Angelique Manto

Angelique Manto Has Just Begun

Filipinos have always had a special relationship with the glittery world of beauty pageants, especially for the vibrant LGBTQIA+ community—it’s regarded as their version of Super Bowl Sunday, except with long gowns, intricate costumes and five-inch heels. The landscape of pageantry has evolved from its inception, what was once a “contest of physique” catering to the male gaze is now a purposeful, women-led advocacy.

After its more than 70-year history, mothers and wives are now allowed to compete at the annual international beauty pageant, Miss Universe. Transwomen can join, too. In 2023 alone, the pageant included two mothers and two transgender women who competed for the crown, but this wasn’t always the case. 


Candidates who wanted to join Miss Universe “must not have ever been married, not had a marriage annulled, nor given birth to or parented a child.” Titleholders were also required to “remain unmarried throughout their reign.” Candidates like Miss Ukraine 2018 Veronika Didusenko have been disqualified for being a single mother and divorced; the “punishment of being a woman.” This led her to create a non-profit organization called Right To Be A Mother.

RAF GALANG printed panel mesh & leather bra, LVNA BY DRAKE DUSTIN earrings

Angelique Manto, Miss Universe Philippines Pampanga 2023, has her own advocacies, which she’s sharpened from her long history of joining beauty pageants. She started participating when she was five, I learned. I met her a few days before Christmas. Though I prepared a set of questions beforehand, I found myself not asking a single one. We were in a flow state, and everything poured out so organically.

“Many people might think of [me joining Miss Universe Philippines] as a spur-of-the-moment decision, but this has been years in the making. It’s always been on the back burner,” says Angelique Manto. “They know me as a content creator, but I started as a beauty queen. [I have] joined pageants since I was a little girl…I joined pageants when I was in high school and then in college…I started with that and only took a pause when I focused on my career as a host.”

In the pandemic, after nurturing herself and becoming more introverted, Angelique grew into herself. “I think there’s such a huge shift from that Angelique to now, because I feel like she’s more assured now, she’s more confident,” she explains. “I just feel like I know what I can offer and what I can put to the table now as compared to before. I think it’s all the experience coming together, especially [during 2023]. Probably the biggest mountain I had to conquer was joining a national pageant, which was only ever in my dreams before, so that brought out a sense of person for me.”

ZIV REI ALEXI cropped sando with boxed pleats and draped walking skirt silk shantung, JUSTBONITA red gloves

At the age of 26, Angelique took the plunge and joined the Miss Universe Philippines pageant to represent her hometown of Pampanga, after years of hesitation. Before that, the last pageant she joined was in 2014, at the age of 18. In the in-between, the thought of joining a national pageant entered her mind frequently, but there was always something that hindered her. 


Angelique finally decided on the year 2023 because she realized her clock was ticking. At that point, 28 was the age limit for candidates, and she feared she would live a life of regret if she didn’t try out and inevitably “overage.”


These types of unfair standards set on women have always been at play. Women are “made for child-bearing” and only that; God forbid they focus on their career and get married in their 30s.  And if she chooses to be single and child-free, woe is she. Would men be criticized for the same choices? Never.


“I’ve grown up in an environment where, at 25, you’re expected to get married; [at] 27, have kids; [at] 28, you [should] have your life figured out,” divulges Angelique. “I’m turning 28 [in 2024], and I still don’t have my life figured out ahead of me. I’m not even married, and I have no plans of having kids yet.”

Videography and Editing Chino Villagarcia assisted by Anna Miralles

But times have changed, and the doors have been opened wider. “I feel like there’s more freedom for women now to make decisions for ourselves and not allow other people who were here before us to have a say on what we have to do [with] our lives,” shares Angelique. “It’s just empowering that other people see that importance and are empowering women to do that now.” 

ELON DELGADO orchid blazer, ḢA.MÜ micro-mini skirt-belt, ELINAILS nails 

Angelique has always been a proud morena in a sea of mestizas and chinitas. Though local media and the beauty landscape worshiped fair skin growing up—with skin-lightening products ever so popular, along with deeply rooted colorism—she never felt othered. She had a moreno icon at home: her very own father. “I was very lucky to grow up in an environment where my dad was moreno, so I had [a] role model figure. My late father was very much into exploring. He was outside in the sun; he would expose himself [to] different situations that would show off his moreno skin. He loved the beach; he loved flying overseas,” she reminisces, fondly. 


Having beautiful, glistening brown skin never felt like an insult to or a disadvantage for Angelique. She shares, “I was really confident about the skin that I was in because of him. I was very privileged to have that childhood—na morenos and morenas, for me, were special—that I wasn’t treated differently because my dad treated me the way that others deserve to be treated. So growing up, as I went to an environment na there’s paler skin, there [are] more mestizas, I didn’t feel small because I [had] a foundation that you’re enough, you’re good, you’re beautiful even if you’re morena. So, I feel like I took that with me and in everything I did.”

The highlight of 2023 for Angelique, aside from joining the Miss Universe Philippines pageant, was pushing her advocacy on mental health and helping remove the stigma deeply ingrained in society, which many candidates have followed suit on. She narrates how she was part of a pageant back home, Mutya Ning Kapampangan 2023, as a host and she held back tears when she realized many contestants were also pushing for the same advocacy. 


“I was trying not to tear up on that stage because that was my answer—that was my make-or-break answer during my finals—that I wanted mental health to receive its rightful place. That conversations be safer about it, that the taboo or stigma around it be broken. I feel like, at least, little seeds were planted in my province [of] Pampanga and, hopefully, as I continue my work beyond my Miss Universe PH journey, we also [plant] seeds wherever we go,” she reveals.

After being bullied in high school and losing her father in college, Angelique’s mental health took a turn for the worse. She was high-functioning—completing university and working at the same time—but was really having a tough time getting herself together. “It felt like nobody really understood what was going on with me until I got to talk to people who were experiencing the same. And then I realized that when I choose to tell my story, I’m not just telling my story but also [for] those who cannot tell [their] story to other people.” She adds, “I didn’t really choose my advocacy; it chose me to really speak up for those who aren’t comfortable enough to speak up about their struggles.”


Many things have changed since Angelique joined Miss Universe Philippines, the risk-taker that she is. After all, you reap what you sow. “I learned that whatever I put my mind into…as long as I worked my hardest, regardless of what the result [is], I know I did my best and that’s good enough. It’s just really trying—that’s my bio, that’s my core.” 


In 2024, Angelique Manto hopes to reveal her more fashion-forward side as a content creator, continue pursuing her passion as a host, and, more importantly, further her mental health advocacies. Even if at times she feels a bout of impostor syndrome, she wants to take in everything with grace and gratitude. “I feel like 2024 will be a better year than 2023, and I’m claiming it to be mine!”

Angelique Manto
Angelique Manto

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Photography Jerick Sanchez

Photographer's Assistant Bryle Albano

Art and Art Direction Alexandra Lara 

Interview and Cover Story Elisa Aquino

Fashion Direction Sarah Santiago

Styling LA Styling Studio assisted by Kirsten Ariana

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Beauty Direction Elisa Aquino 

Makeup Jason Delos Reyes

Hair Gelo Cibrian

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Location Bulb Studios

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