“Special mention to Kuya Caloy. I would not be a Miss Philippines nor a Miss Universe if not for you,” said Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray in a video package preceding her farewell speech at the 2019 Binibining Pilipinas Coronation Night. Accompanying Catriona’s words were that of a smiling bald guy whom the queen was hugging: a guy who left the College of Architecture in 2006 and achieved his dream of producing a Miss Universe, Thomasian Carlos Buendia, Jr.

It all began in UST and Rizal

Growing up in Angono and Cainta, Caloy developed an early affinity and love for the arts, which he said translated to his stay in UST. “[Apart from Architecture], I wanted more; hindi pa ko kuntento. Kaya nag-Teatro Tomasino ako and eventually became Artistic Director / President, and I was also one of the former Presidents of the Architecture Dance Troupe.”

During a tour of the campus on June 14, “Caloy” remembered where the Teatro Tomasino prepared and rehearsed, in the absence of the Tan Yan Kee Student Center, which was built the year after he left UST. Caloy pointed out the back of the Botanical Garden, the gap between the Albertus Magnus (Education) and Roque Ruaño (Engineering) buildings, as well as the areas surrounding the Grandstand and Open Field: “Kita mo talaga ‘yung sipag at tiyaga ng mga taga-Teatro nun. ‘Yung ma-stranded sa campus even became opportunities for the family to become closer,” said Caloy, who until now gives back to the family he loves by training and helping produce and “direct” Teatro Tomasino’s recent plays. Of special importance, too, are the surrounding areas of the Grandstand and the Open Field due to the fact that these were the training grounds of the Architecture Dance Troupe.

This passion for the performing arts, particularly dance, helped nurture Caloy’s would-be career in the world of pageantry, where he will meet a would-be queen of the Philippines and the Universe, Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray.

Partnering to conquer the universe

The introduction to “Cat” was brought about by a common friend. In those encounters, Caloy would think to himself that the young Filipina-Australian would make for a beauty queen. The first attempt came in 2016, when Catriona joined Miss World, but as fate would have it, Gray would not win the crown.

The Binibining Pilipinas 2018 pageant painted a different scene, though, as Catriona emerged as the Philippine representative to the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok.

But what kind of Miss Universe contestant will Catriona be? Definitely not the one who is just there for the pageantry, but someone who stood for something, someone who stood for 104 million Filipinos, someone who stood for their heritage.

Of Spoliarium, Manobo beads, and the sun’s rays

The tandem of Caloy and Cat were united by a love for performing, but more so by a love for the Philippines. “I brought her to the National Museum, and she just stared at the Spoliarium,” Caloy recalls.

That same trip to the old Legislative Building made Catriona encounter the Manobo beads, which found their way to Cat’s attires, which always carried with it something uniquely Filipino. “She was very hands-on in the entire process [of preparation for the pageant]. Sasabihin niya talagang kailangan may Filipino touch.”

This requirement saw itself most prominently in the ear cuff that Catriona wore alongside her lava gown. The gold ear cup bore the rays of the Sun on the Philippine flag and, per Catriona’s explicit instructions, also had a pearl on it.

The Albayanon pays homage to the volcano

The Internet was abuzz with the would-be Miss Universe, but one particular topic was the iconic Lava Walk, with the clip posted and reposted multiple times. Catriona credits her Kuya Caloy for this unforgettable part of her walk, and Caloy can only think of one inspiration: the Mayon Volcano.

“It was in an episode of National Geographic where I saw the lava flow. Looking at the movement, sasabog, may initial flow, then hihinto at iikot for a time, tapos dadaloy ulit,” recalls Caloy, expressing how he was mesmerized at this phenomenon. “So I thought we should do something unique for her walk, and she’s from Oas, Albay, and the province is home to Mayon Volcano.”

After hours and months of practice, the Lava Walk was perfected by Catriona and on pageant day, the Albayanon brought to the world stage a walk and turn that paid homage not only to nature itself, but to her own province’s heritage.

The new Miss Universe is PHILIPPINES!

Blackout. The IMPACT Arena was raucous with applause and cheers, but to Caloy, who fell on his knees, things just went dark and silent. It had happened.

“I remember nung nasa Archi. pa ko, sinabi ko sa isang classmate ko na gusto kong makapag-produce ng isang Binibining Pilipinas o Miss Universe, at tinawanan niya lang ako. Pero nangyari,” Caloy remembers, failing to mask the sense of awe and wonder that half a year later, he still feels looking back at Steve Harvey’s rousing announcement.

Catriona Gray and Caloy, before Miss Universe pageant in Thailand

It took several minutes for Caloy to regain his senses, and what he remembered next was how Team Catriona was jostling at the arena lobby, belting out cheers of seemingly endless euphoria. They had done it. “I have no treasure to offer; I can only offer my time and talent. Catriona’s victory was a team effort, and people who supported her pitched in to make this happen,” recalls Caloy, underscoring how Catriona’s success for the country was no one person’s feat alone.

Architecture: the melting pot of science and art

Buendia never let go of his love for architecture despite his passion for the performing arts, which brought him to the glitz and glamour of pageantry. To date, he remains to practice his craft in a space solutions firm that services clients in the Asia-Pacific.

Caloy only has praises for his field of expertise, thanking in particular his mentors in the College of Architecture, namely former Deans Chona Ponce and Luis Ferrer, as well as his former adviser and mentor Arch’t. Jonathan V. Manalad, who nurtured in him his innate love for the beauty of structures and spaces. Of particular importance to him, too, is his idol, the late Thomasian National Artist Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa.

Meanwhile, cultural heritage titans Eric Zerrudo and Regalado Trota Jose, both of the UST Graduate School, helped inculcate the love for architecture and heritage that Caloy now has.

Buendia (left) with Zerrudo (2nd from left), Center for Continuing Professional Education Development Director Jocelyn Agcaoili, and Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics staff Beverly Bautista

This exacting and grueling blend of science and art, which many may say is so demanding of time and effort that one cannot do much else outside of it, never stopped him from pursuing his other love. On the contrary, his exposure to architectural traditions led him to a deeper appreciation of his passion for the other forms of artistic expression, like dance.

Twelve years into his career, Caloy showed that livelihood and passion and come together, and he has this message for those confused on whether the two can mix: “I’m happy to get the chance to do both. I love architecture. I love our heritage. Part of that is our performances and dances. To those who are conflicted with their livelihood and their passion, you can do both, and you will be lucky if your livelihood is also related to your passion.”