At a time when so­cial-me­dia su­per­stars com­pete for top billing, 140-char­ac­ter mes­sages and 24hour sto­ries get the word out, and tech­nol­ogy dis­rupts tra­di­tions, 30-year-old or­ga­ni­za­tion Pro­fes­sional Mod­els As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines (PMAP) stays rel­eva


The Pro­fes­sional Mod­els As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines (PMAP) con­tin­ues to up­lift, pro­tect and pro­fes­sion­al­ize well be­yond its 30th year.

back in 1987 when the lo­cal mod­el­ing scene was more a pas­time for high so­ci­ety’s debu­tantes and an in­for­mal in­come source for those al­ready work­ing the ramp, print and com­mer­cial cir­cuits, the top mod­els of that time came to­gether to form the Pro­fes­sional Mod­els As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines (PMAP). Top-billed by such iconic fash­ion fig­ures as Tina Maris­tela-ocampo, Suyen Chi, Izza Agana and De­siree Ver­dadero, the found­ing mem­bers of the by-in­vi­ta­tion-only non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion lob­bied for stan­dard­ized rates and fea­si­ble work hours from de­sign­ers, pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors in ex­change for first-rate pro­fes­sional mod­el­ing ser­vices. Their goal? Make mod­el­ing an ac­tual pro­fes­sion with rules and guide­lines that pro­tect its peo­ple.

One of PMAP’S ear­lier re­cruits and sub­se­quent pres­i­dent in 1989, Tweetie de Leon-gon­za­lez re­calls a time when be­ing part of the as­so­ci­a­tion meant be­long­ing to mod­el­ing’s up­per crust, what with the level of ex­cel­lence that came with the above-av­er­age rates they fought for. “The big­gest ad­van­tage was that you be­longed to a se­lect group of mod­els. It was an honor to be in­vited to PMAP,” she rem­i­nisces. “Be­ing se­lected to be part of the as­so­ci­a­tion meant that you met the cri­te­ria of be­ing a book­able, bank­able, cred­i­ble, pro­fes­sional model.”

And book­able, bank­able, cred­i­ble and pro­fes­sional they were— and still are. Thirty years later at Sum­mit’s Brix­ton stu­dios and with Tweetie com­ply­ing to a 7 a.m. call time, Ap­ples Aberin pow­er­ing through the mon­soon and a case of the flu, Grace Molina fly­ing home to Manila just for this shoot and Rissa Manan­quil-trillo man­ag­ing to squeeze in time in be­tween her cos­metic busi­ness and in-progress MBA, it was as if th­ese ’ny­oras never said good­bye. To­gether with Phoemela Baranda, Baba Parma and An­gel Agustin, the seven for­mer PMAP pres­i­dents—the fe­male lead­ers in the pres­ti­gious ros­ter, at least—came to­gether for a re­union ed­i­to­rial cel­e­brat­ing the col­lec­tive’s three decades.


In an email in­ter­view, in­cum­bent PMAP pres­i­dent Raphael Kiefer stresses that the ob­jec­tives of PMAP have not changed in the last 30 years de­spite shifts in chal­lenges: PMAP still as­pires for a pro­fes­sional mod­el­ing in­dus­try that pro­tects and up­lifts the lo­cal model. “One would think that in 2017, we shouldn’t even be talk­ing about pro­fes­sion­al­ism any­more, but we are in an in­dus­try that keeps on chang­ing and re­quir­ing up­dated guide­lines.” He also stresses that PMAP is one of very few or­ga­nized groups stand­ing its ground against the is­sue of low tal­ent fees and slow pay­ment pro­cesses. “This de­ter­mi­na­tion is help­ing steady the ship, but we can­not deny that this un­will­ing­ness to com­pro­mise has tested the mem­bers and the as­so­ci­a­tion in many ways—in­clud­ing los­ing work to NON-PMAP mod­els who are will­ing to take a pay cut,” he states.

