By Claire Morales True and Jennifer T. Santos
NEW YORK/MANILA – The first Filipino American to reign as Miss Universe, R’Bonney Gabriel, is in Manila, and immediately sizzled in a warm welcome by supporters, including her Filipino father Remigio Gabriel and Irish-American mother who flew in earlier from Texas.
After a gruelling 17-hour flight from the United States, Gabriel, who is proud of her Filipino heritage, landed at the Manila International Airport with all smiles as shown in her live video, proclaiming she was happy to be back in her father’s native country which she last visited five years ago in 2018.
“Landing in the Philippines. Cant wait for this upcoming week!” the Fil-Am beauty queen from Texas said in an Instagram post. “I’m very happy to be here!’
She also greeted her fans and supporters in her live feed. “Hello. Mabuhay. Kumusta po kayo. Maraming salamat,” she said, adding she is craving for “enseymada” and dried mangoes which she said she will bring home when she goes back to US.
Gabriel flew in for a one week stay, highlighted by her participation in the Miss Universe Philippines coronation night on May 13 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The 29-year-old beauty queen later graced and sizzled with her Filipiniana terno made by Filipino designer Mark Bumgarner at the jampacked Miss Universe Philippines gala night at the Okada Manila attended by the new Miss Universe owner, JKN Global, headed by Anne Jakrajutatip of Thailand and Miss Universe Philippines franchise owner, Empire Philippines, led by former beauty queen Shamcey Supsup-Lee, Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart, and MUPH Creative and Events Director Jonas Gaffud, among others.
“Magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat! I am so incredibly very happy to be here,” she opened her speech to a stunned crowd at the gala night.
“I had so many memories of visiting my father’s country, growing up as a child. This is one of my most favorite places to visit because the Filipino people are so hospitable! They are so welcoming, they are so charming, so funny, have the best food, but most of all, the best hearts. So I feel very blessed. Thank you so much for welcoming me here,” she added.
In her speech, she emphasized how lucky she is to be half-Filipino. Aside from being the first Filipino American Miss Universe title holder, she also made history as the first Miss USA with Filipino descent.
“I am half Filipina, half American. I feel quite lucky to be Filipino because I would say you’re one of the best countries that compete and one of the best countries that I would say put our all into pageants. The Filipino people have given me so much support as I trained for Miss Texas, as I trained for Miss USA and for Miss USA. And so I would like to thank you for the love and support.”
“I’ve watched it for previous years and it was so inspiring,” Gabriel was quoted by ABS-CBN saying to the members of the media who were among her welcomers. “It’s such a big production and so to actually go to the pageant is a dream come true.”
“And I’m excited because my family’s here as well,” she added. “So to be able to spend a little bit of time with them is going to be nice.”
Gabriel has always been vocal about her love for the Philippines which she has visited many times when she was young.
Miss Gabriel was actually originally scheduled to visit Manila last December, but the trip was re-scheduled.
Miss Universe Philippines organizers led by Shamcey Supsup said the FilAm beauty queen will be special guest of the event to be hosted by Alden Richards and Xian Lim.
Joining Lim and Richards as backstage hosts will be Miss Globe 2021 Maureen Montagne and events organizer Tim Yap.
Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi will also be a special guest in the 2023 pageant of the Philippine franchise.
Filipino American “American Idol” runner-up Jessica Sanchez will be a guest performer, along with South Korean singer Nam Woo-Hyun, during the coronation night.
Gabriel is a proud half Filipino whose father, Remigio Bonzon “R. Bon” Gabriel, immigrated to Washington state at the age of 25 and went on to earn his doctorate degree in psychology at the University of Southern California.
In previous interviews, the Texas native shared she feels a “big responsibility” to share her multicultural background and empower others to embrace their identities. As a voice for Asian-Americans – she opens the door for more diversity and representation in society.
Aside from Gabriel, Thai businesswoman and Miss Universe Organization owner Anne Jakrajutatip will also be in attendance.
Gabriel, whose father is a Filipino from Tarlac, had said in an earlier interview that she can’t wait to meet her Filipino fans.
Actually, she admitted that she has been in the Philippines at least five or six times while still young.
“I grew up going to the Philippines just as a child and just going on a vacation there, and to actually be somewhat an inspiration to the people in the Philippines now is amazing,” the Filipino-American beauty queen said in Houston, Texas.
“Actually, I will be visiting the Philippines soon in May,” she said. “We’re gonna have a huge event there as Miss Universe, so I’m really excited. For all the Filipinos tuning in, I cannot wait to meet you.”
“I was able to go growing up every couple of years for summer time,” she told Nelson Canlas in another interview.
“I’m good to go back, I would love to go back. I’m hoping we can make it happen this year,” she said.
Gabriel also told Nelson Canlas she loves ensaymada.
“I love to introduce people to mamon or ensaymada, and I’m actually eating a lot of ensaymada. I ate seven on Saturday,” she said with a laugh.
Gabriel was born in Texas to a Filipino father and an American mother.
She was the 9th Miss Universe winner from the United States and was also the first Filipino-American to win the Miss USA title.
During the Miss Universe pageant held Jan. 14 in New Orleans in the state of Louisiana, Gabriel had Filipino designers Patrick Isorena and Rian Fernandez make her national costume and evening gowns, respectively.
In another early interview, Gabriel disclosed that while she grew up in the US, her heart has always been Filipino, a trait instilled in her by her doctor father, Remigio Bonzon “R’Bon” Gabriel, whose name she inherited as well.
A fashion designer by profession, Gabriel is the first Filipino-American to be crowned Miss Universe and Miss