Born to Joey Marquez and Alma Moreno, two names that figured prominently in sports and showbiz in the 1980s and in politics in the early 2000s, Teresita Ssen “Winwyn” Marquez knew what living in the public eye meant early on.
“Our life was an open book, siyempre,” Teresita begins. “My parents are really known.
"My dad was a politician, and si Mama was the same, so we were really exposed to a lot of different situations, and kailangan talaga namin magsalita in front of people.”
The namin that Teresita is referring to here are her siblings—her Kuya Charles Yeoj, her younger brother Vitto Joey or VJ, and her younger sister Maria Maal Venesa or MM.
“Our house was really open to a lot of people, since my dad was the mayor. And we’re really helping a lot of people. Wala talaga kaming privacy.”
Having no privacy was a necessary trade-off, especially for a family with important political positions and big political aspirations.
Joey was mayor of Parañaque City from 1995 to 2004, while Alma. who was councilor of the same city from 2007 to 2016 and the first female national president of the Philippine Councilors League (PCL) in 2012, even had plans of running for senator.
Teresita, who confesses to being a shy girl when she was growing up, learned to take the good with the bad. Being exposed to people from all walks of life taught her to be more understanding and less judgmental.
She says, “I grew up with that, na parang natuto akong maging open sa mga
tao, makipaghalubilo, makinig sa mga problema ng iba-ibang tao. Like, do not judge talaga.
"Kasi nalaman ko na there are different life stories no’ng lumalaki ako. “So wala kaming paki, wala kaming kiyeme. Parang we learned not to take for granted what we have.'
"Gano’n kasi ’yong parents namin, parang ilalagay kami sa isang place na kailangang matuto ka kung ano ang gagawin mo. ’Wag kang spoiled.'
"So, it was like that. It was a normal life but different because it was open to the public.”
Part of having an “open book” family life was having “no secrets.” Teresita—who was born on May 4, 1992, in the town of Santa Fe, on Bantayan Island, Cebu—knew early on that she also has half-siblings.
From her mother, she has Mark Anthony Fernandez, Alma’s son with the late action star Rudy Fernandez, and Vandolph Quizon, Alma’s son with the late Comedy King Dolphy. From her father, she has Atty. Jowee Ann Marquez, Joey’s daughter with former actress Brenda del Rio, and Jeremy and Jerica Marquez, Joey’s kids with his ex-wife Francesca Siron.
“What’s nice is, my dad really told us everything, kasi I have half-brothers and half-sisters. Pero I don’t consider them half. Kapatid ko pa din naman talaga sila. Kapatid na buo pa rin sila, kasi lumaki kaming magkakasama.
“Nagkakaintindihan kami. Nagkakausap kami ng mga kapatid ko. Pag may problema naman, sasabihin namin sa mga parents namin. ’Yon din kasi ang turo sa amin.
"You know, ang galing kasing magpalaki ng parents namin, e. Kasi we don’t keep secrets. We tell everything. Hindi kami natatakot to do something. We say everything. We’d talk, and we’d find solutions na rin.”
Teresita’s young life took a different turn when she was 12 years old. Her parents Joey and Alma, after 13 years of marriage, decided to call it quits in 2004. While that was a painful decision for all parties involved, Teresita remembers that her parents explained to her and to her siblings why they were separating.
“At the time, may isip na kami no’n, nakakaintindi na. Siyempre, masakit, di ba? Of course, mahirap mag-adjust at that age, pero eventually, you know, naintindihan naman namin at nila.
“Everything was really explained to us by our parents. So, wala kaming masyadong bigat sa heart, kasi pinaintindi nila naman sa amin.”
Even if her parents decided to part ways, Teresita’s love for them didn’t change.
“Kasi they made sure naman na kaming magkakapatid, intact pa rin kami. ’Yon naman, I can never take away from my parents.”
WINWYN: DANCER, ACTRESS, BEAUTY QUEEN
If there’s one thing that Teresita admires most about her parents, it’s their “madiskarte” and go-getting attitude.
“Kasi si Mommy at si Daddy, magaling sa life,” she says. “Madiskarte sila. So, I guess, ’yon din ’yong nakuha ko sa kanila.
