EXCLUSIVE: Bb. Pilipinas Intercontinental 2019 Emma Mary Tiglao Aims To Help Less Fortunate And Abandoned Kids
The woman who would be named Bb. Pilipinas Intercontinental 2019 is every bit as immaculate and as divine as the woman she was named after. On December 7, her mother had gone into labor, but that little girl would not be hurried or rushed. Finally, in the early hours of December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Emma Mary Tiglao was born.
“My mom prayed really hard and sabi niya, ‘Please, ilabas niyo na po siya—ipapangalan ko siya sa inyo,” Emma laughs. “And now here I am!”
“If you really love what you’re doing, you will get what you deserve"
Here she is, indeed, and with big shoes to fill. Early this year, beauty queen Karen Gallman won the title of Miss Intercontinental—the first Filipina to win the 47-year-old beauty pageant—and Emma’s got the best people to support her.
“This is not the thing I wanted at first,” Emma tells Metro.Style. “I really wanted to be a teacher.” The 23-year-old Pampangueña really wanted—and still wants—to teach kids, but it seems that life had something else in store for her. “In high school, I had a friend who saw the potential in me.”
This friend taught her how to pose, how to walk—all of it. “He’s gay, so he knew all of these things. I did it, I said I’ll go with the flow, because I was young.” Her first pageant was a loss. “I was the fourth runner-up,” she says, defeated. “At that point, I said, ayaw ko na.”
But her friends and her family had been so supportive, and had really pushed her to keep going. “So I did, and I fell in love with it, finally.”
“For me, being a beauty queen is knowing yourself. It’s knowing your advocacy, but you don’t do it just because you’re in a pageant, you do it because it’s in your heart”
“If you really love what you’re doing, you will get what you deserve,” Emma says, and she is living proof of that. She’s no stranger to the world of pageantry, having joined Binibining Pilipinas for the first time in 2014 at only 19 years old, as well as a number of other local pageants. She also joined Miss World when she was 20, ranking fourth. It wasn’t a story of instant success—it had taken her time to get to where she is now, and every moment seems to be worth it.
“For me, being a beauty queen is knowing yourself. It’s knowing your advocacy, but you don’t do it just because you’re in a pageant,” Emma says. “You do it because it’s in your heart.” One can see this, so clearly and unquestionably, through the fabric and the cloth that she would wear for the National Costume portion of the competition, first unveiled in early May, a month before coronation night. “Fe Esperanza Caridad,” designed by Richie Sabinian, had earned her the Pitoy Moreno award, and she’s bursting with gratitude for the hands behind the dress.
“It’s more than just the glamour and the fame of being a beauty queen, it’s really about being of service to people”
Emma’s designer had enlisted the help of Kapampangan inmates—or persons deprived of liberty (PDL), as Emma prefers to call them—who intricately weaved the dress and created a winning masterpiece. When she first met them, her face bare and without a strip of makeup (“I wanted them to see that I was just like them,” she says), she was moved to tears: “When I went inside, there was a mini program. I didn’t know! There was a mini stage, a chair, a mic, and a host. Pagpasok ko, I thought, ‘Eto pala ‘yung feeling.’”
“I cried,” Emma says. “One of them hugged me and told me that they really appreciated me.”
Red outfit by Mark Bumgarner | Printed ensemble by Randy Ortiz
Emma’s magnanimity goes beyond this, as she dedicates her journey and advocacy in Binibini to kids who are less fortunate or who have been abandoned. She was in the park with her friends once, she tells us, when a street kid approached them and began sharing her life story. The kid had struggled at such a young age—helping her family, working when she should’ve been in school—and Emma’s heart ached.
“That’s when I thought it to myself that when I have the opportunity and the chance to help, they will be the one who I will help,” she says. That was in high school. Five years later, she’s still looking out for the well-being of abandoned children—this time, with a much bigger platform and a much glitzier name. “It’s more than just the glamor and the fame of being a beauty queen," she says of this industry. “It’s really about being of service to people.”
“Kapag natatalo ako, hindi masakit. Kung masakit man, it’s not for me, but for the people who helped me—na parang hindi ko man lang nasuklian ‘yung help"
Looking closer, though, Emma’s reason for choosing this advocacy runs a little bit deeper than just a random encounter. Her mom, she reveals, was adopted. “Nu'ng bata siya, na-experience niya 'yung matulog din sa labas. Hindi nakapag-college si mama, pero hindi niya hinayaan na mangyari sa'min 'yung na-experience niya. I admire her unconditional love. ‘Yun ‘yung gusto kong mapakita sa mga tao.”
And it shows. Though it took Emma years to finally clinch a title, she remains positive, rather than jaded and cynical. And so she tried and tried again, until she got to where she is now, with a treasure trove of lessons and memories to accompany her. “Kapag natatalo ako, hindi masakit. Kung masakit man, it’s not for me, but for the people who helped me—na parang hindi ko man lang nasuklian ‘yung help. But it happens, and I believe that everything happens for a lesson, not just a reason.”
"I believe that everything happens for a lesson, not just a reason”
Becoming a beauty queen was nothing like Emma had expected, and surely enough, she didn’t always look at the grander scheme of things. “At first, it was all about money,” Emma admits. “I thought, ‘Ah, pag nanalo ako, may money na ako for my family. I was not thinking about what I will do on a bigger scale. I was just thinking about how I can help my family.”
But it’s much more than that, Emma has learned. “It’s all about other people,” she says. The beauty queen always looked beyond herself, always outward rather than in—everything always for everyone else. She considers herself a "sponge" to help lighten the burdens of her friends, her family, and her fellow Binibining Pilipinas queens. She has never lost her sense of self, though.
“I really want to try free-falling and skydiving,” Emma says, and winning one of the six Binibining Pilipinas crowns definitely feels a little bit like falling from the sky. Fortunately for Emma, she knows exactly who she is, and where she would land: even after forming, forging, and creating different iterations of herself—from the moment she first entered Binibini, until now, as she embarks on a journey to represent the Philippines on the international stage—her deepest and most essential self has endured, and continues to radiate from within her.
Read our exclusives on the other reigning Binibining Pilipinas queens:
Produced by Grace Libero-Cruz
Photography by Seven Barretto
Creative direction by Chookie Cruz
Makeup by Elma Oraye-Cruz of Ever Bilena
Hairstyling by Rudolf Davalos
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.