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  • Writer's pictureMenchie Kinao

Marked by Legacy: Miss Universe PH 2023 shares encounter with living legend Whang-od

Updated: May 9

Tabuk City, Kalinga – Reigning Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH) Michelle Dee has been expressing her admiration for iconic “mambabatok,” Apo Whang-od.


Michelle first paid tribute to the living legend during the gilded Miss Universe 2023 evening gown competition by flaunting a black gown inspired by the renowned tattoo artist.


The gown, accordingly, has three intricate patterns: the hourglass or the rice mortar which symbolizes spiritual shield, creation, fertility, and sustenance; the fern which means fertility, strength, health, and safe passage to the land of the dead; and the snakeskin pattern symbolizing safety, protection, health, shield, and strength.


The beauty queen ended her campaign early as top 10 finalist and was unable to answer the final pageant question, “If you could live one year in another woman’s shoes, who would you choose and why?”


Michelle, however, was given the chance to voice her answer during her “Fast Talk” interview, where she said, “If I could choose to live in any woman’s shoes, it would be Apo Whang-od. She’s an amazing symbol of cultural preservation. She’s an amazing symbol of ageism. She has been defying boundaries, and stereotypes, and that is something that I have tried to inspire everybody around me as well.”

During her homecoming parade in December 2023 in Pasay City, the top 10 finalist donned another Whang-od-inspired gown – a pantsuit in white, asymmetrically designed, featuring a lengthy train and adorned with tattoo-like beadwork stretching from the neckline down to the right arm.


That time, she told the press that she would love to get inked by the iconic tattoo artist who has a huge contribution to cultural preservation.


On the first days of May 2024, her team turned her desire into reality as they joined her in a 27-hour journey to Buscalan, Kalinga, where the MUPH 2023 “finally” got her hand-tapped three-dot tattoo into her arm by the national treasure.


On her Instagram post, Michelle shared that her experience at the tattoo village was “an amazing way to start the month of May and my final days as your reigning queen.”


Aside from getting Apo Whang-od's signature on her skin, the reigning queen took the opportunity to give a white jersey printed with “Filipinas 2023” in front, and “MMD” in the back as her gift to one of her heroes.


Michelle likewise danced with the community, and for a brief moment, she passed her crown to the traditional tattoo artist.


The queen further let Whang-od sign the sketch of her Miss Universe evening gown, designed by Mark Bumgarner, with her three-dot signature.


In a statement, the municipal government of Tinglayan, under the leadership of Mayor Sacrament Gumilab, along with the barangay local government of Buscalan, conveyed appreciation to Michelle for showcasing their vibrant culture in the global arena.