As Imelda Marcos turns 86, take a look at some of her infamous quotes.
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First of a 3-part series
“But there is no extravagance of beauty and love." – Imelda Marcos at 80, quoted in the AP coverage of her bash.
I wasn’t invited to that party. But in early March, 2008 I got a one-on-one with Mrs. Marcos in a condominium unit crammed with photos, clippings and paintings of a past she believes was the Philippines’ golden age. It was a sudden summons after weeks of chasing her for an interview. I was all packed for a Taal weekend when the call came; she would see me in 30 minutes. I abandoned shorts for denim pants and then grabbed a camera -- our photog wouldn’t answer his phone. The result was a two-part series on “Imelda’s Truth”; photos by one very harried writer-editor.
Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of her. As executive vice president and chief writer of the late Bubby Dacer, I had offered my resignation sometime in the late 1990s to allow him the freedom to handle Mrs. Marcos. My letter said there were lines I would not cross; that I had spent my early adult years fighting the dictatorship and had yet to see anything to change my mind. Bubby didn’t pursue the deal and I stayed on.
There is no denying the Imeldific charm. It reels one in, however fierce the psyche’s resistance. So maybe I didn’t push her enough. I don’t know… but here’s the two part series, where we wisely (I still think) let her ramble on rather than filter her thoughts.
“Even Mao said, 'I love Imelda because she is so natural. And natural is perfection.'
Only Imelda Marcos of the fabled gems and gowns and shoes don huge garish costume jewelry and have thousands of women stampeding to buy these.
Forget irony. That is lost on the former First Lady. This is the woman, after all, who's upended every theory there is on crime and punishment.
At one point facing some 900 cases for graft -- for money salting and everything and anything connected with the financial rewards of two decades of strongman rule -- Mrs. Marcos has won acquittal after acquittal and, in several instances, forced the Philippine state into accepting compromise deals worth a fraction of what was being sought. She figures there are just ten more major cases left hanging with the Sandiganbayan.
And don’t even dream of waking one day and seeing a repentant Imelda on television. She doesn’t believe there is anything to apologize for.
She and her beloved Ferdinand are the victims. EDSA I marked the death of Philippine democracy. Martial law brought back human rights. The late President Marcos not only was a true democrat; in dispatching his wife to charm Mao Tse Tung, he also single-handedly ended the Cold War.
For the latter, she says, the Marcos clan paid a high price. A jealous superpower kidnapped them at the height of the 1986 EDSA People Power revolt and dumped them in Hawaii, leaving them high and dry and, yes, penniless.
But natural law — a favorite mantra of Mr. Marcos — says life is a circle. With cosmic rays blessing the mythic couple, enemies were bound to get their comeuppance, says the Gospel of Imelda.
Mrs. Marcos won a big case on her birthday. And over lunch, she points out that the World Trade Center twin towers were bombed on Mr. Marcos’ birthday. There is no coincidence in life, says his widow.
There is plenty of the surreal in Philippines where, Imelda says, openings in the sky drizzle down rays that make for great rock and roll.
All the country’s a stage. Imelda’s advice for people waging revolutions, peaceful or otherwise: Forget it, folks. Do not even try to jolt Filipinos out of their perpetual fiesta mode. The only thing that will get them going is a love-fest. Though when they do get going, like during EDSA I, it’s because they don’t understand.
So, Joseph Estrada croons and unleashes one-liners as he walks away from conviction for plunder. And Imelda; well, Imelda was, is, and forever will be Imeldific.
Why fight it? she says with a sniff,. After all, ordinary folk from Tondo to Ilocos grow faint with ecstasy whenever she opens her arms and tells them to come home to mama.
Mama promises to share the joy represented by rooms full of gold and stock certificates, if and when those evil people tire of chasing after her beloved Ferdinand’s hard-earned wealth.
And by the way, one of those ill-gotten wealth hunters recently sent an emissary to Imelda, asking for P10 million to give up the chase so he could spend the rest of life doing bad imitations of Elvis Presley.
