EXCLUSIVE: Bb. Pilipinas Globe 2019 Leren Mae Bautista On Why She's Taking A Stand Against Bullying
“Does anyone want coffee?”
Her eyes light up. “YES,” she says, practically jumping off the sofa. Leren’s order is simple: a medium, caffeinated tea with fruit pearls. She receives it eagerly, and it powers her for the rest of the day. But something tells us that even without that drink, she still would’ve been the same bright and bubbly girl she was when Metro.Style shot a cover with the reigning Binibining Pilipinas beauty queens.
Leren’s name is an amalgamation of her parents’—the first syllable comes from her mother, Leticia, and the second from her father, Efren. Her name rolls off the tongue, and her dimpled smile that accompanies every shy answer is mesmerizing. But she is more than just her looks. The Laguna native is every bit as smart and as charming as she is on national television, where just a month ago, she had taken home the title of Binibining Pilipinas Globe 2019.
“I grew up hearing things that really hurt my feelings: poste, kapre, negra”
READ: Beyond Beauty: The Binibining Pilipinas 2019 Queens On The Cover Of Metro.Style
She doesn’t have a sob story to speak of—at least, not family-wise. “I grew up with a happy family,” says Leren. “A complete family.” The youngest of three siblings, Leren is very close to her two brothers and calls her dad a funny guy. “My mom goes with the flow with my dad’s jokes,” she says. Leren also grew up with her grandmother, who took care of her and her siblings when their parents were at the office. “I would often be told, ‘You’re matangkad because of your grandmother!’”
Leren’s had a typical childhood: hide-and-seek with her brothers (“I was very boyish,” she says of growing up with two brothers) and sleeping in the afternoon during siesta time with her lola. But as a kid, she’d often been bullied for her looks and her skin color. Her experience with this has led her to make anti-bullying her advocacy as a beauty queen. “I grew up hearing things that really hurt my feelings: poste, kapre, negra,” she recalls. These taunts would lead her to think—was there something wrong with her? Was she not beautiful enough? Her eyes water at the memory.
“I wasn’t sure at first, because I was so scared to be embarrassed. I was just too scared to hear negative words again,” Leren says of joining a pageant
This experience is what pushed her to join beauty pageants when she was a junior in college at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Calamba. “I joined Miss Letran because my mom told me, ‘Why not join pageants? Sayang ang height, sayang ang talino.”
But Leren had been hesitant and scared, so even if she wanted to be a voice against bullying, she had resisted, until she couldn’t anymore. “I wasn’t sure at first, because I was so scared to be embarrassed. I was just too scared to hear negative words again,” she says, emphasizing that last word.
“Maybe this is the time for me to actually face my fears and prove to everybody that I’m capable”
“Eventually, I thought to myself, maybe this is the time for me to actually face my fears. To actually move forward and to prove to everybody that I’m capable, that I can do anything I want to do,” she says. And so she did.
“I won that pageant,” she states, matter-of-factly.
Red outfit by Mark Bumgarner | Printed ensemble by Randy Ortiz
From then on, Leren had been unstoppable—but she had her studies to finish first. After graduating with a degree in Marketing Management, her mom asked her: “Do you want to have a professional job or do you want to be a beauty queen?”
She chose the pageant route, saying that she still wanted to prove something—to herself, to others. “She would always tell me that I’m still young,” Leren says of her mom. “That I still have a lot of opportunities.”
“I wanted to have a bigger platform for it,” Leren says about how she wants to champion her advocacy on anti-bullying through pageantry
Leticia had always been her number one supporter. “My number zero fan,” she laughs. “Kung may mas angat pa sa number one, siya ‘yun!” She’s no stranger to the world of pageantry: Leren had been crowned Miss Los Baños 2013, Binibining Laguna 2014, Mutya ng Pilipinas-Asia Pacific International 2015, and Miss Tourism Queen of the Year International 2015. At first, she thought her wins were based on pure luck—but even so, she had decided to push it, because she had been—and still is—so passionate about her advocacy. “I wanted to have a bigger platform for it,” she says.
Leren almost didn’t compete in Binibini, as fear had overcome her again. “I knew I was lucky for the first four pageants, but I didn’t know what would happen with Binibining Pilipinas,” she says. “I was scared. I was pressured. I didn’t know what to do. I asked myself if I really wanted this.”
“I didn’t want to have regrets. I didn’t want to keep thinking about that ‘what if’”
But her mom had been armed with words that convinced the 26-year -old. “You’re not getting any younger,” Leticia had told her. “You can’t keep thinking you’ll decide next year or in the next two years.” For Leren, that was enough. “I didn’t want to have regrets,” she tells Metro.Style. “I didn’t want to keep thinking about that ‘what if.’”
“Finally”—and it’s a big one—“I have the crown,” she says, beaming.
“I’m very lucky and happy that God did not leave me behind. He’s always there for me, to guide me, to support me, to help me have the courage to face my fears.”
“I’m very lucky and happy that God did not leave me behind"
When she’s not preoccupied with charming crowds and crowds of people, Leren keeps it low-key. “I’m a sporty girl,” she says. “When I was in high school, I played volleyball. I was on the varsity team.” She also loves the beach, as well as traveling, naming Bantayan Island in Cebu as her favorite spot—ever. “It’s so far but the moment I step foot onto that ground I’m like, ‘This is paradise. This is the life!’ It’s a very small island, but it’s very chill and laid-back. When you’re there, it feels like you don’t have to worry about anything.”
“It really made me appreciate the Philippines—how beautiful it is; how beautiful we are,” Leren, strong, smart, and beautiful, tells us. It’s about time people across the globe appreciated her, too.
Read our exclusives on the other reigning Binibining Pilipinas queens:
READ: EXCLUSIVE: "I Can Be Miss Universe"—Gazini Ganados Talks About The Past That Can Help Shape Her Future
READ: EXCLUSIVE: Bb. Pilipinas International 2019 Bea Patricia Magtanong On Using Her Newfound Fame To Be Of Service To Others
READ: EXCLUSIVE: Bb. Pilipinas Supranational 2019 Resham Ramirez Saeed Shines The Light On Gender Equality, Unity In Diversity, And Women Empowerment
READ: EXCLUSIVE: Bb. Pilipinas Grand International 2019 Samantha Ashley Lo Is All About Setting A Good Example For Today's Youth
READ: EXCLUSIVE: Bb. Pilipinas Intercontinental 2019 Emma Mary Tiglao Aims To Help Less Fortunate And Abandoned Kids
Produced by Grace Libero-Cruz
Photography by Seven Barretto
Creative direction by Chookie Cruz
Makeup by Jim Ryan Ros
Hairstyling by Brix Batalla
Styling by Bonita Penaranda
Video producer: Joan Ko
Videography by Spotlight Creatives
Shoot assistants: Sara de los Reyes and Angelica Montoro
Shot on location at Cove Manila in Okada - New Seaside Drive, Entertainment City, Parañaque
Special thanks to Annie Alejo and Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc.