Maria Venus Raj

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Photo: Maria Venus Raj, Bb. Pilipinas-Universe, at her sendoff to the US for the Ms Universe pageant. Image courtesy of Bb. Pilipinas, believed to be under fair use due to availability as part of a press release. Some Rights Reserved

Maria Venus Bayonito Raj (born 7 July 1988) is the candidate of the Philippines in the 2010 Miss Universe pageant held on 24 August 2010 (Philippine time) at Las Vegas. She is the fourth runner-up in the world's most prestigious beauty pageant, which was topped by Jimena Navarette of Mexico.


Early life

Raj was born in Doha, Qatar on 7 July 1988 to Indian Vincent Raj and Filipina Ester Bayonito. After her parents' separation, she and her mother went to the Philippines and lived in a rural farmland in Bato, Camarines Sur. Together with her siblings, Raj helped tending her mother's farm and according to her, she learned how to walk like a model by walking on the narrow dikes of the rice paddies.

Raj started joining in beauty pageants at the age of 17. According to her, she used her winnings to pay for the loan of her family's farmland.


Raj went to San Vicente High School for secondary education and Bicol University in Albay for college. She received a bachelor's degree in Communication Arts, major in Journalism with Latin honors (Cum Laude).


Raj worked as an information assistant for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources while studying and started modeling when she graduated from college.

Major titles

Raj first won the Miss Camarines Sur title and, in 2007, the Miss Bicolandia. The following year, she won her first and only international beauty title so far--the Miss Earth Eco-Tourism. In 2010, Raj won the Binibining Pilipinas-Universe--the most prestigious beauty title in the Philippines.

Binibining Pilipinas-Universe controversy


After she was crowned as the Binibing Pilipinas-Universe on 6 March 2010, the organizers found some inconsistencies on her birth certificate. According to pageant organizer Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc. (BPCI), the birth certificate submitted by Raj stated that she was born in Bato, Camarines Sur through a traditional midwife (manghihilot) named Nicetas Lindagan and that her father is a Filipino. Raj admitted that the information provided in her birth certificate were false and that she never had access to her authentic birth certificate.

Still, on 29 March 2010, the BPCI decided to take her title away. This caused a major outrage from the public and government officials. Raj insisted that she had been transparent about the flaws in her birth certificate from the very beginning. She was even supported by then Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima.


Due to "humanitarian reasons," the BPCI on 12 April 2010 issued a statement, reinstating Raj as the Bb. Pilipinas-Universe as long as she is able to acquire a valid Philippine passport. On 21 May 2010, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued Raj her passport.

Miss Universe 2010

Prior to the pageant, Raj emerge as the favorite to win the Miss Universe crown, topping the official Miss Universe online poll with a rating of 3.55. Eventual winner Navarrete garnered a rating of 2.74.

Raj joined Navarette, Anna Poslavskaya of Ukraine, Jesinta Campbell of Austalia, and Yendi Phillips of Jamaica in the final round.

Raj was the last contestant called in the final question-and-answer, where judge William Baldwin asked the question, "“What is one big mistake you made in your life and what did you do about it?” Raj answered, ""Thank you for the wonderful question. Hello Las Vegas. I can say, I am confident that there's no major, major mistake that I have done in my life. Thank you to my family that I am here. Thank you, thank you!"

Raj, the fourth runner-up, garnered a score of 8,957 (third place) and 8.714 (fifth place) in the swimsuit and evening gown competition, respectively. Nevertheless, critics blamed her rather "lame" answer in the final question-and-answer as the cause of her downfall in the final round, as the phrase "major, major" became the eighth top trending topic on social networking site Twitter. However, compatriots and former Miss Universe winners Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran said that Raj's answer is a result of natural nervousness on stage.




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