Imelda’s reply: “Maybe my stature can coax people into coughing out P10 million but since I don’t know if I could pay back this loan, I’d be lying, a virtual thief. And Imelda doesn’t lie — or steal.”
Imelda’s flat is a kleptomaniac's paradise. Every inch of wall and mantel space are crowded with sentimental objects d’art — the kitsch and the classic in a madcap tumble. There is so much for the eyes to follow that they fail to register that the cream walls and ceilings are beginning to turn gray.
Everywhere there is gilt. It’s apt for the widow of a man who ostensibly made his fortune in gold trading, to paint even lahar-made picture frames with gold leaf.
The public image of Mrs. Marcos is that of an imperious dowager; studied in her manners though capable of breaking out now and then into vastly entertaining theatrics.
Up close and personal and in the comfort of her sprawling Makati flat — Mrs. Marcos shows more of the abondanza that her public forays only hint at.
Who cares about brawn and intellect? The war, according to the gospel of Imelda, is won by willpower.
And chutzpah, we might add. There is nothing more surreal than seeing Imelda walk into the lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and have scores of other bejeweled woman — including some who screamed and cried on EDSA — fawning over her.
At home, there is little of the poised but insecure beauty queen and much of the woman who learned early on to make capital of her beautiful bones, doe eyes and creamy skin.
Mrs. Marcos says she is both yin and yang; there is plenty of masculinity here.
She is in a navy blue pants suit with turquoise and aqua sleeves. Huge turquoise earrings are clipped on the ears, hands now running to pudgy sport a matching ring. On her chest is a mammoth brooch with twin figures holding up spheres, very Malakas and Maganda.
Imelda sits with legs akimbo, sometimes drumming both feet and even crossing the legs in the masculine de quatro.
Her talk is earthy; her lectures and analogies are full of phallic symbols.
She is at turns arch and indignant -- all wounded pride and smug confidence. At times, she is much like one of the boys.
And when she turns on that charm, oh boy.
With the assurance of great beauty, this 79-year-old survivor relishes re-enacting the coy approaches, the damsel-in-distress poses that disarmed strongmen from Asia to the Middle East.
She stands and leans over; a hand reaches out to caress as she recalls her blithe handling of a love-sick, macho spouse who ruefully warned of emasculation as he begged for her to lose some of their arguments.
You may have fought against the Marcos dictatorship, maybe sacrificed loved ones in that fight; there is simply no escaping the Imeldific charm.
She confesses to being greedy, and needy and extravagant. Hell, you can call her vulgar and she’ll just give that sideways smile — vulgaris, she reminds you, means one’s cup overfloweth with beauty.
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. Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters
IEV: How does it feel to be once more vindicated?
Imelda: Well, of course I am very happy. Even when it took so long for truth to prevail, I was always at peace all throughout the years despite all these persecution and vilification, all these trials and suffering. Even in the United States I was a believer of truth and God. I fought for it and even though I was going through so much pain, I was at peace with the truth.
IEV: How did it feel in exile, reviled in your own country? How did you cope? What did you do during all those days?
Imelda: You know in the end, when all those you loved and all of your friends and those you helped, including those whose lives you saved, and even the country and the people you have served and loved; when your own country practically threw you out and then allies and governments did these to us, the Marcoses, with all of this suffering it was also a great blessing because we found only one friend, up there, God. If you are at peace with the truth and God, nobody can touch you. That was my source of strength.
IEV: Did your fall from grace come as a surprise? Or did you see it coming?
Imelda: (Sighs) Even Marcos, when I told him when we got to Hawaii, ‘Ferdinand, you’re a brilliant man, bar topnotcher and all, how come you did not foresee what would happen to us?’ He said, ‘Imelda, man can only foresee so far; beyond that is divine will and destiny.’
He said, ‘Never argue with destiny; just be on top of it.’ I said, ‘But, Ferdinand, we are facing the mighty sword of justice of the most powerful nation on earth, and we are penniless, countryless, powerless! What are we going to do with our lives?’ And he said, ‘Fear not, Imelda, all our lives we have always sided with the right; when you are on the side of the right, you are on the side of God.’
