Imelda unexpurgated

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The year 1969, 50 years ago, was a good one. Man landed on the moon, Gloria Diaz gave us our first Miss Universe crown, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines was inaugurated. Imelda Marcos was the First Lady and she made sure the Nixons would have a good time during their State Visit to the Philippines. It was an election year, there was so much money and there were no austerity measures yet that the government would declare the year after as a result of high spending during the November elections. If one thinks of 1970, the start of the First Quarter Storm, the year before it was indeed a good one.

Fifty years after, Imelda Marcos remains in the psyche of the Filipino, for better or for worse. We wish her well, of course. But like it or not, hers is a name that one does not easily erase from one’s memory wall, or make that bank. Anytime we play the “connection” game in our lifetime, we will somehow find ourselves or someone else, or something else leading back or getting sidetracked to Imelda Romualdez Marcos. And again, I must say, lest you accuse me of favoritism — for better or for worse. Mention rice and there’s Imelda. Mention green, mention blue. Mention fart (nothing but…she said of the longest funeral) and mention good (the true and the beautiful…). Mention China and she “conquered” it. Mention the Pope and he was dismayed even if he enjoyed the mangoes she always gave or sent him. Mention Cecile Licad, mention Ninoy and the rosary they shared. Mention shoes, mention Ramoning, Christian and 168. How, tell me, does one escape from Imelda? You can rewrite all the textbooks, but you can never erase Imelda from the face of the earth. She is Cleopatra, she is Nefertiti, she is Helen of Troy.

THE many faces of Imelda. The “steel butterfly” still dazzling in her 80s (top photo, AFP Getty photo). Former president Ferdinand Marcos offered her gold bullions, but she preferred diamonds because they were easier to carry (second from top). Looking resplendent in a terno in the company of international high society (third from top). Imelda with US President Lyndon Johnson in the White House in 1966 (bottom).

My recent column on Imelda got me some letters asking for more, while others said they could not decide if I was a fan or a foe. Was I out to destroy the campaign of her daughter Imee for the Senate, or was I merely joining the chorus of defenders after the First Lady’s recent so-called “conviction?” For the record, I’m neither here nor there. I’ve been clear about being fascinated by the beautiful and extravagant one ever since I was a child, but that’s not exactly telling if I am in love with her.

Fifty years after the good year that was 1969, when, after the 1965 elections, she once again took to the hustings less of singing “Dahil sa Iyo” and more of speeches to bring her husband back to Malacañang, I am sharing more “words of wisdom” the fabulous steel butterfly uttered in my interviews with her. Again, I leave it to you to decide if she is worth loving or condemning.

The former beauty queen from the Visayas is known for her love for all things beautiful. It is with her that the phrase, “The true, the good and the beautiful,” is often associated because of her love for extravagant things and magnificent lifestyle. ILLUSTRATION BY GLENZKIE TOLO

On wearing the terno all the time:

The problem is many of us are ashamed of ourselves and our culture. Kinahihiya natin ang sarili. I always want to look beautiful and the terno makes me beautiful. I wanted to be an icon, fashionable and respected so that even big-time couturiers like Balenciaga would appreciate the Filipina and what she is wearing. I made it as an icon, and I was known as fashionable in the international scene.

To me, it was important that I dress up well. Being tall, I was always sticking out like a sore thumb. And since I was very visible, they would ask me, “Where is the Philippines? They thought we were monkeys living in the trees. That’s why I decided to be beautiful.

On raising her and Ferdinand’s children:

They always ask, “How did you discipline your children?” When you discipline your children, you discipline yourself first. Because even if I say, comb your hair, wash your face, but I don’t do it myself, they won’t listen to me. So, it has to begin with the parent. If a parent hits or spanks a child, that child will turn into a criminal. One has to be a good example. I discipline me first. Even if I tell my children to be good, to be true and to be beautiful, if I am not, forget it. A child is the whole of his or her eugenics and euthenics. If I see criminals, I pity them because they did not have good mothers.

You know, many were unjust to us, not nice to us. Some even robbed us. But I don’t think of revenge. I believe in divine justice. No matter that you are a genius and you hatch a plan to exact revenge on someone who has done you so much wrong, still, you cannot compete with the perfection of divine justice.

On Johnny Ponce Enrile:

He is a smart guy. His father did not pass on the law office to him. He gave it to his son-in-law. Kawawa naman (I pity him). Samantalang Marcos made him Secretary of Justice, Customs Commissioner, Minister of NationaL Defense. Pero nagsisi rin si Juan Ponce Enrile. He is taking care of Bongbong and all of that. I would just rather say he is an intelligent man, and he could be of great use for our legal problems now.

