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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

entry arrow11:23 PM | The Woeful Mrs. Marcos

By Patricia Evangelista

Over a month ago, Imelda Marcos -- longest running first lady of the Republic of the Philippines, the butterfly-sleeved half of the conjugal dictatorship, the woman whose signature had once led Sotheby’s to cancel a two-day auction after she bought the whole collection with a $6 million check (and then attempted to buy the apartment where it was kept) -- announced to the national press that she was penniless.

“I have nothing, I have no money,” she said while wiping tears at the anti-graft court as she begged for her jewels back. She castigated the government for continuing to prosecute the graft cases against her, a full 23 years after she and her husband were driven out of power.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. What is my crime? Why is it that until now I’m still being prosecuted? Is this really how the justice system works in this country?” she asked. “I did so many projects for this country -- the Heart Center, Lung Center, Kidney Center -- and I am being punished for it.”

The former first lady is not exaggerating when she speaks of the many projects attributed to her 20-year reign. In 1975, she built 14 luxury hotels for the International Monetary Fund Conference with $500 million in government loans, at a time when only $13 million was spent on public housing. The state-of-the-art Heart Center for Asia, of which she is proud of to this day, had a total of 100 beds and cost millions even when tuberculosis and malnutrition were the leading causes of death in Metro Manila. She defended her projects by claiming they were a source of national pride, “to show the world that see, we have a pretty face."

“I just want to help this country,” she said in her recent press conference. “That’s my only goal: to help the poor. Just give me a chance -- to love. But why are they doing this to me? I’m the one who’s guilty because I loved?”

In 1985, Imelda decided that the way to remove the hundreds of squatters obscuring her beautiful Manila landscape was to create incentives for them in the countryside. On a Cavite hilltop, she had installed hundreds of toilets, on the mistaken assumption that indoor plumbing was reason enough to stay on a deserted hunk of land without jobs or homes.

On her 80th birthday, Sofitel Hotel sponsored a grand celebration for the destitute, diamond-ringed former first lady. She did not, as she did in 1979, have a planeload of sand imported from Australia (for the opening of a beach resort) or have 3,000 laborers rebuild an entire seaside village at government expense (for her daughter Irene’s wedding). She did, however, have presidential hopefuls Bayani Fernando and Dick Gordon on, along with half-a-dozen former Supreme Court justices and two dozen constituent assembly voting congressmen, all happily clapping to Madame, who “glided down a red carpet, surrounded by little girls in white dresses carrying bouquets of roses and trailed by tuxedo-wearing violin and flute players who rendered her favorite love song.”

Just recently, former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez suggested the immediate return of the Marcos jewels to Mrs. Marcos. In 1978, a Cartier representative in Hong Kong said Imelda Marcos had the world’s largest collection of gems. It is true that no court has pronounced the Imelda jewelry ill-gotten. It is also true that in most cases, the Aquino government -- and subsequent administrations -- failed to put in force proceedings.

Most cases for the return of the Marcos wealth to the national government, including the Imelda jewels, have been dismissed. Former Senator and former Marcos Minister of Information Francisco S. Tatad claims that Imelda’s ownership of the jewels stands uncontested -- which may be the case, not because she owns them, but because we failed to acquire them when we could. Yet the possession of her jewels does not make her a “miracle of purity” as the brass plaque says under one of her many, many commissioned portraits. It makes her an 80-year-old woman who got away with some of the most reprehensible acts in world history, a woman responsible for a lost generation and whose continued vulgar display of wealth and power is a constant reminder of the weight of debt we continue to carry to this day.

When the Marcoses arrived in Hawaii in 1986, they had with them 32 boxes, crates, attaché cases, and leather Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags. According to US Customs records, there was a $58,286 tiara of pearls and diamonds; a $44,410 diamond-studded hair comb; a matched set of bracelet, earrings and brooch in sapphires, rubies and diamonds priced at $1,487,415; and an emerald and diamond pendant worth $74,825. One red russet suitcase alone held 93 pieces of jewelry, while other bags contained handguns, watches, and millions in freshly minted cash.

“You have to show them how to be a star,” she said once, when asked why she did not choose to be less extravagant for the sake of the public. “You have to show them how to be good, how to make beautiful things. You are some kind of model. This is very important, especially in a developing country. Everybody is in the gutter. Everyone’s poor. Don’t tell me we should go there and all look poor. It’s ridiculous.”

In an 80th birthday tribute, Tatad waxes eloquent over the Madame and says the media is harsh on Ms. Marcos. He claims the courts are afraid of negative media opinion, that they are limited by the idea that it is not “politically correct” to approve of the woman who calls herself “my little people’s star and slave.”

For many years, all over the world, the fall of the Marcos dictatorship was a morality play: the vicious king and the vainglorious queen, the diamond-studded stiletto heel resting on a pile of rotting bodies, the reign of terror cut short by a people rising to revolution. And yet in this pearl of the Pacific, the deserving are rarely held accountable once the curtain goes down. Murderers are awarded offices in Congress, the blessing of convicted thieves determine the future of a would-be president, and woman who had a newspaper’s distribution halted after it named her sixth most admired in the nation (Jesus Christ was No. 9) gets to announce to the national media decades later that she feels “vindicated,” and that all she wants is “to devote myself to helping the Filipino people.”

The media is not harsh. It is not harsh enough, if young children reach out to touch the skirts of the statuesque woman with a diadem of glittering stars in her hair, if Bayani Fernando can announce with pride that his goal is to create Imelda Marcos’ City of Man, if senators dance at her birthday and friends publish odes to her beauty and bravery on the front pages of national dailies.

Originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer as "The Woes of Ms Marcos." Reference: Imelda: Steel Butterfly of the Philippines by Katherine Ellison

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