EXCLUSIVE: "I Can Be Miss Universe"—Gazini Ganados Talks About The Past That Can Help Shape Her Future
"When I was younger, I always looked up to the sky," Miss Universe Philippines 2019 Gazini Ganados says, her gaze shifting upwards as if to unearth a memory made in another lifetime.
As this half-Filipino, half-Palestinian daughter of a single mother once gazed at the stars night after night from her small bedroom, she silently wondered what secret messages they held and if she would ever be able to decode them.
"I always prayed, 'Let me do something great for this world. I don't want to be some regular Joe. I want to be something,'" she insisted, knowing she was capable of fulfilling the role.
And then, on June 9, 2019, amidst an audience of thousands that rivaled the twinkling stars that were once too far from reach, this Zamboanga del Norte-born dreamer was blessed with something much more, something that exceeded the breadth of the sky itself.
She was given the universe.
Gazini Christiana Jordi Ganados bested 39 women to wear the most coveted crown of them all. Today, she's Miss Universe Philippines 2019, the next Filipina tasked with upholding her country's shining reputation on the pageant stage and beyond.
"I still feel that I'm afloat sometimes. It hasn't really sunk in yet that I'm Miss Universe Philippines. It's overwhelming that I've achieved my goal—the most coveted crown. I didn't expect it, really. I just hoped for it and prayed for it a lot. I'm just happy!" Gazini gushes, briefly breaking her poise to release a wave of enthusiasm.
Hers was indeed a life-changing win at Binibining Pilipinas, where she was a first-time competitor but one who carried previous experience. The 23-year-old was very much still a teenager when she landed her first modeling stint, and not much older when she flexed her pageantry muscles at Miss World Philippines 2014.
Asked if becoming a beauty queen was always in her plans, it's a yes and no. A title was always the secondary prize, simply a means to an end for Gazini—the end being having a platform to shine the light on her lifelong advocacy.
"At first, I wanted to join pageants because we weren't rich, but it wasn't about the money. Maybe, that's why I really didn't win the first couple of times that I joined pageants. I wasn't that hungry for it and I just wanted to give my lola the crown that I would win.... When her health deteriorated, I thought about my advocacy. We didn't have the financial capability when she was hospitalized, and I saw the facilities that were really lacking," she begins.
"Through choosing elderly care as my advocacy, maybe the government will hear me"
The self-proclaimed "lola's girl" has tears well up in her eyes at this point, the issue of elderly care clearly touching a raw nerve.
Gazini's Lolo Udong and Lola Utay, her maternal grandparents, had always been her closest family and two of her biggest supporters. With them and her mother around, she was never left wanting, never made to feel different, or incomplete. Losing both of them within years of each other was devastating and so scarring, in fact, that Gazini and her mother decided to start life anew in Cebu where they could heal without recollections of them lingering in the shadows.
Gazini's last memory of her grandmother—her most trusted source of wisdom and comfort—was of her living her last hours in squalid conditions.
"At the end of the day, I wasn't there when she died because it was too painful for me to see her in a crowded room where the nurses couldn't handle the number of patients—dikit-dikit na sila, walang divisions, sharing oxygen... [I know] that there are a lot of taxes that we pay to our government [but] you can't see [where they go] here in the Philippines," she opinionatedly shares.
"I know that the children are our future, but the elderly paved the way for them with their widsom. It's the least we can do, to reciprocate their love"
Subconsciously, she straightens her back and holds her head just a little bit higher when she speaks about her advocacy. Gazini feels so strongly about the need to develop elderly care programs in the Philippines that she even pursued a certification course in nursing on top of her Tourism Management degree from the University of San Jose-Recoletos to better care for her ailing grandmother herself.
"We're all going to get old one day, and would you want yourself in the same position?" Gazini propositions.
As soon as she regained composure after a passionate dialogue about her advocacy ("These interviews help me a lot to express myself better!" she quips on the side), she shares a second reason for why she's happy to be a beauty queen.
"The standards of modern pageantry have already been raised... I'm really happy that it's relevant nowadays," Gazini says.
Obsolete is the time when all an aspiring queen must possess is well-proportioned body to prop up a pretty face; what's between her ears, what comes out of her mouth, and what she stands for are equally if not more important than what meets the eye, and it's exactly this that she knows she can capitalize on.
"There are these causes of feminism where we can [use] our empowerment and prove to other people that we're not just beautiful, or [that we can] engage in any social activity that would help our communities. I'm very happy that we have a cause and can inspire others"
Red gown by Mark Bumgarner | Black top and printed, tiered skirt by Randy Ortiz
"I was raised by a humble family with a humble background. With my empathy, I can relate to the marginalized. We didn't really have that much when I was growing up," she describes.