On Fidel V. Ramos:

A favorite relative of Marcos. Marcos loved Fidel V. Ramos’s mother. He made Fidel V. Ramos’s father Secretary of Foreign Affairs even before Carlos Romulo became one. He loved Fidel V. Ramos’s sisters. He made one sister a top diplomat. Marcos was very generous to the Ramos family.

On Jaime Cardinal Sin, a known Marcos critic:

The late Cardinal Sin was not happy with us. Number one, he got angry with me because I built a mosque in Quiapo. But it was a matter of justice. I was not the First Lady only of Christians, but also the Muslims. Nauna ang mga Muslims dito before Ferdinand Magellan arrived. Datu Puti and Rajah Sulayman were here already. And I also built the Maharlika Village in Taguig for the Muslims. The number one responsibility of politics and governance is justice. They came here first. That’s why the Spaniards built the Intramuros, but no entra los moros.

And when Marcos was able to bring down the stay of bases from 99 to 25 years and we received a rental of $900 million, known as the Economic Support Fund, what Cardinal Sin wanted was the church would spend the amount. Di naman puwede yun. You would give color to it, and that was a help for the Filipino people.

On Amelita Reysio-Cruz, the society columnist who went to jail during the Martial Law years:

It was she who didn’t like me. And I was wondering why. Each time Hans Menzi scolded her, people thought it was because we instructed Hans. Just like Letty Magsanoc. She wrote badly about me because pinaalis yata ni Hans Menzi because she wrote against Marcos in the magazine of the Bulletin. I did not tell him to fire her. Hans Menzi was only embarrassed. God knows I have not even pinched a single person.

On same-sex marriage:

In all honesty, I believe in a contract of love. There is nothing wrong with it. But if I can be your partner in making money, don’t call it a marriage. Since the Lord commanded us to go forth and multiply, how can these two men multiply? It will only end up as a swordplay. Even in form, it does not coincide. If it is a boy and a boy, that is a duel. It is okay for them to adopt, of course. But we do not have to call it marriage. Let’s call it a love partnership. Let’s call it a love contract. Not marriage. Don’t be more knowledgeable than God.

“That 3,000 pairs of shoes is a joke. Most of them, I did not use. Those were gifts from the shoe industry. But I cannot refuse or not accept,” she reiterated. ILLUSTRATION BY GLENZKIE TOLO

On her 3,000 pairs of shoes:

Kalokohan yung 3,000 (That 3,000 pairs of shoes is a joke). Most of them, I did not use.
Those were gifts from the shoe industry. But I cannot refuse or not accept naman, and neither could I deny they were mine because the givers would write made by this and that for Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines. But because I was a working First Lady, and I did not want to have corn in my feet, kasi someone said I had good feet because it didn’t have kalyo, I was using canvass espadrilles, which cost $3 only.

But, of course, for formal occasions, I wore formal shoes. One reason nagkadoble-doble ang shoes ko was when I was here, my heels were two inches. When I was abroad, four inches. So for a terno, I would have two pairs of shoes. When I was abroad, I wanted to be shoulder to shoulder with the foreigners. Here naman, I didn’t want to be too tall because they might say that Marcos was a mascot.

“Marcos was ahead. He put gold in 180 banks. He believed in gold,” Imelda shared. ILLUSTRATION BY GLENZKIE TOLO

On the Marcos gold:

Marcos was ahead. Tingnan mo ito, an article on the collapse of the dollar. He put gold in 180 banks. He believed in gold. In fact, when I saw so much gold in his house, in the basement, I said, diamond na lang. Ang bigat bigat niyan (That is too heavy). Ganiyan karami, ganiyan kataas (It was this plenty — gestures width and height).

On what makes her sad:

What makes me sad is we are a very, very rich country and why do our people have to suffer? And why me? Who was Imelda? At one point, I was the richest, I was so powerful, and I could talk to world leaders. And then governments and superpowers persecuted me with 900 cases. I am still here. And I am not a genius. All I have is common sense.

I do not only preach about the true, good and beautiful. I am a mother, I give birth to the true, good and beautiful like the Heart Center, the Lung Center, the Kidney Center. Some people say, Imelda is like this, Imelda is like that. Who put up the Cultural Center? Who modernized the Philippine General Hospital? Why do we have LRT from Monumento all the way to Baclaran? And they still want me to go to prison.

Yesterday, someone embraced me. She said, “Ma’am, all these years, I hated you. But last week, I was dying so I went to the Heart Center. In one hour, the doctor fixed me up. I am well now. Thanks to you, you saved my life.”

What are your thoughts?

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