"It was 1999. I was backstage brimming with confidence. It was my fourth pageant but this time I was so proud and thrilled that I will be representing Baguio City and Benguet in the Mr. Philippines-World national competition. I overheard a conversation among my fellow contestants that they were curious about the Igorot who joined. They wanted to know how he looked. Someone joked that if you see the ugliest contestant that would be him. When they finally saw me, they could not believe their eyes. Some remarked that I was a fake. According to them I could not be an Igorot because I was tall, had straight hair and my nose was not flat. That was just one of the many discrimination I personally heard. It was a hurtful experience. My fellow competitors were no push over, they were taller, good-looking, while some were celebrities and professional models. But I was not to be discouraged.

To represent the Igorots was the source of my inner strength. I had to bring out the best in me. I have to prove them wrong. They announced the top ten and I was in. Then I was in the final five. When asked during the question and answer portion, 'As Mr. Philippines 1999, what would be your mission?', I answered unequivocally in proper English, 'To create programs to save the street children - they need our help most because they are very vulnerable so we must take good care of them'. I was announced Mr. Photogenic and finally, I was declared Mr. Philippines-World 1999 besting 25 contestants. I have the right to represent the Philippines in the Mr. World competition to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, I, the Igorot many thought was ugly. I was Mr. Philippines from 1999-2001 because the Mr. World organization required at least 40 countries for a Mr. World pageant to push through, it was only in 2001 when the number was met. I was in the top 15 in the Mr. World 2001. My experience with discrimination didn't end during the Mr. Philippines pageant.

As the reigning Mr. Philippines part of my duties was to become an ambassador of goodwill under the Binibining Pilipinas Charities by going around important cities in the country. When we were in Cebu, a reporter asked me in jest, 'So is it true that you Igorots have tails?' There was a big crowd during that time and they roared in laughter. But I was not to be intimidated. I told the reporter, 'Oh yes we have a tail, but it is in the front, and it is big'."

Erik Salvador
Property Specialist, Ayala Land International, Guam, USA

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