She pauses for a few seconds after making the revelation in anticipation of surprise from those within earshot. When it doesn't come, she continues her story to paint the picture of who she really is—the true Gazini behind the crown and the sash that her admirers should get to know.
"I tend to shy away maybe because of my background. I tend to think that everyone is [superior]. I have my insecurities [from not being] raised in an expensive [environment]. There are times when I really doubt myself," she adds.
It's a part of her identity that she still grapples with despite the successes that have come her way, but she doesn't consider it a chink in her armor, at least, not anymore. Gazini has learned to leverage her natural transparency and vulnerability, using her personal experiences to reach out to many a Filipino who know exactly what she's talking about and who, like her, are all too familiar with the hardships of a family scraping to get by.
She may be a queen who radiates beauty and glamour, but the throne she sits on is one that rests on backs—hers included—that have bent over backwards in order to rise above circumstances.
"My biggest failure was when I didn't know my worth before... I totally regret having those moments where I took everything for granted—my existence, my time. The regrets that I have now are the lessons I learned"
"What I want people to know about me is that I'm 'cowboy,' that my favorite food is daing with rice, that when I was younger, banig lang kami, tapos nag-aangkas lang ako... I still did that after my coronation kasi nagmamadali ako, kahit naka-dress pa ako! I just didn't realize that I was already Miss Universe Philippines," she laughs.
Unsurprisingly, her independence and disregard for any and all forms nitpickiness is something she picked up from her mom, Carmencita, who she describes as "a great epitome of 'What man can do, woman can do too.'"
All throughout Gazini's life, Carmencita was a can-do type of woman. She consciously excluded the word "unable" from her vocabulary, and Gazini picked up on the habit early on. Her attitude was, if she had a body in good health and a working mind, she could do anything.
"I was very spoiled when I was young, but my mom taught me to be independent and strong. She's proven to me that even without my dad, she can raise me alone. It's different when you're being raised alone, but she filled all those missing pieces for me. She even tried to build our house in Dapitan; she tried welding, being an electrician, even did car automotives just for us to be more cost-efficient. She took the TESDA courses herself!" Gazini exclaims with a tone of admiration for her one man—or woman—team mom.
But she wasn't always happy to come from a blue collar home; it made her uncomfortable to know that she wasn't as well-off as her peers, but years later, the tides have changed for the better.
What was once cause for Gazini to be ashamed has been converted into her one of her most valuable assets, because, to echo her words, looks mean nothing if hollowness is all that's inside.
And for Gazini whose heart is even more captivating than her beauty, it's safe to say that she has the makings of a winner in pageantry and in life, too.
"All throughout, I learned [from that] and tried to manage my time, and took care of myself better. Pageantry was also a journey for me to know myself better in every aspect—my patience, my makeup ksills, even my OOTD! Holistically, it's molded me into a woman"
Though she admits to still getting used to being in the limelight and fulfilling responsibilities outside her own life at this time, she's been a quick learner.
Taking to heart everything that modeling and previous pageantry experiences have taught her, she now knows better than to mirror others' negativity, be consumed by pressure, or put competitiveness before compassion, even during a pageant's most tense moments.
She is first and foremost there to to concentrate on what she can bring to the table and of course, how she'll be able to bring pride to her country.
Overall, it's been a crazy month for 23-year-old Gazini, but there's one challenge in particular that she hopes to overcome sooner than later.
She's following in the footsteps of reigning Miss Universe Catriona Gray, and many wonder if she'll be able to live up to expectations and score a historical back-to-back win—a first for the Philippines, if she manages.
She doesn't respond to this with an answer she knows people will want to hear, however, and instead, keeps it real.
"Catriona is different. Gazini is going to be a whole different girl. I'm going to try to best represent the Philippines in my own way," she says confidently.
Already, her transformation from an unsure and hesitant candidate to a sure-footed and commanding presence is beginning to yield noticeable results. And with the time Gazini has from today until the Miss Universe 2019 pageant proper, one can only imagine the complete package of a woman she'll be come the big day.
As silent as the stars in the sky that Gazini once whispered her innermost hopes and dreams to, their message back to her was always crystal clear: she was always meant to hold them in the palm of her hands, or rather, wear them in a crown fit for the woman who rules the universe.
"I'm afraid that most of the things that I've done in the past will affect what I want to do in the future... I just want to prove to people who are still judging me, and to myself, that I can be Miss Universe"
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 Anton Patdu
Hairstyling by MJ Rone
Styling by Bonita Penaranda
Video producer: Joan Ko
Videography by Spotlight Creatives
Shot on location at Cove Manila in Okada - New Seaside Drive, Entertainment City, Parañaque
Special thanks to Annie Alejo and Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc.