi. Why don’t we just work together so you can continue with your charity and have a better platform,” he explains. “Mike Dino wanted a Binibining Visayas actually, but since this is our first…let’s start with this one for now”.

“On my part, I also want to help out our designers. As much as possible, we will ask the municipal mayors to include their artisans to produce the costumes of their representatives.”

A city or municipality’s participation is not mandatory, so if one happens to have no qualified bet, they can adopt a candidate who does not necessarily trace her roots in the place she will represent – provided she is knowledgeable about the city/municipality stamped on her sash.

“Besides, there’s no point for a municipality not to join because they will not spend a single centavo. Our handlers will take care of everything,” Santiago points out.

“But on Mike Dino’s part, he wants everyone to participate as much as possible so that we gather all together and be united. Can you imagine the finals night, with everyone there…ka-alegre di ba?”


Those eyeing to make history as the first Binibining Cebu crown-bearer should meet these qualifications: must be of Filipino descent (half-Filipino is allowed, but must present proof of parent citizenship), a natural born woman, 18-26 years old, at least 5’5” tall (barefoot), must know the history of the city/municipality she is representing and must be familiar with the city/municipality’s festival, products, tourist spots and other notable information.

Given you check out on all the above requirements, there’s one criterion Santiago is most adamant on: “Basta gwapahay lang jud,” he declares.

While there have been evolving definitions of beauty emerging of late, with not a few quick to debate that beauty should be beyond the external, Santiago insists their winner must possess looks that do not have to be justified.

“We want her beautiful. Not only smart. She has to be, first, beautiful,” he says of the Binibining Cebu winner, who will not necessarily be groomed to be Cebu’s candidate for Binibining Pilipinas.

“We don’t want someone intelligent, pero intelligent ra. Remember, the idea of a beauty pageant is that, for example, when there is a beauty queen, muagi sa atong atubangan, muingon jud ta, ‘Kinsa na uy?’ ‘Mao na siya ang Binibining Cebu.’ ‘Oh, let’s have a photo with her.’ So it’s prestige. You don’t have to be really intelligent. We just want you beautiful, smart enough to answer questions, with good moral character and as long as you can speak English – that’s enough for us. Also, height is might. We want to bring back the prestige to the word ‘beauty.’”

Indicating further their aim of finding the fairest, and not necessarily the most fluent in English, Santiago said the coronation night will have an interpreter on stand-by, in case a candidate prefers to speak in Bisaya during the Q&A.

“She has to be really beautiful. Dili kay, ‘Kinsa na siya?’ ‘Miss Cebu.’ ‘Siya’y nidaog?’ ‘Kay bright man gud siya.’ We don’t want that. We will not send her to a debate or quiz bee anyway. Ang atoa lang, we want to have a face of Cebu.”

Santiago will also not mind surgically enhanced candidates, saying he himself went under the knife to boost his confidence and finds nothing wrong with it.

“If it will give you more confidence, why not? It’s a modern society. And mind you, not all retokada will turn out beautiful. Naa say uban gitawag nga photogenic. Besides, almost all of these beauty queens are actually enhanced. Even the way they walk is no longer natural. That itself is enhancement, because they are trained to do what is beyond normal.”

“Hopefully this year, as what our handlers say, we will have a ‘bugno sa kaka.’ We want this to be truly a battle among beauties.”


Deadline for the submission of applications is on August 4, while the presentation of official candidates is set for August 19.

The four main events to watch out for are the Festival Costume presentation (which Argao volunteered to host during the pageant launch), Swimsuit presentation (South of Cebu), Evening Gown presentation (Mactan Island), and the Coronation Night on October 28 (a Saturday) at the Pacific Grand Ballroom of Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.

“With all the people on board, you can only expect fabulous things. With Kenneth Cobonpue alone – that means, no mediocrity here. We also have the best director in Victor Cuenco who’s a Hall of Fame awardee in choreography. Even the SHS Batch is very enthusiastic because they finally have a platform to showcase their charities,” says Santiago.

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