Rissa Manan­quil-trillo, the long­est-serv­ing PMAP pres­i­dent from 2003 to 2008, knows about this is­sue on com­pen­sa­tion very well. “My po­si­tion re­quired me to ad­dress is­sues on work ethics, pro­fes­sional fees, work­ing con­tracts,” she says. “I en­sured that [our mem­bers] main­tained pro­fes­sion­al­ism at work and were pro­tected from ex­ploita­tion, pro­vided with rea­son­able work­ing hours and were well-com­pen­sated by im­ple­ment­ing stan­dard rates while fos­ter­ing a good re­la­tion­ship among mod­els, di­rec­tors, clients and pro­duc­ers. She cru­saded for the wel­fare of fel­low mod­els while she her­self did not get paid for her ef­forts, as did the oth­ers be­fore and af­ter her, since PMAP is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Still, she looks back at her five years at the helm with “her head held up high.” “My sense of wealth, pride and honor comes from the fact that I coura­geously and un­com­pro­mis­ingly stuck to the prin­ci­ples of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ex­cel­lence in up­lift­ing the mod­el­ing in­dus­try.”

Phoemela Baranda val­i­dates Rissa’s ef­forts and ac­knowl­edges the im­pact that Brazil­ian and other South Amer­i­can

mod­els con­tinue to have in both pro­fes­sional fees and our ev­ere­volv­ing no­tion of beauty. “It’s tough to com­pete with for­eign mod­els who are will­ing to be paid lower. I just wish there was a lit­tle more backup from the proper gov­ern­ment of­fices as far as mak­ing their em­ploy­ment le­gal,” she laments—the sit­u­a­tion still ap­par­ent to­day as in her term from 2010 to 2013. “As for looks, fash­ion is an in­dus­try more ac­cept­ing of dif­fer­ent skin and body types.”

“Fash­ion has a hand at chang­ing per­cep­tions and ad­vo­cat­ing pro­gres­sive and com­pas­sion­ate con­cepts of beauty,” Grace Molina shares, harp­ing on Phoemela’s thoughts. As PMAP pres­i­dent from 1998 to 2001, she was wit­ness to the emer­gence of a new beauty agenda head­lined by the likes of Wilma Doesnt, Jo Ann Bitag­col and Lu­cia San­ti­ago. “I'm proud to say that PMAP has wel­comed many mod­els with dif­fer­ing looks, styles and per­son­al­i­ties. We train them, in­still dis­ci­pline and pro­fes­sion­al­ism and en­cour­age each one to make a mark and show that beauty is not in the eye of the be­holder, but is within each one.”

Grace also agrees that proper work doc­u­men­ta­tion is a must for for­eign­ers—and so is an open mind in the face of com­pe­ti­tion. “I pre­fer to think of the sit­u­a­tion as a mo­ti­va­tion for ev­ery model in the Philip­pines—filipino or not—to be­come more pro­fes­sional and ex­cel­lent at work. Glob­al­iza­tion is a re­al­ity that all should ac­cept and em­brace. Filipino mod­els should not ‘in­su­late’ them­selves,” she in­sists.

Per­haps no one felt the birthing pains of glob­al­iza­tion more than Baba Parma, who suc­ceeded Grace in 2001. Her goals of wider reach and more vis­i­bil­ity to de­sign­ers, brands and pro­duc­ers were both chal­lenged by tra­di­tion and tech­nol­ogy. “That time, our mem­bers’ phys­i­cal set cards ei­ther suf­fered from poor qual­ity or did not give jus­tice to their body of work; they did not ad­dress our need for reach. It was also then that we cre­ated the very first PMAP web­site where each mem­ber’s pro­file also worked as a far-reach­ing set card. We have our friends and sup­port­ers from the IT in­dus­try to thank for what was then a big achieve­ment.”


Tech­nol­ogy is one of pro­fes­sional mod­el­ing’s big­gest dis­rup­tors, says Raphael. “In­sta­gram and Face­book are blur­ring the lines—and that’s both a good and bad thing. It’s good be­cause mod­els have a plat­form to share their work and gain a fol­low­ing, and bad be­cause most any­one can be a model on so­cial me­dia. Need­less to say, tech­nol­ogy is some­thing we con­tinue to nav­i­gate.”