IEV: Hard to see you as penniless. Were you really penniless during those years? How did you . . .
Imelda: (Cutting in, indignant) Of course, we were penniless! How could we not be penniless? We were kidnapped and brought out of the country. And even the (pause) … even the money that was supposed to be brought to Ilocos, that was withheld and taken by Customs in the United States.
IEV: How much money?
Imelda: Just for us to live. They took everything, especially our papers and these were more valuable than the money. So, during that time (in Hawaii) when I was telling Marcos, ‘But, Ferdinand, we are facing so many cases against us, even in America.’
He said, ‘Exaggeration is a form of falsification.’ I said, ‘But in one case alone, they have 350,000 documents and 100 witnesses, what chance do we have?’
He said, ‘Imelda, truth is like diamond; the more you chop it, the more brilliant it becomes.’
And even when he was dying and he was seeing me and I was suffering so much already and terrorized, he reached for my hand and would say, ‘Fear not, Imelda. We are on the side of God.’
IEV: It’s interesting that you were afraid and he wasn’t. You questioned him about not predicting what would happen. Did you see it coming?
Imelda: You know that’s the great thing about Marcos. An ordinary person like me would not understand sometimes what he said. But the longer he is dead, the more I understand him. I did not realize it after 35 years of being with this man. I did not know how deep, how profound, how selfless, how godly, how enlightened he was. Now only I’m starting.
IEV: How did you get along if you didn’t understand him?
Imelda: Well, before. Well, it was nice. It was good. He was loving. He was romantic. I loved the man for that. But I did not see then the deeper meaning of this. Because he overwhelmed me — so much of generosity, of beauty, of love, of everything! The 35 years that we were married, it was heavenly.
IEV: What was your private life like? He was stern in public. You’re giving a picture of a man who spoiled you.
Imelda: He was so giving to me; that was why half an hour after we met, he proposed marriage. And on the fifth day, I was already set to marry him. I decided to marry him and after 11 days we were wed.
IEV: Why so fast and why him?
Imelda: He was just a congressman; there were other congressmen and even higher than that and several dozen guys who were running after me. But I never saw a man, never met a man who was so in love with me than this man. He could not sleep, he could not eat... he was just completely gaga!
But really the thing that made me decide to marry him, believe it or not... I was this young girl and I remember we were in this roadside café in Baguio and the specialty there was chicken in a basket. You know, chicken perched on a bed of French fries. He was talking and kept talking about how much he loved me, saying how much he loved me. Me naman, I ate and ate; I finished all my pasta and the chicken and also the basket (of fries).
I said, ‘Ferdinand, why are you not eating your chicken?’
He said, ‘Oh, my heart is so full! I am so in love with you!’
So he gave (me) his chicken and I ate two chickens and two baskets of French fries. When we got home and he was still professing his love, I thought I would marry this man. No man has shown so much love for me. He never saw my weaknesses, my disabilities. This man always only saw the brighter side of me. He just loved me too much.
IEV: Speaking of defects, as the presidency went on, people found you the perfect target. People then and now see you as the bad influence. People say Marcos was good but his wife... How do you feel about that?
Imelda: This is natural. From day one, it was always the Eve. We start from the western Eve and the rib and the concept that we are just extension of men. This is nature already. This is the old human perception of women and the fall. The first creation was Adam, then from his rib came Eve. There was even a debate about whether we (women) have a soul because we are just extensions. But worse, Eve is the root word of evil. And man was the weak thing that succumbed to the evilness of Eve.
IEV: Well, you just described a man blinded by love.
Imelda: He loved me but Ferdinand and I, especially me, I was committed to our cultural genesis. Maganda (beautiful). And then also Marcos, the Malakas (strong).
IEV: Strength can be abused. Wasn’t that what EDSA was all about?
Imelda: No, he always used Malakas for peace. Even during martial law, I confronted him, ‘Ferdinand, you proclaimed martial law but why have you not implemented the death sentence?’
