Freeman Cebu Entertainment

What’s Next for Universal Woman 2024 Maria Gigante?

The Freeman

There were a handful of significant people present at Maria Gigante’s Cebu homecoming press conference.

One of them was her good friend and Miss World Philippines 2022 Tracy Maureen Perez who promised Gigante that she would host her homecoming if she took home the Universal Woman crown -- which she did last March 23 in Cambodia.

Another was her first-grade teacher Cleofe Albiso, who is now the Managing Director of Megaworld Hotels and Resorts which owns Belmont Hotel Mactan where the presscon took place.

If there was one person that the Bantayan Island native wished could be there, it would be her mentor and uncle Jonas Borces who passed away in June 2020.

“Mommy Jonas was the first person who saw something in me and took the time to impart knowledge she knew would help me later on. She told me that I was going to join a pageant [one day]. Can you imagine me who was a fat eight-year-old playing soccer and eating chocolate sauce being like ‘What? I don’t even want to comb my hair,’” she said of the late beauty queen-maker and hair and makeup artist.

“I only wish she was here today because she always said that someday I am going to get the crown for the Philippines and it finally happened. I feel like in some way she is still watching after me. Part of this win is for her.”

A blessing in disguise

After failing to make it to the top 10 at Miss World Philippines 2022, Gigante almost wanted to give up the pageant industry, recalling that she “left that stage feeling that her heart broke.”

“Oftentimes, we give up before miracles happen and that’s my biggest takeaway from this. I have gotten to the point where I had no stamina, no strength, no optimism for pageants and I felt like I wanted to move on,” she recalled of her lowest point before her manager, ALV Pageant Circle President and Universal Woman Philippines National Director Arnold L. Vegafria, convinced her to restart through the Universal Woman pageant.

Gigante, 29, is the last in her group of beauty queen friends -- Perez, Beatrice Gomez, Gazini Ganados, and Jamie Herrell -- to represent the country in an international tilt.

“These are my friends but theirs are also big shoes to fill in terms of global pageants because they all represented the Philippines so well. It’s nice that I had them for advice, but it was intimidating to even think that I have to follow in their wings, all of these amazing beautiful Cebuanas that I love so much,” she said.

Now that she has a crown to bring home to Cebu with pride, she has already learned one important thing about being an international titlist.

“I had the crown for a few weeks and I learned that in those few weeks that I have been traveling in my reign, there is so much to being a queen than just living a glamorous life.”

Citing the inaugural Universal Woman Valentina Sanchez from Venezuela, she added, “For me, she completely changed what an international titleholder should be like. She is somebody who is not shy to do the work. She is an amazing woman. She can show up glamorous, but she doesn’t mind doing tedious work.”

As soon as she arrived in Cambodia, Gigante realized that she forgot to bring a comb that would help bring her hair to a certain look for a “Maria Gigante like nobody has seen before.”

“I only had with me a coarse and dense brush that is usually used to comb a beard, so I used it to pull my hair up instead. It turns out I needed to have my hair up because the climate in Cambodia would be an obstacle for me if my hair was down,” she said.

“It was rewarding because I still got to wear my signature look. I felt so beautiful and I felt like I could do anything. With my hair up, it implies that I am at my most powerful. That particular obstacle ended up being a blessing in disguise.”

 Showbiz prospects?

Before going back to the pageant stage through Universal Woman, Gigante and Perez made their acting debut in the NET25 series“Goodwill” where they played lovers of a rockstar (David Chua) who was toying with both of them. They still have one acting workshop to complete under ALV Talent Circle.

“Acting was something that I enjoyed because it allows you to explore your emotions, not just the glamour. I am attracted to the art of expressing myself in different ways and discover what I’m capable of doing when I slip into a different character,” she said.

She intends to continue hosting and acting full-time once she crowns her successor. For now, the rest of 2024 is shaping up to be a busy year for Gigante who will travel overseas a lot.

“The time we have here for my homecoming is actually on borrowed time. I was initially bound for another continent but we have to come home strategically to secure the visas for international travel in the future since Universal Woman is abroad and very far away, and not even in the same continent.”

During her reign, she will be volunteering for Italy-based organization Mission Onlus which helps women and children. Their advocacy for 2024 is to help mothers who have children with chronic illnesses and are confined to their beds. Donations will be used to help them cover their medical and living costs.

While she may be a busy, she is confident that she can still juggle her Universal Woman commitments with other opportunities.

“I have the crown. I have a career. Why can’t I do them together? I think that’s what it means to be a modern woman --and a Universal Woman at that.”

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