The Miss Earth 2018 pageant may be over (the coronation night was held on November 4, and Nguyen Phuong Khanh of Vietnam was declared the winner), but the controversy on what happened behind the scenes is still brewing.
Last November 7, Miss Earth Canada 2018 Jaime Vandenberg posted on Instagram that she experienced harassment from a sponsor who got her phone number without her permission and kept calling her to ask for her room number. She shared: “He showed up to almost all of my events, telling me he could take care of my needs, and asked for sexual favors in exchange to get me further in the pageant.”
Vandenberg also alleged that the sponsor took sultry photos with other girls on his yacht and was telling them that he could bring them to Boracay, and that he was also upset that a group of girls did not dance with him. Vandenberg, who left the Philippines without finishing the pageant, shared that she had already brought the situation up with the team managers. She said they laughed at her and told her to be nice.
Miss Earth England 2018 Abbey-Anne Gyles-Brown corroborates Miss Earth Canada’s story in an Instagram post: “I enjoyed 50 percent of my trip but the other 50 percent was overshadowed by feeling exploited, vulnerable, unnerved, and sexually harassed, as I was approached by a sponsor on many occasions who asked for sexual favors in exchange for the crown.”
Emma Mae Sheedy, Miss Earth Guam 2018, was the one who named the sponsor in question. In her post, she alleged that a sponsor named Amado S. Cruz pulled her aside multiple times to be invited to Boracay, private islands, and into his house, and insisted that she and “the Latino women dance for him.”
Sheedy also wrote, “Amado S. Cruz grabbed my bare backside at the National Costume Competition where I was able to push him away, but he consistently told me not to tell anyone about any of the instances.”
The Sponsor's Response
Cruz is the president and CEO of Offshore Construction & Development Co. and transport company New Qualitrans Inc. While photos of him with beauty queens are circulating online, he has responded to the sexual harassment allegations. In an interview with ABS-CBN News, he said that he is a long-time sponsor of the event “so he could help promote the country’s tourism.” He added that he could not understand why his sponsorship of such events would be given malicious meaning.
Cruz also claimed that it was the candidates, not him, who expressed interest to visit Boracay; he merely offered to take them there since he comes from Capiz, which is nearby.
The Miss Earth Facebook page has released a statement from the vice president of the organizing group: Lorraine Schuck of Carousel Productions. She says that when she heard the candidates felt that they were being sexually harassed, she spoke to them to find out what had happened. “I assured them that the Miss Earth organization does not condone nor tolerate any rude or immoral behavior towards the delegates by sponsors or anybody for that matter. I IMMEDIATELY instructed our project director to ban the alleged perpetrator from all further functions and events. I reminded the team managers and police security to be more vigilant in making sure that none of the candidates experience this unfortunate incident again.”
The organization is also asking the candidates for their written statements so they can take appropriate action.
Miss Earth Cuba 2018 Monica Aguilar says that she did not experience sexual harassment, and even defended Cruz and the organization, saying that she felt “extremely safe.” In her post on Instagram, she said that she did receive an invite to extend her stay to go to Boracay, but she was given the choice to refuse the offer. “Yes, some of the sponsors did ask us if we wanted to extend our visas to go to Boracay after the pageant, but no one promised us to get further in the competition through ‘sexual favors.’ I don’t think an invitation to Boracay is sexual harassment! All you can do is say ‘No, thank you,’ and move on with your life!” She added, “No matter where you go in life, these types of things happen. But it is your responsibility to say no and walk away. After I said ‘No, thank you’ to the Boracay trip, the sponsor never bothered me again!”
In contrast, Bb. Pilipinas International 2017 Mariel de Leon took to Twitter to defend the three Miss Earth candidates, saying that sexual harassment in pageantry is real and that victim blaming is not okay. “It doesn’t matter what she is doing, where she is, what state she is in, and it especially doesn’t matter what she is wearing. No is no.”