Monday, January 2, 2017


TWO CROWNING GLORIES: Sisters Yvonne Berenguer-de los Reyes (Miss Philippines 1955) and  Simonette (Bb. Pilipinas 1970) both carried the country's flag at the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, fifteen years apart. Their mother, Marietta, comes from the prominent Reyes-Berenguer-Linares family of Arayat.

In the history of Philippine beauty pageantry,  no feat is as unprecedented as what two sisters of Kapampangan lineage accomplished in 1955 and 1970 respectively.  They were both crowned as Miss Philippines, chosen to represent the country in the premiere global contest of feminine pulchritude: the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant. Thus, Yvonne and Simonette Berenguer-de los Reyes, achieved what many thought was impossible—of winning the same crown, the same title, and competing in the same international pageant—fifteen years apart!

The sisters were the daughters of Crisanto de los Reyes y Mendoza, and Marietta Berenguer y Linares of Arayat, Pampanga.  Their mother’s parents, Jose Flores Berenguer  and Simona Reyes Linares,  came from prominent families of the mountain town (Note: Renowned interior designer-decorator, Mercedes “Ched” Berenguer-Topacio  is a cousin). From their father’s side, Yvonne and Simonette count several beauties as relatives: 1929 Miss Philippine Carnival Pacita delos Reyes, 1954 Miss Philippines Blesilda Ocampo and Tingting de los Reyes.

The sisters’ impeccable  pedigree would serve them well in their quest for a beauty crown. 1955 was just the third year of the Philippine participation to the annual Miss Universe. The year before, Blesilda Mueller Ocampo,  did well in Long Beach, California, by placing in the semifinals. 

The pageant,  founded in 1952 by clothing company Pacific Mills, is considered to be the most prestigious, and most important of all beauty concourses, then, as now. Winners came home to their country to tumultuous welcome, honored as heroes, treated as royalties, and showered with privileges from their governments, like being given tax exemptions for life and immortalized in postage stamps. 

Gamin-faced Yvonne was one of the candidates who converged at the Miss Philippines finals on 12 March 1955 at the Cavalcade Hall Auditorium of United Nations Plaza. That year, Audrey Hepburn was the toast of showbiz, and Yvonne’s delicate elfin Hepburn look was not lost on the judges.  She was named Miss Philippines 1955, crowned  by her own own cousin, Bessie, with whom she shares the same paternal great-grandparents (Crisanto Mendoza de los Reyes and Dorotea Silverio).

 Yvonne’s court included Lucy del Prado (Miss Luzon),  Annie Gonzales (Miss Visayas) and Annie Corrales (Miss Mindanao). She flew to Long Beach to participate in the first-ever televised Miss Universe edition. Sweden’s  Hillevi Rombin won the title.

Right after her reign, Yvonne got married, raised a family (children Juancho, Marietta, Marco)  and established a successful ballet dancewear, shoes and accessories business --“Yvonne’s” in 1967. It grew to five specialty stores and currently, her “Yvonne’s” shops in Makati and Greenhills are still going strong.

Simonette’s own journey to the crown had a different route. She was discovered by designer Pitoy Moreno who egged her to join the 1970 Bb. Pilipinas pageant, televised for the first time that year. Frontliner candidate Aurora Pijuan could have taken it all,  but when Simonette delivered her speech in fluent Pilipino—the only candidate to do so—the tides were turned in her favor. 

In her speech (written for her by poetess Virgie Moreno, Pitoy’s sister)  she made an analogy about  the judges’ task and that of  St. Peter’s, in deciding the fates of the candidates, who were liken to seekers of a place in heaven.  With that, Simonette was crowned Binibining Pilipinas, while Aurora Pijuan won the other title of Miss Philippines (she would triumph as 1970 Miss International in Osaka).

Simonette went to Miami Beach under tremendous pressure as the reigning Miss Universe was Gloria Diaz. So, she just went ahead and enjoyed the experience.  Her roommate, Puerto Rico’s Marisol Malaret, became the eventual winner. After her reign, she continued her commerce studies at Assumption. In 1972, she became the first Baron Travel Girl , and traveled extensively around the world.

In 1977, she married football ace Butch Ferraren, had children, lived for years abroad and pursued a successful baked goods business when she returned to the Philippines. She honed her craft as a baker and sold lemon squares, ensaimadas, and cakes. Today she operates California Funnel Cakes Caf√© in Pasay City. Monette still regularly visits Pampanga, her mother’s hometown Arayat and the Caryana Monastery in Magalang for her spiritual retreats.

Two siblings with national titles are a rarity. Almost an impossibility is having two of them win the most sought after Miss Philippines title, then vie for the same Miss Universe crown. But the delos Reyes sisters did just that in 1955 and 1970. 

It would take awhile to duplicate that feat, but in recent years, the lovely Manalo sisters of Bacolor scored a similarly impressive coup--Katherine Ann Manalo, Bianca Manalo and Nichole became the winningest family by bagging three different Binibining Pilipinas titles (World 2002, Universe 2009, Globe 2016). But that’s  another (beautiful) story!

1 comment:

robby said...

How quickly and thoroughly you dug up and assembled all these details, and how beautifully you wrote it--a feat only Alex Castro can do!! Simonette would be so delighted. I hope she gets to read this! Looking forward to the story about the Manalo sisters! Panalo talaga :-)