Miss Universe contest starts in scandal-hit Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Miss Universe contest is underway in the Philippines Monday, a country deeply fascinated with beauty contests but also under an international spotlight because of the president’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs and a police scandal.

American comedian and pageant host Steve Harvey opened the show with a pledge to announce the right winner after he wrongly named Miss Colombia as the winner more than a year ago when the contest was held in Las Vegas, causing an uproar.

Eighty-six candidates are vying for the crown, currently held by Pia Wurtzbach from the Philippines.

“One thing I learned in life, when you make a mistake, you gotta keep on moving forward man, that’s all,” Harvey said, adding he had surgery done on his eyes so that “when we get to the end and the card comes up, we’ll get it right this year.”

A smiling Wurtzbach, who was called to the stage to give her farewell remarks as the outgoing winner, thanked him for making her the most popular Miss Universe. Harvey, laughing, thanked her for making him the most famous Miss Universe emcee ever.

Judges selected a dozen candidates but the 13th was chosen through online public voting. Harvey said 100 million people cast their votes worldwide.

President Rodrigo Duterte was invited but has not shown up after holding a midnight news conference where he expressed outrage over the involvement of anti-drug police in the kidnapping of a South Korean businessman, who was reportedly strangled to death at the main police camp in metropolitan Manila last October then cremated, his ashes allegedly flushed down a toilet bowl.