The Accomplishments of Imelda Marcos

king maker

How Imelda Marcos brought the Filipinos to the world’s center stage

Imelda Marcos has faced criticism for her lavish lifestyle. However, she defended her actions by arguing that she was setting a new standard for art, beauty, and culture in the Philippines, as stated in her book, ‘The Art of Living,’ published in 2010.

She was a driving force behind the construction of cultural and trade centers that contributed to promoting Filipino arts, products, and culture worldwide with a single mindset: “A glorified culture for the masses.”

Imelda Marcos played a key role in redefining and promoting a certain standard of beauty reflected in the Philippines’ success at the Miss Universe pageant, with the country winning two titles—where she was at the helm.

The nation spoke one language of beauty with Imelda at the helm.

Frivolity and extravagance

Although she boarded up the streets of the Metro to cover poverty, she addressed the poor’s housing, health, and youth issues while flaunting her gowns, shoes, and diamonds.

In her interview with CBC Canada in 1983, Imelda justified her extravagance by saying, “As First Lady, I have to flaunt love and beauty… which is some kind of frivolity and extravagance… when there’s so much deprivation. And yet it is basic for survival of a human being—beauty and love.”

Imeldific: A glorified identity for the Filipinos

Despite the frivolities, Imelda’s pizazz reflected what some, if not more, Pinoys would have wanted: to elevate and create a unique Filipino culture and identity through the arts, fashion, and her extensive collection of “shiny objects.”

She created a glorified culture for the Filipinos rooted in a similar kind of nobility to our Asian neighbors. After all, we once had a complex system of titles and honorifics used extensively even before Spain arrived.

Imelda placed the Philippines on the world’s center stage—although one may argue it was merely a perception. It may not have fed people experiencing poverty, but it did provide, in a sense, that things would be better in the future.

Imelda created a glorified culture rooted in nobility.

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit of Thailand with Ferdinand Marcos (wearing the Philippine Legion of Honor star with Imelda in 1968. The Marcos couple is often seen wearing a sash, a symbol of Filipino nobility that Imelda channeled. (WikiCommons: Photo from Philippine Diplomatic visit website.)

Put on that show and the rest will follow.

1. The Order of National Artist of the Philippines

Imelda Marcos is the quintessential advocate of Philippine arts and culture. She patronized the country’s highly acclaimed national artist Botong Francisco, among many others.

On April 27, 1972, President Marcos Sr. issued Proclamation 1001, creating the ‘Order of National Artist of the Philippines.’

Marcos’ decree paved the way for the recognition of Amorsolo, Botong Francisco, Abueva, Edades, and Manansala, among others, during the Marcos era.

The monumental structure was opened just before the 1969 presidential election. Dissenters labeled CCP as Imelda’s “edifice complex,” she was criticized for the money spent to build it. California Governor Ronald Reagan and his wife inaugurated it.

2. Imelda’s Culture: Art, music, drama, and dance for the masses

Imelda brought to the country one of the most celebrated pianists in the world, Van Cliburn. She inspired the conservatoires to raise talents by patronizing classical music for the “unlearned Filipino.”

Imelda was on top of cultural events that launched world-class pianist Cecil Licad to the center stage. Licad later said she credits Mrs. Marcos with her success.

Following the construction of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) by Imelda Marcos, the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas Theater, also known as the Folk Art Center, was erected in 1978.

She aimed to provide a less formal venue for the Filipino masses to appreciate folk arts.

Filipino talents shone through music, dance, drama, and film festivals, which were celebrated in Imelda’s public theater.

It was also during her time the OPM (Original Pilipino Music) raised the standards of musicality that produced, well, original Filipino music.

During the CCP’s 50th anniversary in 2020, the board of trustees honored Imelda for shaping the country’s arts and culture. She was the founding chair of the CCP, which was created under E.O. No. 60 by President Marcos Sr.

3. Imelda’s terno: The Pride of Philippine Fashion

The Maria Clara gown or two-piece terno was the fashion standard before the one-piece version became popular in the 1940s. Terno was not introduced by Imelda but by National Artist Ramon Valera.

