WATCH: Michele Gumabao, Miss Universe Philippines 2020 2nd Runner-Up, Addresses The Pageant's Controversy
"This is the first time in my life I feel so powerless.," she says
"I am speaking up now and defending myself because I know no one will. This is my statement, this is my story, this is my message for all of you," wrote Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Second Runner-up Michele Gumabao.
The statement ended a lengthy caption to a video titled "This is my statement, this is my story!" posted on her YouTube channel on November 2. The beauty queen used the same same cryptic message in an Instagram post.
In case you missed the events leading up to the explosive revelation, this is Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Second Runner-up Michele Gumabao breaking her silence about a controversy tailing the pageant and its winner of choice, Iloilo City's Rabiya Mateo.
View this post on Instagram
I heard things I never should have heard, witnessed things I never should have witnessed as a candidate. I’ve been so used to empowering others and speaking up for others but at a time when I want to fight and speak up for myself I am not allowed. This is the first time in my life I feel so powerless. People have been asking me why I left, before leaving I expressed my feelings and told my reasons to the organization and they understood. I congratulated our winner and After that I thought I could go home to my family, have some time to rest and be by myself and everything would be okay, but then everyone online started making stories, thinking they know me, thinking they know what really happened. I am speaking up now and defending myself because I know no one will. This is my statement, this is my story, this is my message for all of you. Link in bio.
To backtrack, much of this began when Sandra Lemonon, a Top 16 finalist of the pageant, took to Instagram and vowed to announce big news concerning "facts" about the competition. The competition's finals had already been taped (i.e.: a winner had already been crowned) when Sandra shared her Instagram Story.
In turn, Shamcey Supsup-Lee, a previous bet to the Miss Universe 2011 pageant and the national director of the Miss Universe Philippines, appeared to have responded to Sandra's allegations of dishonesty in the pageant with her own post. In it, she wrote, "To bear defeat with dignity, to accept criticism with poise, to receive honors with humility–these are the marks of a true QUEEN."
Sandra was relentless and shot back with another Instagram Story, and this time, it was unmistakably a reply to Shamcey. The Taguig representative said, "Accepting defeat graciously is one mark of being a queen. But what you forgot to say is that REAL queens play FAIR. Don't CHEAT."
The cryptic messages from both Sandra and Shamcey spurred pageant fans into overdrive, looking for more clues about what could have gone amiss behind the scenes at the competition.
Though Sandra had been the only candidate to speak up about the issue, eagle-eyed pageant audiences were quick to note that Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Second Runner-up Michele Gumabao had made her feelings known in other ways. The pageant frontrunner was absent from the official presentation of the pageant's Top 5 winners and her social media accounts were devoid of posts relating to the competition. It also became known that Michele had left the pageant's Baguio venue ahead of time and did not join post-pageant activities with the other candidates.
Aces and Queens, Michele's pageant training camp, instead took care of posting a statement on Michele's behalf.
Speculations about Michele's absence, post-pageant, stirred a string of rumors that she had decided to address herself. That brings us to today, when we can finally hear Michele speak for herself and, hopefully, put the issue to rest.
"This will be the only way to look back at all this and happily move on," she shared in her video.
Her first big revelation was that days before the pageant, she had actually passed out from exhaustion. She'd been practicing her walk, Q&A, and even perfecting her glam looks while keeping up with non-pageant work that she had neglected getting enough rest.
"That day was really hard... I cut my head. I sprained my knee. I broke my toe. It was all very challenging because as a beauty queen, you have to look your best, you have to wear high heels, your face has to be presentable at all times! It was devastating for me," she continues.
She completed her rehab at home, she says, but more than the physical pain, it was the event's schedule that sometimes left candidates with no time for meals that really got to her.
Come the tailend of the pageant when results were about to be read out loud, she claimed that she heard things she wasn't supposed to hear. She was devastated and spent her last few moments at the pageant crying alone in her room.
"I called my family and I wanted to go home," she says, but ended up staying as the pageant still wasn't over at this time. She picked herself up, redid her makeup, put on her gown, and rejoined the event.
"I went down, and for one last time, told myself to smile for the show, for the cameras," she continues.
Michele then talked about how news of the crowned winner had already made its way around the Internet, and when she had realized what had happened—people were approaching her, giving her hugs, sharing words of encouragement and comfort—all she wanted to do was break down.
She didn't. She refused to give them the satisfaction, however, she did ask the pageant's organizers and production team if she could wrap up all her parts for the pageant so she could be done with her participation and leave.
When they said it wasn't possible, she left anyway.
"It was my time to put myself first," Michele said.
She sent messages to Jonas Gaffud, the pageant's creative and events director, to explain herself as well as to Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Rabiya Mateo to congratulate her.
Michele thought that that was that, and on her way home to Manila from Baguio, she was sound asleep. Upon reaching her family at home, they greeted her with news about everything the Internet had written about her and her exit from the pageant.
"I couldn't believe that people are capable of such things. We're in this beauty pageant, joining because of our dreams, because we want to empower people, but it's so toxic. The industry, the fans, the bashers, the criticism—everything is to toxic. I wasn't hurt, I wasn't angry, but I was sad," she reveals.
She couldn't believe that in a time when other issues were more important to talk about and when Filipinos should be celebrating a whole new era of Miss Universe candidates from the Philippines, they chose to spin lies instead.
What hurt Michele the most, however, was that the Miss Universe Philippines organization had not come to her defense despite knowing her exact reasons for leaving. And so, she came to her own defense via her 24-minute video.
"This is my experience ad I really want to tell everybody that I am not alone in this. There are a lot of us that wish things happened differently," Michele says.
She has no regrets about how she handled the situation and her decision to leave. What she wishes she could change, however, was not hearing what she did, as it affected her self-esteem and much of what she stood for as a beauty queen and a woman. She described it as a "foreign feeling" and one she dealt with as best as she could.
"There is a difference between being humble and being silent. There is a difference between having dignity and knowing what you deserve as a person. Knowing you have the confidence to fight for something, there is a big difference. You have to be brave," Michele advises, saying that her words would affect the future.
"I know that I was meant for this. This may be my purpose—maybe not to wear a crown of jewels, but to wear a crown of thorns," she adds.
She ended her video by saying that we should be able to change systems, societies, and learned habits because "we can."
After her experience, she advocates for better knowledge of self-worth, and how it shouldn't be anchored on what is said (or not said) about you online, or by those who aim to spread ill-will.
"All the women behind me, we are standing for something great. We are standing for something much more than our pageant experiences. I hope that by sharing this, people learn to appreciate beauty pageants for what it is, to not be so quick to judge a person, organization, candidate, because you don't know what we go through," Michele says.
"You cannot tell us to just keep quiet about this, because, why are we here? Why are we advocates? Why are we women who dream of changing our cities, our countries, and the universe if we can't even speak up about certain issues such as this?" she poses.
This is the second time Michele Gumabao has vied for a pageant title. She was first named as Binibining Pilipinas Globe 2018 and competed at the Miss Globe 2018 pageant. She then joined the Miss Universe Philippines competition and finishes at the second runner-up spot. This year was the first time the Miss Universe Philippines pageant took place under a different ownership, as it is no longer a part Binibining Pilipinas.
Watch Michele's full statement below:
Photos from @gumabaomichele