He said, ‘Imelda, remember the art of using power. Power is never used; it is only felt. It’s like a gun with 1,000 bullets. If you use it once, you will no longer have 1,000 bullets, you will just have 999.’ He said power is for peace, not for war.
IEV: Peace. Many of the cases against you involve human rights violations, murders and disappearances.
Imelda: Those are all lies. Listen, me, I was asked, Mrs. Marcos, who is your idol from history? Cleopatra, Shiva, Evita Peron — these were beautiful and powerful women. I said none of the above.
IEV: Why not?
Imelda: Because beauty is not for seduction, conquest or prostitution. Beauty is for nurturing, caring, mothering with a selfless and endless love.
IEV: You talk a lot about beauty.
Imelda: It is in our nature and our culture. Like for instance, when you greet everybody, you say, in Spanish, buenos dias, buenos tardes; in German, guten morgen. The first word is good.
How do we say it in Tagalog? Magandang umaga po; magandang gabi po. Maganda, maganda, maganda! We have been brainwashed by our culture to be beautiful.
And to top it all, when I was with the Tasaday, watching the Stone Age Filipinos how they were communicating with one another. I was there with Margaret Mead and Charles Lindbergh.
Charles Lindbergh, after watching all these, saw two people on a promontory, a man and a woman.
He asked me, ‘What are they doing there?’
They were getting married. They were mumbling to each other. And then the interpreter said it was, ‘You and I, we will make a beautiful world together.’
Then Lindbergh said, ‘Imelda, did you hear that? It’s not what we have gained in the process of civilization. It is what we have lost.’
IEV: The Tasaday were branded a hoax.
Imelda: But you see, just recently, National Geographic ... and many historians and anthropologists, they all come to me and say, ‘Mrs. Marcos, why did you close them?’
They had heard of the Tasaday and apparently had sneaked in days or months ago.
I said, ‘Because they are gentle Tasaday!’
When I was asked to write about them, they were so gentle. In fact, Irene, my youngest girl, had a Toblerone. One Toblerone. And then she gave it to one of the children there. Ten years old. She bit a part of it and gave it to the youngest. Bit another part and then gave it, then the next, next, next until all of them were able to partake of that single candy.
I said, ‘See how much they love each other, how much they care, how gentle they are with one another? And then look at that marriage. They did not say ‘to love, to hold, to cherish.’
I tell you, Marcos was a natural Tasaday, a Stone Age man, a natural Filipino. (She then asks an aide to get a framed plaque of love scribbles from Mr. Marcos).
Every anniversary, he would edit our pledge. You know, it is our nature. I am only bringing out what is natural.
IEV: How did you become such a powerful First Lady?
Imelda: I can really say I have no project that failed; even Mao Tse Tung. It’s a puzzle. Was she a brilliant person? No. Was she a genius? No. What did she have?
What Imelda had is common to all — common sense. And common sense is natural to all. What is natural is good. The devil is not in all of us.
That is the only democracy. Even the autistic child is good; that is why they are called special because they are not capable of evil.
Here, let me read from Ferdinand. He would always edit. ‘Even death would part us not.’ That was the pledge in 1988 and he died 1999. And look at this, on our 34th anniversary.
IEV: Were you as romantic?
Imelda: I am trying to say that this man’s romance did not stop with me. It was with his country, his people and the world.
You see, he said to me here: ‘To my patiently suffering Imelda, on our 34th anniversary. One day I woke up from a great dream. While still in a daze, as I looked toward heaven to pray, I heard the Lord say, yes it is true and as He further said and ordained, whatever the tears and pain you lived through, you have always said a loaf of bread, the wilderness, were paradise enough. Today I give the gift of gifts. Bring home your beloved Imelda and love her beyond all words. But go, too, and recover from the burdens for the freedom and salvation of a dying land. That freedom is the headmost of man’s desire. Bear the burden bravely, proudly and with dignity. This you have pledged again and again. Go then and fulfill the golden pledge.’ For our country’s freedom we live. We have no selfish personal dream. We come to offer love, life and fortune and even honor...God blessed our adventure and we go strengthened by our love in search for the Holy Grail.’