"Like, didiskartehan ko ang school. Nagawa ko na pagsabayin ’yong school ko and pag-aarte. Nagawan ko ng paraan kung paano mag-work ’yon.”
That same go-getting attitude is what drove Teresita, and continues to drive her, to chase her dreams. Ever since she was a little girl, she always had the dream to be in the spotlight, entertaining people just like her mom Alma, who was a big star in the ’70s and ’80s.
“I really wanted to be a performer,” Teresita recalls. “And I wanted to be a beauty queen also.”
She adds that her paternal aunts Melanie Marquez, who won the title of Miss International 1979, and Via Hoffman, who is a former model, also inspired her to nurture beauty-queen aspirations.
“Very graceful sila gumalaw din. So na-imbibe ko ’yon no’ng bata ako. Sumali pa nga ako sa pageant no’ng high school, e, pero natalo ako no’ng first, ’tapos sumali ulit ako,” she recalls, smiling.
“No’ng lumaki-laki na ’ko, naisip ko na pag sa pageant, nagagawa kong sumayaw, nagagawa kong magsalita, ’cause I love talking.
“Nagagamit ko siya as platform to help other people. I can act also with my facial expressions. Perfect siya for me. So, nag-merge siya sa isang field.
"Kaya hindi ako nag-give-up, kasi I really love what I’m doing onstage, and sa pageant kasi, do’n ko nafi-feel na nag-e-excel ako.”
But more than her paternal aunts, it was Miriam Quiambao—who represented the country in the Miss Universe 1999 contest and placed first runner-up—who left an indelible mark on Teresita’s impressionable mind.
“Naaalala ko, seven years old ako no’n. Di ba ’yon ’yong pinag-uusapan talaga no’n? Pero wala pa naman akong alam kung ano talaga ang beauty pageants. Ang alam ko lang, naglalakad sila, magaganda sila, ’yon pa lang.”
Teresita became fascinated with Miriam because it was the first time she realized that in a sea of mostly fair-skinned and blonde-haired candidates, the Filipina beauty was a standout.
“Her face is very Pinay. Her body, lalo na ’yong naka-pink-bikini siya, perfect. I think bikini na naka-high- waist. Oh my God, I really loved it.
"She’s very Filipina. And the way she talks now also. Parang I love that her face is very strong as well. Magaling siyang sumagot. ’Tapos, the way she projects is very elegant, very graceful. Parang ako—‘Miriam Quiambao, oh my God!’”
Throughout high school, Teresita held on to her beauty-queen dreams. While she was raring to try to turn her dreams into reality, she didn’t know how and where to start.
“Gusto ko na gawin. Gusto ko nang i-try. Gusto ko na talaga. Kaya lang, siyempre, hindi ko pa talaga alam ang gagawin ko no’ng mga panahon na ’yon.”
That was until a dusky Bicolana beauty by the name of Maria Venus Raj made waves at the Miss Universe 2010 beauty pageant.
Venus didn’t go home with the crown, but her story and experience (and her much-talked-about “major, major” answer in the Q&A portion) at the annual prestigious beauty pageant opened Teresita to the idea of getting into training camps.
“Do’n ko nalaman ang Aces & Queens, dahil kay Ate Venus,” she recalls.
Aces & Queens is the group led by talent manager and model agent Jonas Gaffud, the man behind the successes of Miss World 2013 Megan Young, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, and Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa.
“My stylist introduced me to Jonas when I was 16. So, do’n na nag-start mag-usap, ganyan. Pero wala pa, kasi bata pa nga daw ako, hindi pa puwede. So I started training when I was around 21. Training in a way na putol-putol, parang wala lang, lakad-lakad.”
But after seeing the other girls in the training, girls who were much taller, more graceful, and prettier than her, Teresita—who stands 5-foot-7, which is considered rather “short” in beauty pageants—started having second thoughts.
“Nawalan ako ng confidence, kasi ang gaganda ng mga sumasali sa mga beauty contests.”
It was at around this time that Teresita decided to enter showbiz through the GMA Sunday variety show Party Pilipinas, where she got to do her other love: dancing and acting. Her stint in the show also helped her regain the thing that she had lost earlier: self-confidence.
