KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 9 April) – Beauty titlist Mary Jean “MJ” Lastimosa was surprised to see the gymnasium at the Cotabato provincial capitol complex packed with thousands of well-wishers who travelled from faraway towns greet her for her unprecedented win during the Bb. Pilipinas beauty pageant held in Metro Manila two weeks ago.
Last Tuesday, the country’s representative to the Miss Universe pageant arrived at the provincial capitol complex aboard a helicopter from Davao City. Fans waved red flaglets as she was paraded around town in a motorcade.
“I was so surprised to see you all here. I thought there would only be a few who would welcome me here. I am so happy,” Lastimosa told the crowd last Tuesday.
The beauty from Barangay Sibsib, Tulunan in North Cotabato was greeted with a rousing welcome led by Governor Lala Talino-Mendoza, Vice Governor Greg Ipong, and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
There was also a street dancing parade where students from several public schools in the province showcased their talents for Lastimosa’s delight.
As promised, she signed autographs for her fans and joined them in photo sessions.
“I am proud to have come from North Cotabato. The people here are warm and kindhearted,” she said.
Lastimosa grew up with her aunt, Evelyn Lastimosa, as her parents are in Saudi Arabia. Her father is reportedly an Arab national while her mother has dual citizenship.
“When she was in grade four, I always see her at the front of our mirror and posing like a ramp model. It was her utmost dream to become a beauty queen. With her determination, she did it,” said Evelyn of her niece.
Lastimosa returned to her province two months after she first met the governor and the provincial board to ask for their support in her bid to get the Bb. Pilipinas crown.
She said the crown she was wearing is her gift to North Cotabato, which would be celebrating its centennial this September.
Lastimosa told the crowd, especially young girls and women, to never quit even if they fail many times.
She used herself as an example, admitting that she failed twice in the Bb. Pilipinas pageant.
“Yet I never stopped. It did not hinder me from trying again. That’s life. Sometimes you’re down, sometimes you’re up. But we must never give up. The Lord is there. If our faith is strong and we believe in ourselves, we can do it,” Lastimosa stressed.
Her third try at the pageant, she said, earned her the moniker as having a “recycled beauty.” But she didn’t mind at all.
“I don’t mind if people are saying negative things about me. If I focus on other people, then I cannot be the best version of myself,” the beauty queen said.
Lastimosa sought support from her kababayans as she competes for the Miss Universe pageant this year.
She told the crowd: “There is a bigger competition, the Miss Universe 2014. I am proud I am bringing the name of North Cotabato. If we all pray very hard, maybe I can bring the Miss Universe crown. So help me pray.”
Lastimosa said she would be “forever grateful” to the governor, whom she calls as her second mother.
“She was always there for me, telling me what to do to win. I will be forever grateful,” she stressed.
Mendoza told reporters she first met Lastimosa in early February when the latter was chosen as among the top 40 candidates.
She said Lastimosa was humble enough to ask for our support, prompting the provincial government to throw its support.
“With the confidence she’s showing, I know in my heart she will get the crown. We were right,” said the governor.
Mendoza said Lastimosa deserved a rousing welcome “because she is from North Cotabato.”
“MJ Lastimosa is bringing [the name of] our province and this makes us also proud,” the governor stressed. (With reports from Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)