The “sins” of Imelda Marcos: The skeleton behind her closet
Forced to exile to Hawaii in 1986, the world was in disbelief after the Yellow Movement exposed the evils of the Marcoses. Still, the “Steel Butterfly” was acquitted. Media hasn’t been good to her. The “Kingmaker” is infamous for being the world’s most glamorous woman—with pun intentions.
The Marcos family returned in 1991 after Corazon Aquino ended her term. They had three missions: To face their tormentors, bury Ferdinand, and for a Marcos to return to Malacañang as a president.
Three decades after the 1986 revolution, her husband, the “dictator” Ferdinand, was buried with his secrets at the Hero’s Cemetery.
According to Martial Law victim and former Congresswoman Etta Rosales, “She is using the body for political purposes because her big dream is to restore the greatness of the Marcos family, and it can only be done if you give him a hero’s burial… getting one of the children to run for the presidency… vindicate the family’s honor and name. Except that the Filipino people will not allow that to happen.”
Two decades of Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos Sr. inherited a growing economy widely envied by Singapore and South Korea for technological advancement and literacy.
Marcos Sr. promised a new society, drawing on foreign loans to fund projects. He also raised a new breed of economic managers, the technocrats, to reshape the private sector.
Favoring a select group of businessmen and industrialists who were seemingly loyal to him, his administration implemented a highly regulated economy, leading to what is known as crony capitalism. During Martial Law, he purportedly seized control of multiple companies.
Despite its controversies, the Marcos era was notable for introducing innovative ideas, including nuclear power generation, forward-thinking infrastructure and road networks, technological advancements, and industrialization.
Art and Culture Renaissance of the Philippines
Squandering and Imelda weren’t always synonymous. The Marcos era may also be considered the “arts and culture renaissance” of the country, with a new society for the world-class Filipino, where his wife, Imelda Marcos, played a critical role.
People Power for the Marcoses in 2022
In 2022, more than 31 million Filipinos voted for the return of the Marcos family. Not necessarily because the family was exonerated nor because Marcos Sr. was given a hero’s burial—but because the house of Aquino fell.
Hence, the poster child of Martial Law, Etta Rosales, was wrong. The Marcoses are still loved by most Filipinos half a century later.
The Marcoses are still loved half a century later.
1. Imeldific: The standard of beauty and living
Considered the father of modern investigative journalism, Jack Anderson described the First Lady as the world’s most glamorous woman.
“She happens to be one of the world’s most glamorous women. A beautiful woman whose beguiling smiles charm the scowls of the world’s most cantankerous leaders,” Jack Anderson in Good Morning America, 1976
World’s wealthiest women
Imelda Romualdez Marcos was ranked among the world’s wealthiest women, along with Dewi Sukarno of Indonesia, Farah Pahlavi of Iran, and Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K., in the December 1975 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. [Press Reader]
She collected antiques and paintings and hoarded diamonds and designer jewelry from Paris to satisfy her queenly aspirations. All from “stolen money” from the people, according to the PCGG.
The “edifice complex” of Meldy
According to author Beth Day Romulo, Imelda’s personality changed after Ferdinand cheated on her. She became a strong-willed woman with visions and dreams, perhaps for the people and herself.
Romulo also said Meldy had an “edifice complex.” She loved buildings. At one time, Imelda called overseas and told Beth she was going to buy the Crown Building in New York.
She purchased four more buildings and turned one into the Philippine Center in New York. “When she saw something she liked, she’d take it,” said Beth.
In 2017, news claimed she is the world’s richest woman, worth US$280 billion. Vera Files verified the information and said it was fake news. Marcos is nowhere in the lineup of Forbes Magazine 2017 edition.
The wife of an uber-rich treasure hunter
On the flip side, Imelda is innocent. She came from a decent family and became the wife of an uber-rich man with gold stashed in the wall of his house from his treasure-hunting days. [Rita Gadi]
It has been alleged that the Marcos family held substantial shares of stocks in various companies, including Meralco, PAL, Manila Bulletin, Asia Brewery, San Miguel, PLDT, Fortune Tobacco, Allied Bank, and UCPB.
