MANILA, Philippines - As a scrawny girl living in war-torn North
Cotabato, she saw people being killed in front of her.
Her heart and soul, however, fortified her that despite witnessing the escalating
differences between the military and the insurgents in Mindanao, she survived
without the trauma.
Who would have ever thought that the girl who had front-row seats to
violence would one day land onstage as the country’s bet for Miss Universe?
“It’s a miracle that I just remember the events but I don’t remember
being traumatized by them,” begins Mary Jean “MJ” Lastimosa, now 26, and the
reigning Binibining Pilipinas-Universe. In 2014, with her 5’7.5” height and
35-22-36 figure, she bagged the title.
Her experiences — including the fact that her Filipino mother and Saudi father
left her and her sister Maricar when they were barely in grade school to the
loving care of their maternal uncle Sergio Lastimosa in Cotabato — are
circumstances that she just accepted as matters of fact. Instead of lounging in
the drama of life, MJ built her fortification. She learned it the hard way but
looking back, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am thankful for those
experiences that made me tough.”
MJ recognizes that her sister Maricar remains to be her greatest inspiration.
“She taught me to be focused on my studies. She taught me how not to be
affected by the violence that happened around me in North Cotabato. She’s
always there to guide me.”
MJ keeps a grateful heart for her parents who had to leave Manila in the
mid-‘90s to take care of their business in Saudi Arabia. “We used to live in
Manila where my mom, while studying in Lyceum, met my father, who had a
recruitment agency. My mom’s family is originally from Sultan Kudarat,” she
says. When her parents decided to leave for Saudi Arabia, MJ and her sister
Maricar grew up in the care of their uncle Sergio who married someone from
“My dad taught me that it is still possible to love despite the distance. I may
never have bonding moments with him but we know we love each other,” she
informs with misty eyes.
She continues, “I learned from my mom how to dream.”
“I get to talk to my parents from time to time, even to my three younger
siblings who live with them. They were happy that I won the Binibining
Pilipinas-Universe crown. I want to be successful one day so I can take care of
them,” says MJ, a BS Computer Engineering scholar from the University of
Mindanao in Davao, where she was hailed as the campus’ beauty queen in 2006,
the first time the university’s male-dominated College of Engineering had a
titleholder in the yearly beauty search. She went on to win Miss Davao in 2008.
A few months after graduation, MJ came to Manila to apply as a flight attendant
for Emirates Airlines. While taking her snacks at Krispy Kreme at Gateway in
Cubao, she was spotted by film director Jeffrey Jeturian who coaxed her to join
It was when she joined the national search that she showed all the more the
tenacity of her spirit. She was second runner-up to Shamcey Supsup in 2011, a
finalist to Janine Tugonon in 2012.
Resolute is MJ’s will to bring home the Miss Universe crown. Her courage
will see her through.
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