Valera reinvented the loosely Baro’t Saya by introducing stiff but elegant butterfly sleeves and a cinched waist that Imelda popularized.

With fashion czar Pitoy Moreno, Imelda and her coterie of “Blue Ladies” modeled the terno using jusi and piña. Moreno’s contribution to the history of Philippine fashion culture is unparalleled, and he owes it to Mrs. Marcos. [Metro]

Augie Cordero calls it the “golden years of Philippine fashion with Imelda, setting the standard. “Nobody would set foot in the CCP in denim.” But under Cory Aquino, Cordero felt she could not be bothered about the arts, he said.

Dressing for the masses

Imelda Marcos dressed for the masses. She was quoted as saying they expected it of her. Cordero noted that she mingled with and hugged the poor and expressly forbade her Blue Ladies from carrying hand sanitizer.

The golden years of Philippine fashion – Cordero

Imelda Marcos uplifted and glorified the rue and the beautiful amid the ugly reality of martial law, to which the couple was heavily crucified.

4. Imelda’s trade fairs: She labeled Filipino products world-class

The First Philippines International Trade Fair

In 1976, the “Chamber,” precursor of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, proposed the “First Philippines International Trade Fair,” inspired by the Canton Trade Fair. The problem, the country did not have a trade hall.

As chairwoman, Imelda had Philcite built in six months. In such a short period, 20 countries out of 70 embassies in Manila, including the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia, joined the trade fair. [Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat]

Additionally, Imelda Marcos commissioned the Coconut Palace to exhibit the exceptional raw materials found in the Philippines.

Empowering the Youth: The Future of the Country

Marcos also looked heavily into raw material exports to Europe and improved labor policies for the OFW by establishing the National Manpower Youth Council (NMYC) in 1975.

The NMYC paved the way for TESDA, which continues to equip Filipinos for local jobs abroad.

The same year, “A la découverte des Philippines” was an exhibition of Philippine products at Parly, France, among other trade shows she actively pursued locally and abroad. [A.P. Archive Video]

Imelda Marcos stands out in Paris: 1976 Philippine Exhibition in Paris where she dropped the Filipino stereotype and introduced the country’s products as world-class.


The Steel Butterfly: It wasn’t all about beauty; there were also guts

With her elegant demeanor and soft-spoken manner, the “Steel Butterfly” was known for getting things done. However, she was not afraid to break protocols and established norms to achieve her objectives.

For example, Imelda invited herself to critical political events in the United States. She often came unannounced and asked an audience in the White House. Protocol officers called her a “pest” and “gate crasher.”

She was able to socialize with high-profile figures such as Mao Ze Dong, Prince Charles, Muammar Khadafi, and Pope John Paul. This achievement was a remarkable feat that only someone like Imelda Marcos could have accomplished.

To get what she wanted, she broke protocols.

The Tripoli Agreement

In 1976, President Marcos sent his wife to Libya several times to charm Muammar Khaddafi. She convinced the former strongman to terminate aid and support for the communist rebels in the Philippines. Imelda’s efforts gave way to the Tripoli Agreement.

Two years before the Marcos family was exiled, Imelda brought to the country a Belgian Consortium to build Asia’s first Light Rail Transit in 1984.

Leaving the country in 1986

Just before the Marcoses’ exile in 1986, Imelda Marcos was actively working on implementing her vision for a unified transit system in Metro Manila.

In 1984, the country inaugurated its first Light Rail Transit (LRT), which Imelda claims was her idea, apparently inspired by the Queen of Austria, Regina von Habsburg.

In addition to her efforts towards a unified transit system, Imelda Marcos was determined to finish the extensive reclamation of Manila’s coastal area and her zoning and housing projects in the south and north of Metro Manila.

Unfortunately, her plans were cut short, perhaps due to time constraints or probably because enough was enough.

Fate has been good to Madame Imelda

Imelda Marcos was somewhat exculpated from the charges against her, as she never went to prison and retired gracefully from public life in her 90s.

On the other hand, the Aquino family, who had a long history of political differences from the Marcos family, experienced two tragic incidents.

Despite controversies, many Filipinos still positively view Imelda Marcos and recognize her achievements. After all, she became the wife and mother of two presidents.


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