If you haven’t heard of Imelda Marcos’ legendary 3,000 pairs of shoes, it’s either you’re too young or live under a rock. Imelda Marcos was the Evita Peron of the Philippines, only greedier and more corrupt. Her conjugal dictatorship with the late president, Ferdinand Marcos, is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the “Greatest Robbery of a Government.”
She is the subject of the latest Showtime documentary, “The Kingmaker” from Lauren Greenfield of Generation Wealth and The Queen of Versailles fame. Besides materialism and greed, the film focused on the Marcos family‘s efforts to clean up their image and return to political power. And to some extent, she has been successful.
Mrs. Marcos ran for Congress after she came back from a six-year exile in the US and won. Her son, Ferdinand Jr. (nicknamed “Bongbong”), who she had been grooming to enter politics since the age of 8, almost won the vice presidency of the country in 2016.
But what irks the hell out of me is the Marcos family continues to garner the support of many people in the country despite the overwhelming evidence of plunder, corruption, and abuse of power during their kleptocratic regime.
An estimated $10 billion have been stolen from government coffers, directly and indirectly, through kickbacks, skimming off foreign aids, creating monopolies, among others. Only a small fraction has been recovered. And yet Imelda laments, “I have money in 170 banks and deposits of assets, which I cannot even access.” The sheer number of the accounts alone strongly points the couple laundered dirty money.
Imelda’s shopping sprees will baffle even the most prolific Kardashian spender. On her 1983 trip to Rome, Copenhagen, and New York, Imelda reportedly spent $7 million in 90 days. Her art collection included 175 of the world’s great paintings, including works by Michaelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Canaletto, and Monet. For $10 million, she even renovated an obscure town for her daughter’s wedding.
The film even highlights the couple’s crazy purchase of exotic animals from Africa to create a private island zoo, evicting 254 families in the process. But the excess didn’t stop there; no less than four prime Manhattan buildings, worth $400 million, were linked to the Marcoses.
A British journalist once asked Imelda how she got rich. She replied, “We practically own everything in the Philippines, from electricity, telecommunications, airlines, banking, beer and tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, shipping, oil and mining, hotels and beach resorts, down to coconut milling, small farms, real estate, and insurance.”
Imelda’s own words in the film revealed her husband’s real intention was not to serve the people: “I knew he wanted to be president to maximize his wealth and talent.” Even Bongbong’s son disclosed the elder Ferdinand didn’t want his father to enter any other field but the political arena, to quote, “There’s no money in that, so switch to politics.”
It’s no wonder many Filipinos starved during their 20-year rule. When you plunder the country’s wealth, you are depriving its citizens of the essential human services and jobs they need to survive.
Yet, early in the film, Imelda Marcos has the nerve to say, “Before, during my time, there were no beggars,” which is a big lie. Sure, Imelda had humanitarian housing and food projects, but they were mostly for propaganda and hardly compensated for the hardships they caused the country. Even the notorious Al Capone established soup kitchens.
During the Marcos era, beggars were everywhere in the streets of Manila. There’s this one time when I accidentally dropped my school lunch from a running jeepney. A second later, a hungry street beggar picked up the soiled food from the ground and ate it!
And then there were human rights violations during her husband’s 20-year presidency. London-based human rights organization Amnesty International said that “some 70,000 people were imprisoned and 34,000 were tortured; over 3,200 people were killed” from 1972 to 1981, during the years that Martial Law was imposed.
That’s personal to me because I have blood relatives from both anti and pro-Marcos camps.
From my father’s side was my “Ninong” (godfather), the late-journalist Max Soliven, the founder of the Philippine Star, was one of those who Marcos ordered imprisoned. While no less than Ferdinand Marcos’ right-hand-man, Fabian Ver, his highest-ranking and most trusted general, was a relative of mine from my grandmother’s side.
My late mom hailed from the same town as Ferdinand Marcos. Her dad, who was the town’s postmaster in the ’50s, had nothing good to say about the then-Congressman Ferdinand Marcos. He told stories about how he refused to budge to repeated requests by Marcos to falsify documents.
I missed my chance to meet Imelda Marcos in person in 1991 during my first trip to America. My father, who was an Intellectual Property lawyer, brought me to San Francisco to attend a conference as a companion.
After the big event, we flew to New York to meet his old friend, Antonio Coronel, who was Imelda Marcos’ lawyer. It was through my father’s relationship with Gen. Ver that the Marcoses got to know the prominent criminal lawyer.
We were invited to Imelda’s plush 80th Avenue apartment, but I opted to be left behind. Instead, I wanted to meet a good high school friend who ended up touring me around Manhattan’s red-light district. That was before Mayor Rudy Giuliani revitalized Times Square.
Being in my teens and with raging hormones, I couldn’t care less about meeting the dictator’s 62-year-old widow. I have no regrets whatsoever. At least the women that we ended up seeing were making an honest living.