In 1971, another treasure hunter, Roger Roxas, discovered billions of dollars in gold and gems. They were part of the Yamashita treasure hidden in the jungles of the Philippines. He also claimed that Ferdinand Marcos stole the gold bars.
In 1998, the Supreme Court of Hawaii demanded Marcos pay Roxas $22 billion. [A.P. News]
During the filming of the documentary The Kingmaker, Imelda Marcos acknowledged having 170 bank accounts with huge deposits. In another documentary on GMA T.V., she also admitted to owning gold bars.
There have been rumors that Imelda frequently chartered Philippine Airlines flights on a whim, often traveling to New York and Paris to go shopping with a large entourage that included her “blue ladies.”
The First Lady used her travel resources wisely. For example, she often dropped by uninvited at the White House or visited a politician in another country to forge an informal trade alliance or a cultural pilgrimage. She would sometimes use these trips to go shopping in Milan, Italy, or Paris.[Wikileaks 1976; Wikileaks 1974]
A report by Washington Times said that her husband Ferdinand took over the national airline—without paying a cent to its former owners, who handed him a $3 million flight bill the Imelda had accrued.
Using an inflation calculator, that amount would be about $13,449,202 or 716 million Philippine pesos today.
In 1978, the Marcos government acquired all shares of the Philippines Airlines allegedly at an undervalued cost.
Forging diplomatic ties that weren’t precisely diplomatic
Imelda gained a reputation for throwing lavish parties and socializing with both the local upper class and the wives of political figures. Her strategic maneuver paid off, as she was able to secure her presence in international political gatherings.
Naturally, all of these endeavors required more funding from the taxpayers, which was justified by the goal of attracting investors to the country and putting the Philippines on the global stage.
Whenever Imelda Marcos made an appearance, protocol officers at the White House would grit their teeth due to her tendency to break protocol. She also earned the ridicule of the British Royal Family, with Princess Margaret allegedly mocking her English.
2. The spectacle of Imelda
Imelda Marcos is widely recognized as the most accomplished first lady of the country. She created jobs, established housing and hospitals for the poor, and the Kadiwa “farm-to-table” program that eliminated middlemen in the supply chain.
She also brought the country’s raw materials to Europe and supported export. But her legacy is perhaps how she elevated the country’s art and culture that can compete with the best of the best.
In all these, she was criticized for dressing up for the world but covering up with brick walls and color paints the country’s growing poverty.
Hiding the dirt behind walls and paints
In Marikina, families were forced to repaint their homes at their expense. Near the Makati Commercial District, walls were built along the highway to cover the slums in the metro. In Manila, illegal settlers were forced to remote locations without a livelihood guarantee.
In Tondo, more than 400 families were forcibly relocated to a small housing project, and their houses were demolished because the IMF-World Bank meeting was about to take place in 1976. Imelda was worried that tourists might see such eye sores.
According to a New York Times report, the eviction caused growing embarrassment for IMF-World Bank. Tondo was a pet project of IMFWB for urban renewal, to which they gave the Marcos government $32 million.
The assasination of Ninoy Aquino
It is no secret that Marcos would like to see his wife succeed him. The only person that could threaten her succession would be the return of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Sr., reported Jack Anderson.
- 1980, Imelda visited Ninoy at the Philippine Heart Center. She suggested that he goes to America to complete his surgery and recovery—effectively getting rid of Ninoy in the Philippines. [Kahimyang]
- 1982, Marcos Sr. appointed his wife Imelda to the Cabinet Executive Committee, apparently feelers for a Marcos dynasty.
- 1983, Imelda met with Ninoy at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue in New York City. She pleaded for him not to return to the Philippines. [N.Y. Times]
- 1983, the celebrated American journalist wrote in Washing Post wrote:
“Secret intelligence reports suggest cautiously that the assassination of Filipino dissident Benigno Aquino in Manila might have been ordered by First Lady Imelda Marcos, without her husband’s knowledge.” [CIA]
The frightened Imelda
There were rumors that Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver, a staunch ally of the Marcoses, was involved in the assassination of Aquino Sr. Furthermore, it was speculated that Imelda feared the consequences of Ninoy’s return to the country.