See, even his love letters to me naka-connect sa bayan at sa mundo.
IEV: So what do you think went wrong? What made your people turn against you?
Imelda: Our people did not turn against us. Remember, Marcos was fighting for the survival of our country.
IEV: Survival from?
Imelda: When Marcos became President it was at the height of the Cold War. When Russia and America and China were fighting in Vietnam, the world was divided. It so happened that we were allowed, and Marcos was completely committed to freedom, justice and democracy; that was the main ideology to the right and the West.
But the reality was we were here in the East and just a few hours away is China. Our geography dictated the reality of our survival. We cannot just go to one side. He had the real big picture.
IEV: Which was?
Imelda: The reason why Marcos was so misunderstood was because the world looked at it from their parochial view, or just one side. No, when you’re President you have a vision for the individual human being, where you maximize that potential, to a national vision for greatness and a global vision that you are a responsible member of the family of nations and work to bring about a new world order.
IEV: So who was responsible for things going wrong?
Imelda: The big powers. We were in the middle. The communists did not like Marcos because he was professing justice, freedom and democracy. And our allies did not understand why we were kowtowing — well, that I was going to China and making mano to Mao and Mao kissing my hand and all of that. Perception is real; the truth is not.
IEV: It was all about China?
Imelda: We just wanted to survive. Marcos said, ‘I cannot fight China, it is a giant.’
IEV: Interesting, that President Arroyo, too, is in a pickle now over China. When you watch her, do you have this sense of déjà vu?
Imelda: I can understand the predicament. The people do not realize that we are already in the cyber age, that we are in the age of transformation, that borders have been knocked down, and you cannot divide the world anymore into red and white. It has to be whole. This cyber age will tell you that we must be one in spirit.
IEV: You were ousted for believing in peace and harmony?
Imelda: We always believed in peace and unity. That is the reason why I built the Cultural Center also, because when I campaigned there were 7,100 islands, so many kinds of dances, of songs, of dialects.
I said, ‘This nation will be great again.’ But how could we be great if we are not united? So the first thing to do is unite.
And if Marcos did not do that, at the height of the Cold War, that would have changed the world completely. The political picture of the world would have changed.
IEV: Are you saying you ended the Cold War?
Imelda: This was confirmed by Chairman Mao. Why? You must remember that the Philippines in spite of the fact... you know we are in the center. You can change ideology and religion but you cannot change geography. That alone ... the South China Sea then 40 miles away is the Pacific, the West. We are in the center. And when you are sandwiched, you must find a way out.
My spirit was to the right but I could not ignore the left, which was right next door. I love my right hand; it can write, it can paint, it can do so many things. My left cannot do so much. I cannot even write. Should I chop it off? I love America. I hated communism. Would you chop the left? You cannot even stand if you are not balanced.
IEV: Tell us about Mao. How did you find him?
Imelda: Well, I was very complimented. The highest compliment ever given me was from Mao. I was invited by no less than (then Premier) Chou En Lai. When I saw Mao I said, ‘Thank you for allowing Chou En Lai to invite me.’
He said, ‘What are you saying? I ordered him!’
I asked ‘Why?’
He said, ‘I have been following you, Mrs. Marcos. Since your husband became President, you built the Cultural Center. You have been vilified, ridiculed, persecuted but you finished the Cultural Center. Here I am, Mao, chairman of the People’s Republic of 1.3 billion people at the height of the cultural revolution and you finished the Cultural Center five years ago.’
And then I said, like a child, ‘Why?’
Marcos would not have asked that perhaps, but it takes a child to know more.
Mao said, ‘China, for centuries has not been united. Emperors built the Great Wall; it did not unite China. Here I was Mao, and I said give me a gun and I will give you the village. The gun did not unite China. I am here now at the height of the Cultural Revolution, learning that it is only the true, the good and the beautiful that will unite the people.’
