Monday, November 26, 2007

60. GUIA BALMORI, Miss Philippines 1938

HER MAJESTY, QUEEN GUIA I. Miss Philippines of the 1938 Philippine Exposition, Guia Balmori was the daughter of Kapampangan local labor leader from Bacolor, Joaquin Balmori and Rosario Gonzales. She was bron in Ermita and was named after the district’s patroness, Nuestra Señora de Guia.

CONSORTING WITH A KABALEN. Guia’s handsome escort at her coronation was Ernesto “Gatas” Santos, the youngest son of Don Teodor o V. Santos and Dna. Afriquita Santos of San Fernando, Pampanga. Ernesto’s daughter is the famed ballerina, Tina Santos.

By the late 1930s, the legendary Manila Carnivals that began in 1908 would undergo more changes as their novelty and attraction began to wear off. Much earlier, the first major adjustment was the abolition of the title “Carnival Queen”, which was last awarded in 1926 to Kapampangan Socorro Henson. Henceforth, all succeeding queens were given the title “Miss Philippines” starting with the 1st National Beauty Show (or Contest) of 1926, won by Anita Noble of Batangas. In 1937, the Manila Carnival was renamed as the Philippine Exposition.

In the Philippine Exposition of 1938, a beautiful Spanish mestiza with clear Kapampangan roots stole the show by winning the Miss Philippines crown. She was Guia Balmori, one of 13 children of Rosario Gonzales and Joaquin Balmori of Bacolor. It is interesting to note that in 1927, a Bacolor belle was also in the same pageant wearing the Miss Pampanga sash, Rosario Manuel.

Joaquin Balmori was a pioneer labor leader and organizer of labor unions in the Philippines. After breaking away from the Congreso de Obrero de Filipinas, he founded “Federacion del Trabajo de Filipinas” in 1917. He outlined union rules, making resolutions against strikes and other radical movements. Likewise, he urged labor unions to charge no fees or membership dues. Joaquin had another illustrious brother who left his mark in the literary world—Jesus “Batikuling” Balmori. Jesus was a master in Spanish poetry; he not only wrote poems and books but also engaged in verbal jousts in Spanish.

The Balmoris were to relocate to Ermita, Manila, and it was here that Guia was born. She was, in fact, named after the titular patroness of the district, Nuestra Señora de Guia. Guia was taking up a secretarial course at the University of Santo Tomas when she was invited to be a contestant for Miss Philippines. As expected, her candidacy was vehemently opposed by her father who saw the beauty pageant as nothing but a frivolous exercise. Likewise, her Catholic religious mentors in school who frowned upon such contests gave her lukewarm support.

But Guia, with her fine Castilian features, sweet disposition and disarming smile, surprised them all when she beat other favored contestants for the crown. Heavily supported by newspapers, she won without spending a single centavo. She succeeded the outgoing queen Carmen Zaldarriaga as Miss Philippines of 1938. Completing her court of honor were Rosario Ferro (Miss Luzon), Belen de Guzman (Miss Mindanao) and Marina Lopez (Miss Mindanao). At her coronation, she chose the dashing son of a family friend and a fellow Kapampangan as consort—Ernesto “Gatas” Santos. Ernesto’s father was the prominent sugar baron from San Fernando, Don Teodoro Santos. Ernesto himself would be the father of an accomplished international dancer, Tina Santos, who went on to become a prima ballerina of Harkness Ballet.

Guia looked every inch a queen in her coronation gown done by then rising couturier Ramon Valera. Her prize money of P1,000 was handed to her discreetly, placed in an envelope tucked into her bouquet. Two years after her memorable reign, she married Jose Avelino Jr., the son of the Commonwealth Secretary of Public Works and later the Senate President. They were blessed with 7 children. Settled in Parañaque, Guia and her daughter operated a beauty parlor in Makati sometime in the 1980s.

It is heartening to know that in the waning years of the Carnival, a girl with Kapampangan blood lit the national stage with her outstanding beauty, wit and personality, giving Pampanga one last proud and shining moment, before the fairs drew to a permanent close a year later.

POSTSCRIPT: Guai Balmori passed away on 12 Dec. 2006, just before her 86th birthday. Four days after, her husband followed, leading a granddaughter to observe that "even in death they could not stand to be apart."

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