FAST BACKWARD: Marcos’ love interest was from Davao  

Before Imelda Romualdez met and snared former Philippine president Ferdinand E. Marcos in an 11-day whirlwind courtship, the famous Ilocano politico was romantically linked to Gilda, daughter of David Walstorm, an American plantation owner, and wife Gabriela Gruet.

As fate would have it, both Gilda and Imelda became finalist in the search for Miss Philippines, an event that was part of the Philippine International Fair held in Manila from February 1 to April 30, 1953. (In other accounts, she is referred to as Hilda.)

Ms. Walstorm’s participation as Davao’s representative in the fair was a difficult target. The political leaders knew Davao, as the premier province in the south, had much to gain in terms of publicity if it became part of the national event. But to select get there it required funds from both the province and private sources.

Not willing to waste time, the Provincial Board of Davao promptly passed Resolution No. 651, approving the holding of a provincial beauty contest to raise the needed funds and to augment the appropriation set aside by the province. Under the mechanics, all twenty towns were required to have a beauty queen each who would participate in the province-wide pageant.

On December 13, 1952, the contestants from every municipality were formally presented before the public, followed by the holding of the first canvassing. The next evening, the second canvassing and proclamation were held, culminating in the wee hours of the morning of December 15, 1952.  Proclaimed as Miss Davao Province was Gilda Walstorm, the Miss Padada.

But the winner was not around when the final canvass was completed. Ms. Walstorm only arrived at 1:30 AM, cheered lustily by those who waited for her arrival and seeing her in person. Her entourage included her mother, fiscal Benjamin Gorospe, and lawyer (later judge) Dominador Zuño Sr., to name just a few.

During the coronation, Davao governor Alejandro D. Almendras, as expected, paid tribute to the beauty queen. Miss Maria Norma Mendoza, a beauty queen from Manila, crowned Ms. Walstorm with Doña Nenita D. Floirendo assisting. Miss Davao Province went on to win the Miss Mindanao title in the search for the Miss Philippines winner.

The Miss Philippine pageant took place in the first quarter of 1953, much to the euphoria of all those who graced the affair. On March 20, 1953, Cristina de Leon Galang was proclaimed 1953 Miss Philippines, with journalist Benigno Aquino Jr., later the senator of the republic and father of President Benigno S. Aquino III, escorting her.

Galang’s court of honor included Violeta Villamor, as 1953 Miss Visayas and Pearl of the Orient; Ms. Walstrom as Miss Mindanao; Norma Jimenez, as Miss Manila; and Imelda Trinidad Romualdez, as Muse of Manila, a recognition bestowed on her after then Manila mayor Arsenio Lacson tried nullifying the decision of the Philippine International Fair Committee choosing Ms. Jimenez as Miss Manila.

To make the 1953 fair more glamorous and memorable, the organizers invited first Miss Universe titlist Armi Helena Kuusela, who won her title only nine months earlier. The invitation was sent to her on March 9, 1953. In the country, she stayed until April 11 and paid a courtesy call on the President Elpidio Quirino, met with the legislators from both chambers of Congress, visited numerous academic institutions, and climbed to Baguio where he met Filipino businessman Virgilio Hilario, her future husband.

Marcos was similarly awed by the stunning beauty of Ms. Kuusela such that he proudly introduced himself during her visit in Congress as the most eligible bachelor around. His overture, though, fell on deaf ears. After Miss Universe had left for Tokyo for an engagement related to her reign as beauty queen, rumors linking Marcos romantically to the Davaoeña beauty started to float.

Interestingly, it was President Quirino, a widower, who was head over heels first attracted to Imelda, christened by the media as the ‘Rose of Tacloban.’ In was in 1949, while on a visit to attend a banquet in Tacloban, that he first met Imelda at the Divine Word University. The local maiden displayed her prowess in singing while getting due credit for her alluring good looks.

Quirino even told Pio Pedrosa, his finance secretary, that he was seriously considering courting Imelda for her charm but later backed out after contemplating such move would have an impact on his presidency. Quirino’s loss, in a way, was Marcos’s gain. Ominous or otherwise, Quirino’s premonition was realized when Marcos married Imelda.

Meanwhile, after her amazing rise to prominence, Ms. Walstorm, who had a sister named Virginia, returned home to Padada to assist her parents in running their agricultural venture. After their death, she took over the coconut plantation from the original incorporators.

In later years, she donated a portion of the estate to be development into subdivision named after her. This is situated at Guihing, now part of the town of Hagonoy, Davao del Sur. Part of the defunct plantation is now planted to bananas owned by Lapanday Banana Corporation, otherwise known as Guihing Agricultural Development Corporation (GADECO).

Ms. Walstorm’s father, David, as a former superintendent of the Manila Post Office before investing in the Mindanao Estates Plantation, which was originally owned by J.H. Shipley and J.E. Shubert, and managed by Otto V. Hansen.