When she turned 21, Teresita thought it was high time she gave her beauty pageant dreams another try.
“Do’n na ’ko nag-reach-out kay Jonas na I want to be trained. Mabait naman siya, wala namang problema."
The other beauty queens who trained under Aces and Queens were Shamcey Supsup—the Miss Universe Philippines 2011 whose "tsunami" walk became a sensation at the 60th Miss Universe pageant in São Paulo, Brazil, where she placed third runner-up—and Ariella "Ara" Hernandez Arida who won the title Miss Universe Philippines 2013 and placed third runner-up at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Russia.
Teresita says, “Naisip ko kasi, sina Ate Venus, Ate Ara, and Ate Shamcey, those beauty queens na ’yon, dire-diretsong pumapasok at nakikita mong sobrang galing nila.
"So that got me thinking, ‘Pa’no nila ginawa ’yon?’ Naisip ko, of course, hindi nila magagawa ’yon kung walang training na gano’n ka-intense, di ba?
"So, I believe that big factor talaga si Jonas kung bakit gano’n. Para lang din mahasa ako, kasi siyempre, ’yong beauty pageant dito will criticize you from head to toe.
"Q&A pa lang, make it or break it na sila. Whole package siya. They’ll really train you, as in, very intense. And it worked naman for me. Thanks to Aces & Queens.”
A year later, Teresita suddenly decided to put everything that she had learned to the test. Her decision to join the annual national beauty pageant, however, came at the 11th hour.
“No’ng twenty-two ako, do’n ako nag-decide na sumali ng Binibining Pilipinas, actually the night before the last screening of applicants.
"I didn’t have enough training. I didn’t have the proper shoes, pati ’yong mga damit. I didn’t know how to do my makeup. Lahat biglaan!
“Parang nagising na lang ako one day no’ng morning na ’yon, gusto kong sumali.
"Totoo pala ’yon na parang ’yong gut feeling na gusto kong sumali. Then, ’yon na, everything is history.”
WINWYN: FROM BINIBINI TO REINA
Teresita was a front-runner throughout the preliminaries of Binibining Pilipinas 2015. She even topped several polls conducted by beauty pageant groups and forums. If the titles at stake were based on popularity alone, online and on the ground, Teresita would have bagged the biggest prize even before coronation night happened.
Teresita tells YES! that she was not eyeing a particular title at the time. Her aim was to give it her all, get the chance to represent the country in an international contest, and make her family proud.
“I just really wanted to represent the country internationally. So, sabi ko, ayoko kasing nag-e-expect. Sasabihin ko, ‘Gusto ko ng Miss Universe,’ ’tapos pag hindi
ka nanalo, pag may nakuha kang ibang crown, sasama lang ’yong loob mo, di ba?
“Siyempre, everyone wants Miss Universe. Ako, I want Miss Universe.
"Pero whatever crown is given to me, I’ll be so happy with it, kasi ’yon naman ang purpose ko, e. Gusto kong manalo ng crown para ma-represent ’yong country sa ibang bansa, at the same time ipakita kung ano ang talent ko at maipakita ko kung ano talaga ang isang Pinay.
“Gano’n lang ’yong mindset ko, and I was really enjoying kasi wala akong ine-expect na anything, di ba? So, kung ano ang ibigay na crown, sobrang okey na ’yon for me.
"’Yon naman ang purpose ng isang beauty queen, e. It’s not about the crown, it’s about doing your duties and responsibilities and being able to represent the country well.”
Unfortunately, the Binibining Pilipinas–Universe crown was not hers
to be had. Teresita, who was confident and hopeful that she would walk away with one of the Binibining Pilipinas titles, failed to advance to the second round of eliminations.
She only got as far as the first cut: the Top 15. It was Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach who took home the Binibining Pilipinas–Universe title that night.
Teresita admits that it was a painful loss.
“Of course, masakit din matalo pag gustong-gusto mo ang isang bagay. It was hard, but masaya naman ako dahil hindi ko rin napahiya ’yong family ko.
