Supporters of former Philippine first lady and now representative, Imelda Marcos, take pictures of her after attending the inauguration of a new church in Las Piñas City on August 18, 2014. Marcos is still adored by loyalists, followers of the Marcos family when they were in power. Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters
(3rd of a series)
"See, the Imelda Collection. It says, 'Guaranteed to tarnish and disintegrate.' That's Imeldific genius. Unleash the beauty in you." – Imelda Marcos, 2008
When former First Lady Imelda Marcos goes into the classic croon about the true, the good and the beautiful, one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. More so, when Mrs. Marcos talks of justice.
It is the unique irony of the Philippines to have all sides of the political divide spouting the same catchwords with varying, even conflicting definitions.
The last part of my three-hour interview (as Philippines Graphic editor in chief) with Mrs. Marcos delves into her take on why Marcos declared martial law, her role in giving Filipinos "justice," and why spectacle took a paramount role in their two-decade rule.
IEV: How did you treat the President in private? When you wanted something, when you disagreed, how did you deal with him?
Imelda: I was always candid. Early on in our marriage, we argued, most about petty things. I would win all the time. But at the same time I was so sensitive that I would cry. And every time I would cry and nagtatampo [sulk], Marcos would say, 'Imelda don't be emotional, because if you are emotional, you will make mistakes. Don't make a decision when you are too happy or too sad.'
It went on and on. And on the third year, after another discussion, I won again. For the nth time, I was always winning.
And Marcos said, 'Why is it that I am the lawyer and the bar topnotcher, and every time I have a discussion with you, you always win. And not because I make you win. Why?'
I said, 'You know, you men, you conceptualize, rationalize a problem and then do it. But you must respect women when they cry because they do not only conceptualize, rationalize; we experience it, and feel it because it goes through the whole totality of our humanity.'
I said, 'We cannot explain many things because we cry; because it is a whole, a decision coming out of my human totality.'
From then on, he would always pull me aside. 'Imelda what's your sixth sense and gut feel? Tell me on this issue.'
I'd give him my two cents' worth. Later on I complained, 'Ferdinand, why do you ask only for my gut feel and sixth sense?'
He said, 'Imelda, you women give birth; you can do anything. If I ask pa what do you think, eh wala na talaga akong laban. I cannot even be a man. I will lose. The only thing I have is ego.'
IEV: When did the UP Vanguards approach you on their giving honor to your late husband?
Imelda: (Laughs). After 22 years, they started to realize that he was not only a Vanguard, a protector, but he also preserved our historical past.
Ang hero niya noon si Bonifacio. And he insisted — even though there were other priorities — that I rebuild Intramuros and our other cultural heritage. He was a Vanguard to make our country survive at the height of the cold war. And a Vanguard for our future.
His mission, our mission, was to regain Paradise.
IEV: How did he plan to do that?
Imelda: He Filipinized (nationalized) corporations controlled by foreigners. And now I laugh when I see countries, even a superpower, selling a sovereign fund. That's just money.
But Marcos thought of sovereign wealth to preserve and conserve, to back up our currency and back up our development program unto infinity.
My dream on the other side is, if we recycle all the garbage that man has produced, we will make a beautiful world together, regain Paradise unto infinity.
EDSA was a message. When the world robbed me of all my beautiful jewelry and my beautiful paintings...
IEV: How many jewels? How many paintings?
Imelda: Oh I cannot count. Anyway, these were taken and they threw all the junk at me. Now I am making this junk into jewelry. I am following my dream when I was governor of Metro Manila and I had Pera sa Basura where garbage was recycled.
See, the Imelda Collection. It says, 'Guaranteed to tarnish and disintegrate.' That’s Imeldific genius: unleash the beauty in you.
IEV: Do you think this nation will still be great?
Imelda: Oh, I don't know. With all the mess they created after Marcos, everybody will be forced to good to see the reality. That is, that we are a rich country and we have a great human race of creative, caring people who are highly literate. Then they will realize... (calls for a book)... I already have it here. Even when I was governor of Metro Manila, I had an Atlas of every town and city.
They will know how rich we are! We have 92 industrial minerals. We have the five strategic minerals for outer space. We're sitting... we're at the center of the world!
Let not the wealth... from the west to the east, lumabas sa atin ang grasya gagawin pang disgrasya. Lahat ng kayaman dito dadaan sa atin.
IEV: And what will it take to harness that?
Imelda: First I said, 'We have to unite in the true, the good the beautiful.'
That is why... Marcos anchored this country on natural law; I, on culture. What's culture? The true, the good, the beautiful, the godly in us that we have upheld through the centuries. Fiesta!
IEV: What about fiestas?
Imelda: The fiesta will conquer the world! The latest, see, the Philharmonic of New York in North Korea. They played the national anthem of America there. That's it! That's the way to conquer.
Give respect. Show off how beautiful you are! That's what Marcos did. He thought I was beautiful. Well, he was biased but anyway... kaya ako ang pampain ng buwaya [I was bait for the crocodiles] at the height of the Cold War.
