“It felt like forever.”
This is how Miss Universe Philippines 2023 Michelle Marquez Dee described the moment when she was announced as the winner last May.
“All you can hope for is that destiny is on your side — and it was on that night of May 13. When they finally called my name, honestly, I just felt like all the hard work paid off. When you’ve dedicated your whole life and everything for that moment to happen, mapapabagsak ka. I actually bent over because of relief, happiness, and gratitude.”
28-year-old Michelle will represent the Philippines at Miss Universe in El Salvador in November.
She is the finest fit, even PLDT Inc. Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan himself said upon meeting her, along with the other Miss Universe Philippines queens at a PLDT and Smart exclusive meet-and-greet with executives and employees at Ramon Cojuangco Building in Makati City recently.
“We could think of no better woman to proudly bear the flag at this year’s Miss Universe pageant than Michelle,” Pangilinan said. “She is smart with her confidence and authentic with her advocacies. We at PLDT fully stand beside her. We have no doubt that she will be one of the strongest queens in the field, and that she will go very far.”
Deepening her connections
Michelle celebrates, and at the same time, bears on her shoulders the legacy of her mother Melanie Marquez in the pageant world. Melanie is the youngest Miss International, winning the title when she was only 15 years old in 1979. Later on, she became a successful actress, starring in comedy films and TV sitcoms.
An actress, model, and PLDT Home ambassador, Michelle enjoys a close relationship with her parents and siblings, with whom she always stays connected through video calls.
“My mom is one of my biggest inspirations. She is responsible for why I am so strong,” she says. “She is somebody that I really look up to. She was nothing but proud. She instilled in my mind that I should shine as my own woman, be confident in what I have and what I have to offer.”
On the night Michelle won, pageant fans went wild when they saw what netizens dubbed “the snake walk.” She recalls, “The inspiration was really my mother. My trainer Ian Mendajar and I were conceptualizing the walk and really trying to personalize my choreography. We had always aspired to integrate my mom as an inspiration throughout my journey and we felt like this was the right moment.”
Michelle wanted to do something special during the coronation night because it was Mother’s Day the following day. “I dedicated my whole journey to my mom and my family. I owe it to them that I’m a strong and empowered individual.”
Michelle’s international pageant journey would have commenced in 2019 when she won Miss World Philippines, but the pandemic happened. She then joined Miss Universe Philippines 2022, where she won Miss Universe Philippines Tourism , second to Filipino-Italian Celeste Cortesi who won the crown, with the two becoming close friends over time. Early this year, Michelle became part of the cast of the fantasy drama Mga Lihim ni Urduja, which premiered in February, and throughout the MUP competition — where she first had to compete to represent Makati — she was running on only a few hours of sleep between the pageant competition and taping.
Throughout her busy schedule, Michelle constantly communicated with her family and friends. And thanks to social media, powered by the fastest broadband connection provided by PLDT Home, she realized just how much of a positive impact she had on her fans and that she could have on young people – especially young girls who aspire to be successful in and outside the pageant circuit.
“Miss Universe is undoubtedly one of the biggest platforms to really create positive change around the world, and that’s my main goal. I want to set a great example for people to become empowered and transformational leaders,” she says. “To finally walk this path is absolutely amazing. I’ve had one of the hardest times in the past few months, and it was all worth it. Hard work and dedication can get you anywhere you want in life.”
Spreading the word on her causes
Now that she has an enormous opportunity to push her advocacies and start conversations around autism, Michelle says that everything she does must have a purpose.
“My two siblings on the autism spectrum are my lifelong mission. Being able to give to them what they need and to be a part of the solution is something that I don’t take lightly. I know the kind of life I want them to live, I know what is lacking in the Philippines and the world. It means the world to me to be part of such a positive change for my siblings and for everybody that’s on the autism spectrum as well.”
“At Autism Society Philippines, we see every individual on the spectrum as having their own talent and we want them to live fulfilled and empowered lives. That’s why I really advocate for acceptance, inclusivity, and awareness. My two siblings were also there during the coronation night, cheering for me. I knew that they understood that this competition was for them,” she adds.
Michelle is a true example of a Filipino with an open and welcoming heart for everyone regardless of color, gender, or station in life. Even at a young age, she was participating in the charities her family was involved in. Her grandmother founded the Inner Peace Foundation over 40 years ago, which Michelle now heads.
“My father always taught me that if you have the means to give back, then you should always give back. I’m so grateful to have such strong pillars in my life, teaching me that the only way to go is to make sure that people around you are safe and taken care of.”
Going back to her roots
Michelle takes to heart the lesson her family taught her: “To always walk life full of gratitude, love and kindness.”
No wonder that when she was asked during the pageant what to her is the best the country can offer the world, she answered straight from the heart. It’s always the people. As she said, “We are the true heart and soul of the Philippines with the way we are hospitable, with our warm smiles. And we are the reason why the world keeps coming back for more. No matter where the universe takes me, I’ll always be proud to call the Philippines my home. And no matter what happens I will always be proud to call myself Pinoy.”