MANILA, Philippines --- Fresh from her successful finish, 2012 Miss Universe first runner-up Janine Mari Tugonon believes she delivered the best answer during the final interview of the most prestigious pageant, but stressed that she "left everything to God" her quest for the most coveted crown.
"I think okay naman ang sagot ko. At sabi nila, sa aming lima, I gave the best answer. But other things have to be considered such as catwalk, evening gown, swimsuit. I would rate my answer as okay," said Tugonon at a homecoming press conference at Gateway Suites, Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City, yesterday.
Renowned photographer Nigel Barker asked her: "As an international ambassador, do you believe that speaking English is a prerequisite to being Miss Universe? Why or why not?"
With poise and confidence, Tugonon answered: "For me, being Miss Universe is not just about knowing a specific language. She should be able to influence and inspire other people. Whatever language you have, as long as your heart wants to serve the people, you have a strong mind, then you can be Miss Universe."
Tugonon arrived at 5:41 a.m. yesterday aboard a Philippine Airlines flight from Las Vegas, Nevada, beaming with pride and joy. The smile on her face was evident as she greeted her supporters, stopping several times as she obliged to shake their hands and take photographs with them.
Tugonon, 23, a licensed pharmacist, recalled some memorable moments in the pageant that led her to becoming first runner-up in the beauty contest. When the time came that she and Miss USA Olivia Culpo were the last two candidates standing, Tugonon felt excited. "I got excited, but a part of me may nagsasabi this is it, pero another part of me nagsasabi na hindi ako." In the end, Tugonon settled for first runner-up while Culpo was crowned 2012 Miss Universe.
Despite failing to win the crown, other candidates congratulated her. She made special mention of Miss Indonesia, her roommate who was every emotional.
After the pageant, some of the candidates told her that she should have won the contest, she said. "We believe that it's you, and you know that it's you."
The Bataan beauty also believes Miss Venezuela was her closest rival among the 89 candidates in this year's pageant because of her charisma and personality. She likewise said that she loves Miss Mexico whom she describes as "genuine."
Tugonon, however, got disappointed when Miss Puerto Rico did not qualify for the Top 16 semifinalists. "I enjoyed talking to her because she's so nice. I'm also close to her and she's sexy."
Tugonon defended the Miss Universe judges, saying the competition was not rigged as some would like to believe. "Hindi naman luto. Subjective ang judging. Maaring maganda nga ang sagot ko pero mas gusto naman nung mga judges si Olivia, e, wala tayong magagawa duon."
"For me, the judging is subjective. May iba't ibang gusto ng mga judges. Ang importante ay nagawa ko naman yung best ko. Tangapin na lang natin." Janine added.
The honor graduate from the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Pharmacy added that Miss USA is a good person and they became friends during the pageant as they were together on several occasions.
"Isa pa, kawawa naman ang US. Ang dami nilang tragedies. If winning the Miss Universe crown would give them hope and happiness, e, di hayaan na natin sa kanila iyon."
She also recalled that days before the pageant, critics in Las Vegas gave her the thumbs-up and said she would make it big in the competition. "I just felt happy when they said I was one of the favorite candidates for the pageant."
But Tugonon revealed feeling nervous as the pageant approached despite the positive reviews she got.
She also disclosed that part of her cash prize of US$3,000 (roughly P126,000) will be used in paying the house she bought last year. But with five endorsements in the offing, as announced by Stella Marquez Araneta, chairman of Bb. Pilipinas Charities, Inc. (BPCI), Tugonon could easily pay up for the house.
Asked about her future plans, Tugonon said that she's not closing at opportunities that might come her way such as show business or modeling contracts. "Pwede naman ako kahit saan. Ayoko magsalita ng patapos."
She also gave tips to Binibining Pilipinas "wannabes" who want to join next year. "Akala nila madali lang sumali sa pageant. You have to put effort and dedication. Kailangan determined din sila. Kung wala sila nito, 'wag na lang siguro silang mag-join."
The country has produced two Miss Universe - Gloria Diaz (1969) and Margie Moran (1973). In 1999, Miriam Quiambao finished first runner-up in the same pageant held in Trinidad and Tobago. But the Philippines made history when it received three back-to-back honors with Ma. Venus Raj (4th runner up, 2010), Shamcey Supsup (3rd runner up, 2011) and Tugonon this year.
(With a report from Anjo Perez)