IEV: Mao’s cultural revolution owed something from you?
Imelda: He said that’s why he wanted to see me. ‘I wanted to ask you why you built the Cultural Center of the Philippines.’
Well, when I became First Lady, I asked Marcos: ‘Ferdinand, now that you are President, what will I do?’
He said, ‘as President I will build a strong house for the people. You make it a home.’
So I thought, what makes a home? Of course, love and beauty, the traditions, values, music, art, dance that we had as a people.
So I said, ‘Aha, let’s build a cultural center.’ Plus, when I was First Lady, we had an identity crisis.
IEV: So you think the Filipino people, at least those on EDSA, punished you for Mao?
Imelda: It wasn’t just the Filipino people who could not understand. You know, when you’re inside the forest, you cannot see the forest from without. You only see the trees. That is what happened to the world that time!
And then the press rooting for one country, for America for the west, for this ideology, and on the other side, saying communism is great because of this, this, this — we were in the middle of it.
You know, we were in the eye of the storm at the height of the Cold War. This people did not realize. And I am so sorry, so glad that the Vanguards are giving this award to Marcos.
IEV: Because it’s UP (University of the Philippines) and the school has always been against you?
Imelda: Masama ma ang loob ko sa UP. For years and years, Marcos gave his salary (as President) to the UP College of Law. Hoping that they would study more the deeper meaning of law and the deeper meaning of what Marcos was doing. And then the UP was the one always verbalizing against Marcos. But they saw only the other part. They did not see...
IEV: Just what did people not see?
Imelda: When Marcos became President, there was a confrontation from all sides — the rich and the poor; the feudal lords and the oligarchs, the left and the right, communism and democracy.
There was a religious war. It was total war, on all levels within. And outside, there was the Cold War. When (US President Abraham) Lincoln declared martial law, he had less of a problem — he just had that revolution between the north and the south. It was not even ideological. Marcos had an ideological problem.
IEV: How was martial law to solve all these?
Imelda: Martial law was for justice. There was no justice then. How could there be? Manila was owned by ten families. Sixty-five percent belonged to Manila’s 400. The rest had no land. There was no justice; there was no democracy. There was no freedom. We could only be friends with the friends of America.
There were no human rights.
IEV: Martial law brought back human rights?
Imelda: Nine-eight percent of our patrimony belonged to foreigners; the mines, Meralco, San Miguel, all of that belonged to foreigners. It was during Marcos in 1974 that he tried to put all of these together.
But these so-called scholars did not even know their geography! And they could not see that the Christians and the Muslims were fighting. That’s why I had to go to Libya because 35,000 Filipinos, Muslims and Christians, had died already in a religious war. And there was so many NPA killed.
IEV: The NPA grew during Marcos.
Imelda: Because people did not understand.
IEV: Why were you the one sent to all the strongmen?
Imelda: Again, Marcos was wise. He pointed out that the only way to conquer was through the positive. He took advantage that when I was 34 years old. When I was First Lady, I looked good and was presentable. So I was used somehow.
IEV: You didn’t mind that?
Imelda: And then, he knew that I was very sensitive. He told me the roadmap of the solution. But I would even know the character of a person, whether he combed his hair, or brushed his teeth, or in reality... whether he took a bath. He took advantage of my personality and my great sensitivity.
Like for instance, when I saw Chairman Mao, I just saw he was older than me. And even though I did not like communism and I was not a man, but took that difference — he was older — and I made mano.
When I did that and respected him, he kissed my hand. When he was asked why he kissed my hand he said, ‘When she respected me, I respected her in return. I admired her and loved her.’
And he said, ‘And that ended the Cold War.’ With that gesture of respect. That ended the Cold War.
Even Mrs. Mao would say, ‘Mao, every time we speak of Marcos, you smile and look happy. Why?’
And then Mao said, ‘I love Mrs. Marcos, because she is so natural. And that natural is perfection.’ See?”
(To be continued)
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