Maria Venus Bayonito Raj (born July 7, 1988) is one of the three reigning 2010 Binibining Pilipinas winners. She was crowned Binibining Pilipinas Universe on March 06, 2010 during the pageant’s Grand Coronation Night at the Araneta Coliseum. She represented the Republic of the Philippines as a candidate for the Miss Universe 2010 beauty pageant and placed fourth runner-up to Ximena Navarrete of Mexico.
Maria Venus Raj was born out of wedlock in Doha, Qatar. Upon separation of her parents, Raj was taken to Bato, Camarines Sur in Bicol Region, Philippines as an infant and was registered by an aunt as Philippine-born to Roman Catholic parents. It was 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.
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. Both Raj and Henry were crowned in May 11, 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Galleria, Manila.
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 in Miss International 2009, was one of Raj’s coaches in her preparation for the Miss Universe pageant.
Raj eventually finished fourth runner-up to Mexico’s Ximena Navarrete in Miss Universe 2010, and became the first Filipina delegate to place in the semifinals after eleven years. Raj was also the only contestant from an Asian country to place in Miss Universe 2010.