"Hindi ko rin napahiya ’yong camp ko. Kumbaga, I did put my best talaga and ’binigay ko one hundred ten percent ko.
“Pero siyempre, after no’n, natakot na akong sumali ulit. Natakot na ako. Di ba, alam mo ’yong ang sakit marinig na ‘A, natalo ka. Winwyn, ’tapos lose-lose?’ ’Yong mga gano’ng mga tao.
"So, for me, it was masakit, pero I had to accept it. So, after that, ang sabi ko, sige, hahasain ko ’yong sarili ko.”
For six months, Teresita nursed her wounds. She went traveling. She spent more time with her family and with her boyfriend, Mark Herras. She took part in activities that took her mind off beauty pageants. Eventually, she forgot about the pain.
“Matagal din. Sinasabi ko no’n, I was okay, when I was really not. Parang naisip ko, sana nanalo na lang ako para wala akong naririnig na masama sa ibang tao.
“My parents were heartbroken. They were mad. Galit sila, lalo na si Tita Melanie [Marquez].
"Kaya nga ang daddy ko, ayaw na niya ako sumali. Ayaw niya na nakikita akong nahihirapan. Grabe ’yong sakripisyo, ’tapos gano’n lang ’yong mangyayari. As parent, siguro gano’n talaga.”
A year after her Binibining Pilipinas loss, Teresita entertained thoughts of joining a beauty pageant again. Only this time, she was eyeing Miss World Philippines, the rival pageant of Binibining Pilipinas.
Her parents tried their hardest to talk her out of it, but Teresita’s focus was unwavering. She felt in her heart that it was where she truly belonged: on the stage.
“’Yong daddy ko, parang, ‘’Wag ka nang sumali. Ba’t ka pa sasali, e, pa’no kung ganyan?’ Kumbaga, nagda-doubt na rin sila. Pero ’yon nga, if you really want something, you’re determined to do it, walang makakapigil.
"Pero in the end, they’re really supportive na rin naman, lalo na ’yong Mommy ko.
"And sabi ko naman sa sarili ko, ‘If it’s for me, then it’s for me. If it’s not, then I would have to accept it again.”
On September 3, 2017, in front of a packed crowd who had come for the Miss World
2017 beauty pageant at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, former courtside reporter Laura Lehmann was hailed as Miss World Philippines—and Teresita Ssen “Winwyn” Marquez was crowned Reina Hispanoamericana Filipinas, a title that earned her a ticket to represent the Philippines and Asia for the very first time at the Reina Hispanoamericana 2017 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Teresita was elated and excited and edgy all at the same time.
“Ni-research ko ’yong pageant, e. And mahirap ’yong pageant. Kumbaga, lahat Latina. It’s Spanish-based. ’Tapos, first time na sasali ng Pilipinas. It’s all about dancing, it’s all about performing.
"Parang na-excite na rin ako, na parang matsa-challenge pa ’ko, ’yon ’yong sasalihan ko, di ba?
"So, I was just really happy, and natakot lang ako kasi walang makapagsabi sa akin kung pa’no ba dapat do’n sa pageant na ’yon, kasi nga first time natin siya sasalihan.”
With the proverbial monkey off her back, Teresita was able to do what she had failed to do in her previous competitions: have fun and forget about the pressure.
“Yeah, I did,” she says, smiling.
“Kailangan mag-enjoy ka do’n, kasi sabi ko nga, it wasn’t easy for me the first few days. I didn’t understand a word. I didn’t understand anything. Mahirap makipagkaibigan sa hindi mo same language.
“’Buti na lang, some of the girls can speak English. If mabait ka sa kanila, mabait din sila sa ’yo.
"Ako nga, lagi lang akong nakangiti, kahit pagod na or nahihirapan. Kasi, pag nakasimangot ka, ba’t ipapakita mo pa sa tao. Mas worse, di ba?
“I was really enjoying. I love dancing. And it was all about dancing, moving, di ba?
So, nagbaon talaga ako ng mga gagawin ko do’n. Kaya kailangan, prepared din talaga pag ’yon ang sasalihan mo na hindi mo alam kung ano ’yong mangyayari. Kailangan prepared ka lagi.”
