Before I Forget

My chance encounters
with Filipino Misses Universe

I could never relate to beauty pageants, but it was just my fate
that I’d meet these queens sooner than I thought

The author with Margie Moran Floirendo during book launching of a book on Armida Siguion Reyna a few years back.

2018 Miss Universe Catriona Grey with Cecile Licad at Washington D.C. during the Independence Day concert of the pianist. (Pablo Tariman file photo)

It is Tuesday, the 17th of May and I woke up at 2:15 am.

It’s not because of the 69th Miss Universe airing at 8 in the morning. I had to do my deadline for my island column, write a poem and re-write old ones, prepare breakfast for my grandson, and water the plants.

When I opened my FB, everybody was agog over the outcome of the 69th Miss Universe! I could almost hear the national cheering when Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo made it to the final 21. But I could also feel the universal letdown when she didn’t make it to the top 10.

In the past, I didn’t go crazy over Miss U winners, but that didn’t mean I ignored them totally. It was just my fate that I’d meet them sooner than I thought.

Margie Moran Floirendo with Gloria Diaz. Beauty icons through the years. (Photo: Ph Title holders FB)

I was in college when the country had its first Miss U in the person of Gloria Diaz in 1969. Honestly, I couldn’t relate. Since I was into writing, my idols were literary goddesses, not beauty queens, among them Kerima Polotan, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, Gilda Cordero Fernando, and Ninotchka Rosca. It didn’t help that the triumph of Gloria Diaz was eclipsed by the news of the first man on the moon.

But in 1977, I offered to do a cover story for Focus Magazine, edited by the revered Kerima Polotan. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “May I do a cover story on Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz?” Polotan said yes and assigned a photographer to go with me.

Before that, I had never seen a Miss Universe in person. Through my connections with Ricky Lo, I found a way to interview La Diaz. The venue was the Manila Polo Club, on the side where horses were kept.

The first time I saw her, I thought she was more beautiful in person than in photos in newspapers and magazines. There was something very sensual in how she moved. But more than that, she was brutally frank.

In 1977, the only filmmaker that mattered to me was Lino Brocka, and how did she find him? At this time, Diaz had just finished a masterpiece called Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?, directed by Eddie Romero. At that time, she has not seen the best of Brocka, who was working as an apprentice for Romero. “Brocka is good, but the better one for me is (Eddie) Romero,” said Diaz.

‘I did that cover story on you for Focus Magazine some years back,’ I said. Replied Gloria Diaz, ‘Yes, you’ve told me that many times.’ I was not ready for that kind of candor

Many years later, when she started appearing in teleseryes, I got the chance to interview her again. Of course, my standard intro was that I did the cover story on her in Focus Magazine in 1977. “Yes, I remember,” she said.

The last time I saw Gloria was during an intimate lunch hosted for her, Cecile Licad, and the former columnist J.V. Cruz, with a publicist in attendance. As usual, my usual introduction was, “I did that cover story on you for Focus Magazine some years back.” Replied Diaz, “Yes, you’ve told me that many times.”

I was not ready for that kind of candor.

What did I find out in that lunch? That the former Miss U and the pianist had one common wedding sponsor, a former cabinet member who served in the early ’80s.

“I wonder what you had for wedding gift,” I muttered.

La Gloria: “I think I got a plate warmer.”

Licad: “I think I got that, too.”

They burst into laughter.

All throughout that lunch—my first with a former Miss Universe—I could fully appreciate her kind of candor. Her kind of beauty is fascinating, one-of-a-kind.

There was no way I could connect with Margie Moran Floirendo when she won Miss Universe of 1973.  I didn’t move in the circle of beauty queens. But then her projects got my attention.

In the late ’90s, she was one of the executive producers of the film, Bagong Buwan, directed by Marilou Diaz Abaya. Then I heard of her doing outreach cultural events, which made me get in touch with her.

“Can you present Cecile Licad in Davao City?” She easily said yes.

1973 Miss Universe Margie Moran Floirendo with Cecile Licad after a solo recital in Davao City in 2002. (From Pablo Tariman files)

In 2002, Margie Moran Floirendo was impresario of the solo recital of Licad at the Marco Polo Hotel ballroom in Davao City. That was the first time I saw the crème de la crème of Davao City.

I realized a Miss Universe could be totally human away from her tiaras and evening gowns

After the concert, which ended with a standing ovation, she hosted an intimate informal dinner which allowed me and the pianist to drink beer and laugh the night away without being overly conscious that we were dining with a former Miss Universe.

We had nice conversation and a lot of laughter. I realized a Miss Universe could be totally human away from her tiaras and evening gowns.

In one house dinner, we met the mother of Margie. She was quite a stunner at her age. After one CCP concert of Licad where Margie brought her mother and sister, I told Cecile, “Remember what you said when we first me Mrs. Moran?

“What did I say?” Asked Cecile.

You said, “I think Margie’s mother is more beautiful than the daughter.”

“Did I say that?” the pianist asked.

“Yes, you did,” I replied.

Margie and her mother laughed. But since we were both cultural workers, I connected with the 1973 Miss Universe more than any other beauty queens I have met.

The next thing I knew, she became president of a ballet society at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), where her main concern was to give dancers a decent salary on top of helping secure funds for future productions. As the new chair of the CCP Board of Trustees, she more than deserved the position, I felt. She has led a very driven life, living the arts and giving all of herself in worthy advocacies.

Before her Miss Universe crown in 1973, she took dance lessons and found herself in musicals as part of the dance ensemble of Broadway shows in hotels, and eventually at the CCP. The arts hovered around her during her Miss Universe reign, and shortly after being crowned, she found herself meeting the great Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who ended up becoming one of her best friends. Later, he offered to paint her but she turned him down. At the time, she didn’t realize the extent of his fame in the art world. “Such a shame, though, as the only other woman he ever painted was his wife,” she recalled.

Margie has gone full circle from dancing Broadway musicals at the CCP, co-producing the award-winning film Bagong Buwan, and becoming a tireless impresario herself, and making sure her stable of ballerinas get the salary raise they sorely need.

The 1973 Miss Universe doesn’t just preach the arts. She lives them inside and outside the CCP grounds, and is fully convinced the arts is an important part of nation-building. Don’t you wish all future Misses Universe had a life beyond tiaras and victory walks the way Margie did? Margie has proven time and again there is a life beyond Miss Universe beauty pageants.

I never met 2015 Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach. I got to meet the 2018 Miss U Catriona Gray in a product launching, but never got to tell her we have the same Bicol roots (she from Oas, Albay and me from Catanduanes). Gray was guest of honor at the Independence Day concert in Washington D.C. of Licad, who was very impressed by the beauty queen. This time, it was the pianist who asked for a picture with the Miss Universe.

It was pure luck that I connected with Miss U title holders through people who love the arts.

I am sure dear readers now want to ask: Who is Miss Universe 2021? It’s Miss Mexico, Andrea Meza Carmona!

Margie Moran Floirendo with tenor Arthur Espiritu at Ayala Museum concert. (Photo by Pablo Tariman)

About author


He’s a freelance journalist who loves the opera, classical music and concerts, and who has had the privilege of meeting many of these artists of the performing arts and forging enviable friendships with them. Recently he’s been drawing readers to his poems in Facebook, getting known as the ‘Bard of Facebook.’

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up for’s Weekly Digest and get the best of, tailored for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *