First Lola: After Marcos Jr's victory, ex-First Lady Imelda is back at the top

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 29 2022 10:21 PM

Former First Lady Imelda Marcos greets supporters during the hosting of her 90th birthday by the Friends of Imelda Romualdez Marcos (FIRM) held at the Rizal Park Open Air Auditorium in Manila on July 01, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Former First Lady Imelda Marcos greets supporters during the hosting of her 90th birthday by the Friends of Imelda Romualdez Marcos (FIRM) held at the Rizal Park Open Air Auditorium in Manila on July 01, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – More than 5 years after her husband was buried in the Heroes' Cemetery, former First Lady Imelda Marcos' political redemption is complete as her only son assumes the presidency on Thursday, more than 3 decades after they were unceremoniously forced out of the presidential palace following the "People Power Revolution" in February 1986. 

The former Ilocos Norte congresswoman is considered the driving force behind the family's return to power. Her son, president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., described his mother as the "best politician I've ever seen," in Lauren Greenfield's documentary "The Kingmaker."

"I miss the clout of being First Lady, not exactly the Palace because it was not really a very comfortable place to live in. But I miss the clout wherein you can do so much," Imelda had said in the 2019 documentary. "It was God’s plan to make me born into the Philippines. Nobody can stop me."

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Born to a prominent family in Leyte, Imelda said she had a "very beautiful and very happy childhood" until she was 8 years old, when she lost her mother. Since then, she said she has been looking for a motherly figure, whom she found in her husband.

"When I lost my mother it seemed I lost everything. And being orphaned from my mother and left with nothing, I was always looking for someone to love me. This created my character," she said.

"I met Ferdinand Marcos who was a congressman. In the first 20 minutes, he proposed marriage. I realized maybe this is the love, the mothering I’m waiting for. In 11 days, we got married. I was lucky to have a husband and a mother too."

The two married on May 1, 1954, and Imelda campaigned for her husband in the 1965 presidential elections, which he won by a small majority. 

"I was of help to him because our family happens to be strategically on the other side of the Philippines. My family comes from the south and he comes from the north and so it was a good combination. I could campaign and I would sing too," she said.

Imelda served as Marcos' ambassador on diplomatic missions and met leaders, such as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, US President Richard Nixon, and People's Republic of China founder Mao Zedong.

"Many leaders were called monsters, I did not find them very mean. They were generous, kind, and if I did not know what was the problem, I would ask Chairman Mao, the same with Saddam Hussein. I can really say there was no mission at the height of the Cold War that I failed," she had said.

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Aside from her love for shoes, jewelry and dresses, Imelda was also known for constructing and buying grandiose buildings. Later on, the term "imeldific" was coined, which meant "ostentatiously extravagant, sometimes to the point of vulgarity."

"My projects – I did not make them only good and right, it had to be beautiful. Beauty is really the extravagance of love," she said.

When the Marcoses fled Malacañang on February 25, 1986, Imelda said she had put her diamond jewelry in a box of her grandchildren's diapers.

"Diamonds in diapers. It saved us later on to pay the lawyers that cost millions…They found no skeletons but only beautiful shoes," she said when protesters ransacked the Presidential Palace.

"It’s not true we (fled) from our country. We were kidnapped. They told us we were going to Paoay, a town in Ilocos, only to be brought to Hawaii. Losing your country after being mother to your country for 20 years–then you became orphaned. It was like losing my mother again."

File photo dated February 26, 1986 shows Imelda Marcos (left-carrying child), wife of ousted Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, arriving at Hickam Air Force Base from Guam following her husband's departure into exile from the Philippines. Carl Viti, AFP
File photo dated February 26, 1986 shows Imelda Marcos (left-carrying child), wife of ousted Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, arriving at Hickam Air Force Base from Guam following her husband's departure into exile from the Philippines. Carl Viti, AFP

Imelda had also denied she had a hand in the assassination of former Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr, whose death sparked the People Power Revolution.
 
"They were saying so, but why would I do that? He was no threat to me. In fact, I knew him before I knew Marcos. Some people say he was courting me. I had nothing against him except that he talked too much anyway," she said.

"It’s in not my character to even quarrel with anyone, how much more kill anyone. God knows I was very kind to him."

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GRAFT, CORRUPTION, TAX FRAUD CASES

After the Marcoses' exile, former President Corazon Aquino formed the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to recover the so-called Marcos ill-gotten wealth, “estimated between US$5 billion to $10 billion, the bulk of it being deposited and hidden abroad,” according to the PCGG. As of 2021, government had recovered some P174 billion or roughly $3 billion. 

On Imelda's 61st birthday on July 2, 1990, she was acquitted in the US of charges that she raided the Philippines treasury and invested it abroad.

"I have a house full of documents. Here I placed the documents from New York. This is only one case against Mrs. Marcos. And we see here what we supposedly had stolen—banks, the buildings. And a stolen golden Buddha, which was ridiculous. I did not steal a golden Buddha," she said.

"My husband was dead, I did not know where to live. You're facing the mighty sword of justice of the world and you're alone, widowed and homeless and country-less and penniless. The jail would've been a welcome thing—it would be free board and lodging."

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A Pablo Picasso painting spotted last month in Imelda's home could fetch up to P8 billion, according to former PCGG Commissioner Andy Bautista.

The famed painter’s “Femme Couche VI” (“Reclining Woman VI”), among paintings that anti-graft court Sandiganbayan wanted seized from the Marcoses in 2014, was seen in photos of Marcos Jr during his visit to his mother.

"This one of course is Picasso. Marcos would say, 'Imelda, I know how to earn money properly but Imelda you know how to spend money properly because you buy beauty.' This is by Fragonard and the other one is Michelangelo," Imelda had said in the documentary. 

Marcos Jr. during the presidential campaign said he would strengthen rather than abolish the PCGG.

On November 4, 1991, Imelda returned to the Philippines to face charges of tax fraud and corruption. She has so far been only convicted of 7 counts of graft for using her Cabinet position to maintain Swiss bank accounts during the Marcos regime.

In 2018, she was sentenced to imprisonment of 6 years and 1 month to 11 years for each of the 7 counts, with perpetual disqualification from public office. 

Imelda's age had to be considered in her arrest, said then-Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Oscar Albayalde. The PNP later said it would abide when an arrest warrant has been issued against Imelda. 

Courts under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, a close ally of the Marcoses, have yet to issue a warrant of arrest against the former First Lady.

RETURN TO PUBLIC OFFICE

Former First lady Imelda Marcos waves a white handkerchief from a motorcade upon arrival in the hometown of former president Ferdinand Marcos, in Laoag on November 5, 1991. Manny Ceneta, AFP
Former First lady Imelda Marcos waves a white handkerchief from a motorcade upon arrival in the hometown of former president Ferdinand Marcos, in Laoag on November 5, 1991. Manny Ceneta, AFP

A year after her return to the Philippines, Imelda ran for president and finished fifth out of seven candidates. She was elected as Leyte 1st District representative in 1995 despite facing a disqualification case in which the Supreme Court ruled in her favor.

In 1998, she again sought the presidency but later withdrew to support actor-turned-politician Joseph Estrada, who eventually won. From 2010 to 2019, she served as representative of Ilocos Norte's 2nd District.

Her son, Marcos Jr., won his father's old congressional seat in 1992 and was later elected governor of Ilocos Norte. He became a senator in 2010 and lost the 2016 vice presidential elections to former Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo.

The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal junked Marcos Jr.'s election protest in 2021, citing his “abject failure” to specify and prove allegations of fraud.

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HERO'S BURIAL

In November 2016, the elder Marcos was buried hurriedly at Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery) following the order of Duterte.

In 2022, now-senator Imee Marcos said she was the brains behind the political alliance between her brother and the President's daughter, Sara Duterte.

The senator said her family does not seek to revise history. Facebook in 2018 had taken down pro-Duterte and pro-Marcos accounts for spam. In 2022, accounts in support of the two political clans were widespread on social media, particularly Chinese video platform TikTok.

"Now is the important thing so the past is past. There are so many things in the past we should forget. In fact, it’s no longer there," Imelda had said. "Perception is real and the truth is not."

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