On November 4, 2017, Teresita made history by being the first Filipina (and the first Asian) to win the Reina Hispanoamericana crown. Her victory was all the more sweet because she came into the competition without any expectations at all.
“Hindi ko na-feel na mananalo, kasi sabi ko, when it comes to the end, kapag dalawa na lang kami, siyempre ang pipiliin nila is ’yong marunong mag-Spanish. Siyempre, edge nila ’yon.
"So, ’yon ’yong iniisip ko. So, nagulat ako no’ng tinawag ’yong name ko. Parang ako, ‘Totoo ba talaga?’”
Looking back, Teresita has finally understood why she didn’t win any title in Binibining Pilipinas 2015 and why everything happened the way it happened. Turned out, whoever was steering her life had a bigger plan for her.
“Sobra, ang galing-galing ni Lord,” she says. “No’ng sumali kasi ako ng Miss World, mas tumindi ’yong faith ko.
"Kumbaga, mas nagkaro’n ako ng relationship with God. Sabi ko, ang galing, kasi may purpose pala.
“’Yong first few days ko do’n sa Bolivia, gusto ko nang umuwi, kasi wala akong naiintindihan. Ang galing nga, sabi Niya, ‘Wait lang, may timing ’yan.’
"There’s really a reason why I didn’t win Binibini siguro, dahil para mahasa ko pa ’yong sarili ko for something bigger.
“For me, it’s bigger because that’s a challenging pageant. Oh my God, it may not be Miss World, Miss Universe, or Miss International, but it’s a pageant that no one really knew what you have to do, and they’re all Latinas and they’re really good, di ba?
“So, sabi ko, ‘Ang galing ni Lord.’ Pinrepare niya talaga ako. Kasi, kung hindi ako mentally ready or spiritually ready, ’tapos sumali ako ng Reina, parang hindi ko kakayanin talaga.
"Di ba, imagine mo, two weeks and five days kang nasa isang lugar na wala kang naiintindihan, di ba? So, ang galing lang, pinrepare Niya ako talaga para dito.”
As the first Asian Reina Hispanoamericana, Teresita is responsible for promoting Hispanic culture in the Asian region and beyond.
“The organization wants me to promote the Hispanic culture here in the Philippines. Gusto nila ako mag-ikot din sana sa Asia to introduce how beautiful it is.
“Sabi nga ng mga tao dito, parang it wasn’t a beautiful history, dahil ’yong three hundred years of Spanish colonization.
"Sabi ko naman, ‘I’m not trying to hide the past. I’m not gonna conceal it. Kailangan pa ring malaman ’yong nangyari. But at the same time, you have to know our history, na parang ’yong positive side na natutunan natin, which is religion, di ba?
"The festivities, celebrating life, family, food, our words are practically Spanish. So, ’yon ’yong ipo-promote ko, kasi unti-unti na ring nawawala ’yong kultura natin, ’yong Spanish.
“Parang it’s kinda lost already because we’re very westernized. So, I’m just gonna promote that, at the same time performing arts and culture. So, ’yon ang gusto nilang gawin ko dito.”
Teresita, for her part, wants to use her title as a platform to push for her advocacy, which is giving access to education to more kids.
“I also have an advocacy of education. So, I’m trying to perform workshops for kids, acting, singing, dancing. So, it’s just really about helping people.
"I think all beauty queens have the same duties and responsibilities. They just have to stay focused. So, that’s the main goal.
“I love kids. Kasi, when I look at them, they always smile, parang wala silang problema. So, ’yong vibes nila, nakukuha ko.
"When you’re around kids, you just wanna have fun. You wanna be curious about everything and just be positive. So, that’s why I love being surrounded by kids.”
Teresita tells YES! that she’s excited to be going around the country and in different parts of Asia. She waited so long for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to arrive. She doesn’t want to plan too far ahead. She just wants to enjoy her moment as the Reina Hispanoamericana to the fullest.
Reina Teresita Ssen Marquez. It does have a nice ring to it.
Originally published in YES! February 2018
Text & Interview: Gabby Reyes Libarios
Editor in Chief: Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon
Executive Editor: Jose F. Lacaba