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Maria Venus Raj

Maria Venus Bayonito Raj (born July 7, 1988) is a Filipina beauty queen. She was crowned Binibining Pilipinas Universe on March 6, 2010 during the pageant's Grand Coronation Night at the Araneta Coliseum. She represented the Republic of the Philippines in the 2010 Miss Universe pageant and placed fourth runner-up to Ximena Navarrete of Mexico.

►► Early life

Maria Venus Raj was born to an Indian father and a Filipina mother. Upon birth, Raj was taken by her mother to Bato, Camarines Sur in Bicol Region, Philippines as an infant and was registered by an aunt as a Philippine-born child to Roman Catholic parents.Raj grew up with her mother, a former tenant farmer and dressmaker who brought Maria Venus Raj up as a child.

Raj lived in a nipa hut made of wood, bamboo and anahaw leaves with no electricity in the middle of a sprawling rice field in the rural Bato town for more than twenty years. She allegedly used rice paddy dikes for her early training where she eventually developed her distinct catwalk.

The youngest among five children, Maria Venus Raj started joining local beauty pageants at 17 years old. She also joined oratorical contests at San Vicente High School where her English teacher served as her coach. With her victories in major contests, Venus Raj had started to buy land on installment basis for her mother as a means of improving their livelihood.

Raj obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Communications Arts, major in Journalism, at Bicol University in Albay, with Latin honors (Cum Laude). She graduated through the scholarship that she received from Francis Papica Foundation. Back in the Philippines, she works as an Information Assistant for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Region V. In addition to this, she also works as a part-time fashion model in her native Bicol and Manila.


--> Miss Philippines-Earth 2008
Following her victory as Miss Bicolandia 2007, Raj represented Legazpi City and competed in the Miss Philippines-Earth 2008, and was named as Miss Philippines Earth Eco Tourism 2008, and fourth runner-up to eventual Miss Earth 2008 winner Karla Henry on May 11, 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Galleria, Manila.

--> Binibining Pilipinas-Universe
After joining Miss Philippines-Earth in 2008, Raj took a break in joining pageants and worked as an Information Assistant in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In 2009, Raj joined the Binibining Pilipinas beauty pageant and made the 2010 batch of candidates. Raj was crowned Binibining Pilipinas Universe on March 6, 2010 during the pageant's Grand Coronation Night at the Araneta Coliseum. She gained the right to represent the Republic of the Philippines as a candidate for the Miss Universe 2010 beauty pageant.

--> Dethronement
A few weeks after her coronation, Raj was dethroned by the Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc., citing alleged inconsistencies between her birth certificate and the personal account of her birth. Raj was briefly replaced by second runner-up Helen Nicolette Henson since first runner-up Diane Elaine S. Necio, also from Bicol was only 17 years old and did not meet the age requirement policies of Miss Universe.

Raj had planned to take legal action to combat the Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc.'s decision in court, but she also weighed in on her decision because of its potential impact to her future career. Lawyer Francis Padua Papica, who sponsored Raj’s college education, and another counsel volunteered to defend her for free.Through Rafa Delfin, director of the website, an appeal regarding Raj's case was sent to the Miss Universe Organisation regarding the issue.

In a local television appearance, Raj stated that a representative from Miss Universe Organisation spoke with her and looked into her case. In the same interview, she said, “My fight is now more than just chasing a dream. It is about clearing my soiled reputation. It is about standing up for people who are poor and born out of wedlock. It is a fight for acceptance."

--> Reinstatement
On April 10, 2010, the Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc. allowed Raj to reclaim her title due to humanitarian reasons. An additional requirement that Raj should legally obtain a valid Philippine passport as proof of her true citizenship was also requested by the pageant organizers. In May 19, 2010, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs issued Raj a Philippine passport thereby attesting to her Filipino citizenship. According to the Department of Foreign Ministry, Raj is a Philippine citizen by virtue of the jus sanguinis principle (“right of blood”), a basic right provided by the Philippine Constitution which bestows upon a person the citizenship of his father or mother regardless of where the person was born, thus declaring her of Filipino citizenship.

Upon the issuance of her Philippine passport, the Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc. announced that they are reinstating Raj. Currently, Raj holds the record as the first-ever dethroned Binibining Pilipinas to have successfully attempted for a reinstatement of a Binibining Pilipinas crown.

--> Miss Universe 2010
In August 2010, Raj flew to the United States and took part in the 2010 Miss Universe pageant. As part of the six delegates which were handpicked for a media tour, Raj along with Jesinta Campbell of Australia, Natalia Navarro of Colombia, Sarodj Bertin of Haiti, Ximena Navarrete of Mexico, Mariana Vicente of Puerto Rico and Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez were scheduled for several television appearances prior to the actual pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada. At this point, Raj was viewed as one of the heavy favourites for the crown and throughout the course of the pageant. During the Miss Universe question and answer portion, Raj was asked by American actor William Baldwin about the biggest mistake that she made in her life and what she did to make it right. She replied, "You know what, sir, in my 22 years of existence, I can say that there's nothing major major, I mean problem that I've done in my life because I'm very confident with my family, with the love that they are giving to me. So thank you so much that I'm here. Thank you, thank you so much!" Raj received the highest rating in the Miss Universe website, with 3.54 points, the highest-ever for a Filipina delegate. In an event held in Diablos Cantina at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, Raj won in a Chicken Wing Eating Contest, increasing her popularity even more during the run of the pageant.

While competing at Miss Universe 2010 in Las Vegas, Raj was emotionally distressed to hear about the death of Filipina-German beauty queen Melody Gersbach and make-up artist Alden Orense in a car accident. Gersbach, a fellow Bicolana who previously competed and secured a place in the Top15 finalists at Miss International 2009 in China, was one of Raj's coaches in her preparation for the Miss Universe pageant.Raj was the only Asian who was placed in the competition.


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