The PLDT Home Ambassador recalls her journey to empowerment
“It felt like forever.”
Michelle Marquez Dee, crowned Miss Universe Philippines 2023, narrated her feelings when she was declared the winner in 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.”
At 28 years of age, Michelle is set to proudly represent the Philippines at the upcoming Miss Universe pageant in El Salvador this November. Her remarkable suitability for the role was even acknowledged by PLDT Inc. Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan during a recent meet-and-greet with the Miss Universe Philippines queens at the Ramon Cojuangco Building in Makati City.
“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.”
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.”
In 2019, Michelle’s international pageant journey was poised to begin as she clinched the title of Miss World Philippines. However, the onset of the pandemic disrupted her plans. Undeterred, she later entered the Miss Universe Philippines 2022 competition, securing the Miss Universe Philippines Tourism title. The ultimate crown was won by Filipino-Italian Celeste Cortesi, with whom Michelle developed a close friendship over time.
In early 2023, Michelle also joined the cast of the fantasy drama series “Mga Lihim ni Urduja,” which premiered in February. Juggling her commitments between the MUP competition, where she initially vied to represent Makati, and her acting endeavors, she found herself operating on minimal sleep.
Despite her hectic schedule, Michelle maintained constant communication with her family and friends. Through the power of social media, facilitated by PLDT Home’s high-speed broadband connection, she became aware of the positive impact she had on her fans and the potential influence she could exert on aspiring young individuals, particularly young girls striving for success both within and outside the world of pageantry.
“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
With this significant platform to promote her advocacies and initiate discussions about autism, Michelle emphasizes that every action she takes must be purpose-driven.
“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 serves as a genuine embodiment of the Filipino spirit, embracing individuals from all walks of life, irrespective of their color, gender, or social standing. From a young age, she actively engaged in the charitable endeavors of her family. Her grandmother’s establishment of the Inner Peace Foundation more than four decades ago has now seen Michelle take the helm.
“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.”