Just common sense again. When you are offering to God, you don't offer a sick carabao or animal. You try to give the best of what you have.
IEV: How did you feel watching former President Estrada fall and then seeing Mrs. Arroyo's problems?
Imelda: Well, I am saying that I'm so happy that I was married not only to a brilliant scholar but also an enlightened man. And also at the same time I thank the world that I was very sensitive. That I could see... you know before the cyber age I already had the University of Life. It was not for aptitude. This was 35 years ago.
Now by just pressing one button you can get all the information you want.
This great info and natural resource, if you have it in your hands, how do you use it? You must have the right values. Otherwise you will have destruction. What is atomic energy for? To send a nuclear bomb to another country? This is ridiculous. There is a limit to power and money; you take these with you only up to your grave.
IEV: You claim to have gold deposits and stock certificates. When do you get to enjoy these? Just how did you get so rich?
Imelda: When Marcos topped the bar in 1939 and he won the case in self-defense, major corporations like Meralco and others were all asking him to be their lawyer.
He did not accept these. He accepted the offer from the big mining companies — Benguet, Atlas, Lepanto. And even before the war, we were the biggest gold producer in the world. To confirm his commitment to gold...
By the way, there was no such thing as the Yamashita treasure — and it is in the Emperor's diary and we asked it of the Emperor who became our friend in one state visit... it is a concoction of foreigners who wanted to steal the Marcos gold.
Anyway, Marcos went into mining. And he so believed in gold. In fact, when I got married and saw so much gold in his house in Ilocos...
IEV: You mean an actual stash of gold?
Imelda: Yes, but I did not know it was gold because it was covered with lead.
So I said, 'Ferdinand naman, instead of gold I want a big diamond ring.'
He said, 'Imelda, diamond no good. You put in fire, it's carbon. But gold is like virtue; the more you put it in the fire, the more beautiful it becomes.'
IEV: He couldn't have amassed all that from his lawyer's salary?
Imelda: Oh, but he traded in gold. In 1945, one year after Liberation, Marcos was sent by (former President Elpidio) Quirino to the US to negotiate for war benefits for our veterans. To ask for benefits.
This was one year after the war. We had more than 2 million dead; Manila was leveled to the ground. But we did not have a Marshall plan or MacArthur plan.
What did Truman say? He said, 'We'll give you benefits provided we postpone independence by 15 years.' The Tidings-McDuffy Law had already assigned July 4, 1946 as our independence day.
Marcos said, 'Sir, since 1521 we have been fighting for our sovereignty and independence.'
He took off his shirt. He said, 'Sir, look at my wounds. I was ready to die for my country's independence. Now you tell me 15 years and in my lifetime I may not see independence?'
Sabi ni Truman, no postponement, no money.
Marcos was the youngest in that group. But he said, 'Forget the money, we want our independence.' So he went away.
True enough, the next year they got their independence but no money. He felt so guilty.
IEV: Why did he regret that decision?
Imelda: No, but he felt so guilty that he started trading in gold. When he had 4,500 tons or more in 1948, when the gold was $32 per ounce in 1949, he ran for office for the first time.
And for that matter, he bought that house in San Juan in 1946 and a block away was Waterous clinic and that was where many of the heads and owners of the different mines were working.
And during World War II he was a guerilla, in Maharlika, in Tiangan, Mt. Province, not just to defend country but also to defend our resources. He was a Vanguard because he placed our natural resources in the hands of Filipinos and not foreigners.
IEV: It's still the oligarchy.
Imelda: It's worse because we... Marcos used the system of Japan, which was then a country of feudal lords.
So the only way to... was to place oligarchs in industry because he needed to put the country under land reform.
When Marcos became President and I, First Lady, Manila was owned by only ten families. Malate, Makati... 65% belonged to Manila's 400.
Here I was, the wife of the most powerful man in the country. When 35,000 Filipinos were begging for land I had nothing to give. What did I do? I reclaimed land from the sea.
The Dagat-Dagatan shoreline housing project in Navotas, Malabon up to Caloocan. Then the Cultural Center... I couldn't show a monument to the world of how great, how beautiful, how wonderful the Filipino people were... I had to reclaim land from the sea.
There was no land and the first role of any leader is justice. Land is not a human right; it is a divine right. Why do we have no land?
So we needed land reform. That's why in Tondo, I get really mobbed. Because they are grateful. There was nothing...
IEV: But the oligarchy is still around, including the ones you backed.
Imelda: Look, please tell us the truth because truth is God. If we talk about truth of how many kilos of garbage in the septic tank, that's truth.
But that is tsismis because it's not God. That's waste and we're wallowing in the septic tank and I hate it because we can do so much.
You can build one square mile of a building in ten days — that's what you can do.
Money, power comes back. But time never comes back. The negative truth... let's do something about it instead of talking. That's why some ministers of the Church are losing ground. They talk but don't do it. I say, 'Put up or shut up.'