An­gel Agustin, head from 2013 to 2015, wel­comed so­cial me­dia with open arms by ini­ti­at­ing the PMAP brand ID and so­cial-me­dia cam­paign #Model­swith­sub­stance. The cam­paign showed its stake­hold­ers and the in­ter­net that PMAP mem­bers are pro­fes­sional mod­els and even more. “That cam­paign holds a lot of mean­ing,” An­gel, also a fi­nance pro­fes­sional, ad­mits. “To show that PMAP mod­els can pur­sue their pas­sions, fin­ish their ed­u­ca­tion or grab other ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties meant a lot to me as pres­i­dent.”

It was also dur­ing An­gel’s term that PMAP adapted to the times and changed their re­cruit­ment process. Raphael shares, “PMAP is be­com­ing younger, with more mod­els re­tir­ing ear­lier in re­cent years and giv­ing way to a new gen­er­a­tion.” Since then, PMAP’S fo­cus has been to de­velop a new breed of mod­els while at the same time con­tin­u­ing to hold their po­si­tion in the in­dus­try as the as­so­ci­a­tion with the most top mod­els.

This new breed, lov­ingly re­ferred to by Raphael as “PMAP Ba­bies,” are be­ing taught to play the mod­el­ing game well—to be great in ev­ery ca­pac­ity, be it on the run­way, shoots and so­cial me­dia.

Raphael shares that the fo­cus of PMAP’S new board is to de­velop th­ese young, as­pir­ing mod­els and mold them into pro­fes­sion­als who can com­pete in the in­ter­na­tional scene. “This may be the long and painful road,” he ad­mits, “but we feel this is the best way to achieve our long-term goals. At the end of the day, we have to be able to of­fer the best so that we can ask for the best. And once our mod­els be­come the best, they will be the ones set­ting the bar anew.”

The re­sults have been fa­vor­able to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, ben­e­fi­cial to the model, and vis­i­ble from where this writer stands: On the same day PMAP’S ’ny­oras were asked to pose for pos­ter­ity, the afore­men­tioned ba­bies—new­bies, rel­a­tively—were given the op­por­tu­nity to star on their own pages. It was his­tory in the mak­ing: a prover­bial pass­ing of the torch, a friendly fash­ion face-off for the ages.

PMAP’S re­cent re­cruits were well-spo­ken and demon­strated both po­ten­tial and pro­fes­sion­al­ism in the pres­ence of their pre­de­ces­sors. Han­nah Loc­sin took time to credit the as­so­ci­a­tion for teach­ing her how to man­age her ca­reer in­de­pen­dently and demon­strate ex­cel­lence—even when no one is watch­ing. Lou Yanong, on the other hand, shares that her PMAP train­ing has taught her to value the time of oth­ers and to “demon­strate re­spect to the peo­ple around me.” “Ev­ery­one—from the di­rec­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers and cre­atives you work with, to the back­stage as­sis­tants and the pro­duc­tion team,” con­tin­ues Lexa Aguirre.

Jea­nine Tsoi shares, “Com­pe­ti­tion can get tough, but I’ve been taught [that putting] lots of love in what I do will make me stand out.” Gab­bie Abe­samis claims that cu­rios­ity and dis­ci­pline will take her places. Alexis Sale agrees and adds, “And to fin­ish my stud­ies, of course.”

Ear­lier that day, when she was the first to come out of makeup, Tweetie de Leon-gon­za­lez shared wis­dom that th­ese PMAP ba­bies would have writ­ten in the tablet of their hearts. “Any de­lay [at a shoot] was never on the ac­count of the PMAP model,” she said, re­call­ing the strict work ethic that the or­ga­ni­za­tion in­grained in her as a new model. “Per­son­ally, be­cause I was part of [PMAP], my stan­dards are quite high—and rightly or wrongly, I ex­pect the same level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism from ev­ery­one else I work with.”

FROM LEFT: ON BABA: Coat, P52,485; pants, P32,485; both JOSEPH, SM Aura. Flats, P1499, PRIMADONNA, SM Mega­mall. ON TWEETIE: Long coat, P76,985, JOSEPH. Pants, P2295, ZARA, Green­belt 5. Flats, P1499, PRIMADONNA. ON PHOEMELA: Blazer, P47,800; pants...

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