In 1984, the Agrava Fact-Finding Commission implicated the military in the assassination of Aquino Sr. and identified Fabian Ver as one of the masterminds, although he was later cleared of any involvement. [New York Times]
Implicating Ninoy’s cousin-in-law as the alleged mastermind
Paulo Martinez, one of the individuals convicted for his involvement in the assassination of Aquino Sr., implicated Danding Cojuangco, a Marcos loyalist, and Cory Aquino’s estranged cousin, in the plot.
However, Cojuangco was never charged in connection with the crime. In a surprising move, Cory Aquino later pardoned Martinez. [Martinez transcript]
According to Sen. Ernesto Herrera, the last surviving member of the Commission, they did not find sufficient evidence to link Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, and Danding Cojuangco to the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. [ABS-CBN]
Imelda is unapologetic in showing everyone how she defines what is beautiful. On the other hand, she was also creating a beautiful name for the country and making it known that Filipinos, too, can be world-class.
In a 1987 Playboy interview, Imelda said:
“We are part of the achievement of being a god… that is what we are about now. An ordinary mortal would not be able to stand it. Our statements now have to prove that we have not gone back to being ordinary mortals.“
“I have to flaunt, practically flaunt love and beauty so that the 50 million Filipinos will see what is to love and what is to positive feelings and what is perfection,” she said in a CBS News report.
We have not gone back to being ordinary mortals.
3. The Iron Butterfly: The Philippine’s “Queen Imelda”
In 1972, the former Shah of Iran hosted his country’s 2,500th anniversary in Persepolis, which was dubbed the most expensive party ever held. The event was attended by nobilities from Europe, Emperors, Sheiks, Kings, and even our own “Queen Imelda.”
The First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, was accompanied by a large entourage of sixteen people during her travels, including three handmaidens. The expenses for such a retinue may have been funded by taxpayer money.
Imelda’s hairdresser was ready to don her ‘signature coiffure’ with a beautiful diamond-studded tiara. However, a protocol officer told her that only “titled women” could do so. Unfazed, Imelda wore it upside down as an accessory.
Imelda always turned heads
Wearing a sash and medals of order and honor, she turned heads and pulled off a queenly stunt. Filipinos gasped with delight. After all, Imelda has always been stunning and brought pride to the country with how she carried herself and won diplomatic ties with it.
She may not have descended from royalty, but her aspirations remind the ordinary Filipinos that we, too, could have had our monarchy from Spain. Perhaps a grandeur she was trying to replicate.
won diplomatic ties with it.
The furious Meldy
In 2006, a WikiLeaks document said protocol officers in the United States grit their teeth every time Imelda shows up because she arrives unannounced and starts making difficult demands.
For example, she asked to be received at the White House simply because she was in the United States. There was bickering over schedule, but a 45-minute tea break was arranged with then-First Lady Betty Ford.
Imelda showed up but was detained at the gate because security was not informed of the impromptu visit. Naturally, she was furious.
During tea with First Lady Betty Ford, the President was unable to drop by to greet her, which allegedly aggravated her.
The two first ladies exchanged gifts. According to Jack Anderson, a reporter from ABC, Imelda was disappointed by Betty’s gift and left it behind sputtering with rage.
The incident became a symbol of her extravagant and demanding personality. Perhaps, “to insult Imelda was to insult the Filipinos.”
Sputtering with rage.
There is no one else like Imelda Romualdez Marcos
Whatever was said about the ‘Imeldific Imelda,’ the Filipino identity she reinvented continues to resound with beauty and pride—at least to her “loyal subjects.”
Even at 92 years old, many still gasped when ‘Queen Imelda’ entered a room. There is no one else like her in Philippine politics.
In 2018, the Supreme Court junked the government’s P51-B wealth claim from the estate of Former President Ferdinand Marcos. In 2023, the Sandiganbayan dismissed another forfeiture case for failure to prove its allegations by a preponderance of the evidence.