Camarines Sur native Maria Venus Raj bested 23 other contestants in this year's Binibining Pilipinas pageant, which had its coronation night last March 6 at the Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City. She is this year's reigning Bb. Pilipinas Universe, who will represent the country in the prestigious Miss Universe beauty pageant This coming September.
Considered an early fan favorite to bag one of the three titles, Maria Venus did not disappoint as she also won three special awards, namely, Best in Long Gown, Best in Regional Terno, and Miss Friendship.
Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Krista Mae Kleiner bagged the Bb. Pilipinas-International. Kleiner, who is popularly known as television personality Krissa Mae, also took home the Best in Swimsuit and Best Talent awards.
Czarina Catherine Gatbonton, 19, won the Bb. Pilipinas-World title. The 5'10 ½" stunner is a Hotel and Restaurant Management sophomore.
Emerging as first runner-up was 17-year-old Diane Necio while Helen Nicollete Henson clinched second runner-up honors.
Other candidates who competed in the semifinals were Rose Ann Aguilar, Gwendoline Ruais, Maryanne Ross Misa, and Mariella Castillo.
Philippine pride Arnel Pineda of the international rock act Journey serenaded the candidates by dishing out two ballad numbers.
Serving as escorts to the ladies were Victor Aliwalas, Daniel Matsunaga, and Akihiro Sato. Dingdong Dantes and Carla Abellana hosted the pagent.
The distinguished panel of judges was composed of H.E. Thierry Borja de Mozota, Ambassador of France to the Philippines; H.E. Ivan J. Crespo, Ambassador of Panama to the Philippines; Mike Enriquez, GMA-7 news anchor; Juvenal Sanso, one of the foremost senior artists in the country; Aurora Pijuan, former Miss International; Claudine Barretto, movie and television actress; Nonito Donaire, WBA Interim World Super Flyweight Champion; Gabe Norwood, basketball superstar; Jaime Bautista, President and Chief Operating Officer of Philippine Airlines, Inc.; Goran Aleksandrovski, General Manager of Sofitel Philippine Plaza; and Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez, 30th Flag Officer in Command of the Philippine Navy.
This year's edition of Bb. Pilipinas saw new innovations, such as the pre-pageant event to significantly shorten the final night. The idea of staging a separate event to showcase some of the pageant's sidelights was actually inspired by the Miss Universe pageant.