MISS Universe Catriona Gray finally met President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night, just hours before she was scheduled to fly to New York to begin her duties as this year’s winner of the prestigious tilt.
“The courtesy call started at 6:20 p.m.,” said presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who sent photos of the President and Gray sitting adjacent to each other at the Bulwagang Kalayaan hangar of Villamor Air Base.
“They [were] just exchanging pleasantries. [The President] thanked Gray for bringing home the crown [and] said everybody [has been] euphoric about her win,” Panelo said.
In the photos sent by Panelo to reporters, the President was seen giving the beauty queen a bouquet of pink flowers. The two were also photographed with the Philippine flag and the presidential seal behind them.
In a text message to reporters, Christopher “Bong” Go, the President’s former aide, said the President thanked the 24-year-old stunner for the honor she had brought to the country.
The President wore his trademark black collared shirt and black pants, while Gray looked smart in a black jacket, a gold-accented blouse, black pants and black high-heels.
Duterte also told Gray to enjoy the perks and opportunities of her reign as he opened the gates of Malacañang for her official homecoming after her commitments abroad.
According to Malacañang, Duterte invited Gray during their almost one hour private meeting at the Kalayaan Hall in Villamor Airbase to visit the Palace after commitments abroad so the beauty queen can officially celebrate her homecoming in the country.
“[Gray] received advice from the President, telling her to enjoy the opportunity of traveling the world and meeting people from different cultures and ethnicities around the globe,” the Palace said in a statement.
“Towards the end of their tête-à-tête, President Duterte invited Miss Gray to visit Malacañang after her commitments abroad so she could officially celebrate her homecoming in the country,” it added.
Malacañang also said that Duterte congratulated and thanked Gray for making the Philippines proud by bringing the Miss Universe crown back to the country three years after it was won by Pia Wurtzbach.
“He (President Duterte) also wished her (Gray) to have a successful reign, and asked her to showcase the Philippines’ beauty even more to the world,” the Palace said.
Duterte also described Gray’s vieying for the coveted Mikimoto Crown as similar to one of Senator Manny Pacquiao’s boxing matches, noting the intense and robust support from the Filipinos.
The President was joined by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Gray, who gave the country its fourth Miss Universe title after Pia Wurtzbach in 2015, Margie Moran in 1973, and Gloria Diaz in 1969, earlier brought holiday cheer to the children from Gentle Hands Orphanages at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bonifacio Global City.
“We are giving the gift of giving,” Gray said of the child and youth welfare agency that rescues and rehabilitates children and youth who are at risk.
“Giving is so important, especially to children who may have been dealt a poor hand in life,” Gray said at the charity event’s press conference on Thursday morning.
She also encouraged people to similarly share their blessings. “Open up your heart this Christmas and give, whether it be small, whether it be large or anything, to make someone’s Christmas season happy.”
She has always been drawn to children, said Gray, the only child of a Scotland-born Australian and a Filipino woman from Oas, Albay.
“Growing up, I always wished for siblings,” she said.
Gray is known for her volunteer work in Tondo-based Young Focus International Foundation, a non-government organization that also works closely with children.
She even released a song titled “We’re In This Together” in November, which was dedicated to the beneficiaries of the organization.