MANILA, Philippines - In 2012, Janine Tugonon came close to getting the Miss Universe crown, ending up in first-runner up place just behind Miss USA Olivia Culpo.
But for the 23-year-old beauty queen who hails from Balanga, Bataan, it wasn't just her cobra walk nor her caramel-brown skin and delicate Malay facial features that brought her to Las Vegas-it's her faith in God.
In an interview with Bulletin Entertainment, Janine recounted how her faith pushed her to step up to the challenge of making the country proud.
"I know na I am there not because ginusto ko lang nando'n, I am there kasi alam kong ginusto ni Lord na nando'n ako," she said.
Janine wasn't even thinking of joining Binibining Pilipinas until she prayed for "direction."
"'Lord, bigyan mo naman ako ng gagawin. I don't think na ito lang 'yung gagawin ko sa buhay. Give me something great to accomplish or great to do anything" referring to her profession as a pharmacist.
She admitted feeling that she would go a long way in the pageant. This was before coronation night.
"Alam ko na rin na it's God's plan. Noong nando'n kasi ako sa (Las) Vegas napapansin ko na gustong-gusto nila yung beauty ng Pinay, and even people there will shout na 'Philippines, you're the best, you're so beautiful!"' she said.
Janine had received a lot of unsolicited advice on her way to victory and some of these, she admitted, were just way too much at times. It didn't help that her relationship with boyfriend Jaypee Santos also got affected.
"Ang daming iba't-ibang comments na parang minsan iisipin mo, 'Tama na! Ang dami-dami na eh!' Parang 'I have my trainers already, I have these people helping me,"' she exclaimed "Naka-stress sa'kin dito 'yung ang daming taong nagdidikta ng dapat kong gawin."
But thanks to her faith, she remained focus amid the pressure.
"'Yung faith ko talagang it made me stronger. It made me focus on the mission that I am to pursue, 'yung hindi lang para sa sarili ko, 'yung sa buong bansa at syempre para rin kay Lord. My faith kept me intact," she stressed.
Aside from God, she credits her strength to Filipinos who supported her and, more importantly, believed that she'd bring home the title.
"'Yung andaming naga-anticipate na may makuha kang pwesto e talagang lalo pang magpapalabas ng best sa yo."
Raised By Dominicans
Janine has a degree in Pharmacy from the University of Santo Tomas. She finished with honors, Cum Laude.
"Very supportive ang UST kasi sa kanila very big deal ang pageant. Sobrang dami ng pageant diyan na talagang pinapanood university-wide," she recounted.
Janine is no stranger to beauty tilts. In college, she bagged the crowns of Miss Pharmacy 2009 and Miss Thomasian Personality 2010. Her first beauty pageant victory was in Grade 5 as Miss Mini-Olympics.
Prior to being named Miss Universe-Philippines, she placed first runner-up in the same pageant in 2011, with the highest title going to Shamcey Supsup.