In this friendly competition of beauty, brains and wealth (the winners were initially determined by the amount of ballots sold through newspapers like La Opinion, La Vanguardia, etc.), the beauty of Kapampangan delegates shone through.
In 1926, there was a dual quest for two beauties—one, for the Carnival Queen as determined by ballots, and the other for Miss Philippines, chosen by a panel of judges. For the first time, a belle from Angeles won the 1926 Carnival Queen title, Socorro Henson. Educated at Assumption, Socorro possessed a quiet sort of beauty, with skin so translucent that one could see traces of her delicate veins. Upon learning of her victory, her proud neighbors in Solana decorated the street with colorful buntings. Her coronation had a Hindu motif with Socorro making a magnificent entrance on the back of a real elephant, wearing a crown with a foot-long panache, accompanied by her King Consort, Vicente Rufino. After her reign, she married one of the consorts in her court, Francisco Limjap y Escolar of Manila, finished her Home Economics degree at the Holy Ghost College and bore 4 children. She would pass away in 1976, of throat cancer.
In the parallel Miss Philippines pageant, Pampanga’s bet was the dusky Rosario Panganiban from Macabebe. She was earlier elected Miss Pampanga 1925 where she wore a crown of sampaguitas instead of traditional rhinestones. She was feted with a motorcade in Angeles after her victory. Supported by the very popular Liwayway Magazine, she competed the next year for the “1st National Beauty contest”. The crown though, went to a Batangueña with an impeccable lineage, Anita Noble, whose ancestry on both father and mother’s sides includes a score of heroes and nationalists. After the pageant, Rosario married director Vicente Salumbides and starred in some of his movies.
There was a Miss Pampanga who competed in the 1927 edition of the contest, Rosario Manuel, from Bacolor, but she lost out to the Manila bet, Luisa Marasigan. In 1933, Hon. Jose Gutierrez David became the director of the local Pampanga Carnival, that avidly sought the province’s bet to the national pageant. The winner was raven-haired Corazon Hizon, from the prominent Hizon family of San Fernando. The Miss Philippines crown though, went to the Manila candidate, Engracia Laconico. Later, Corazon would marry Marcelino Dizon and settle in her hometown.
Two years later, San Fernando’s Carmeling del Rosario vied for national honors and garnered the Miss Mindanao crown, just three steps away from eventual winner, Conchita Sunico. A year after the pageant, Carmeling tied the knot with Virgilio Rodriguez, son of the socially prominent Don Godofredo Rodriguez and Dona Victoria Hizon at the Sto. Domingo Church.
In 1936, Miss Macabebe—Cleofe Balingit—was chosen to carry Pampanga’s colors, and placed a strong fourth to Mercedes Montilla. Competition was formidable that year with Miss Luzon Amparo Karagdag (later to become a movie star and Pres. Quezon’s favorite dance partner) and American mestiza Helen Bennett, Miss Visayas, rounding up the winner’s circle. Cleofe later married Dr. Mariano Bayani of Apalit, becoming active in socio-civic causes like the local Red Cross and the Pampanga Chapter of the Girl Scouts, until her death in 1981 at the age of 72 years.
The next year, another Kapampangan emerged as Miss Luzon of 1937, Elisa Manalo, edged in the finals by a Spanish mestiza, Carmen Zaldarriaga. In 1938, petite beauty Guia Balmori, a stunning Manila mestiza whose roots are from Bacolor, won the Miss Philippines title. She chose a Kapampangan escort to her coronation, Ernesto “Gatas” Santos of Mabalacat. The curtains finally drew to a close with the Philippine Carnival of 1939, and with it came the end of an era--when beauty had more substance and where women were extolled more for their character and virtue, as exemplified by the extraordinary achievements of these Pampanguenas, who, not too long ago were chosen the fairest of the fair.
(29 June 2002)