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Sufficient warning

/ 12:09 AM July 05, 2014

For sheer showmanship, the woman hasn’t lost her touch. To mark her 85th birthday last July 2, according to a wire report, Imelda Marcos emerged from her private quarters in Batac, Ilocos Norte, in a blood-red terno with a diamond brooch and matching diamond rings, to be serenaded by a crowd of supporters and crowned by one of them with flowers. She was in her late husband Ferdinand Marcos’ hometown not only as its congresswoman but also as the torchbearer of a name and legacy that the region has continued to lavish with adoration despite the family’s controversial history.

“Controversial” is, of course, putting it mildly. For 2014, Imelda declared her net worth at $22 million, which makes her second only to Manny Pacquiao as the richest politician sitting in Congress today. That’s at least on paper, because everyone knows that Pacquiao would have to fight countless times more, be reduced to a pulp, before he can acquire even a fourth of what the Marcoses were said to have amassed during their 20-year reign, estimated by observers to be around $10 billion.

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But there was Imelda in Batac, lamenting that she was now “poverty-stricken” even as she was swathed in her traditional getup of gown, industrial-grade pompadour, and glittering jewelry. The disconnect, long apparent to anyone appalled at the idea that the first lady of an impoverished country could become one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful, never bothered what was once a barrio lass from Tacloban. By the time she became her husband’s partner and ally in the conjugal dictatorship, she had constructed a fully formed philosophy about her destiny as a woman of the world.

“I am my little people’s star and slave,” she once told the Los Angeles Times. “When I go to the barrios, I get dressed up because I know the little people want to see a star.”

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What did it entail to become a star? According to the Asian Journal, in July 1978, “after a trip to Russia, Imelda arrived in New York and immediately warmed up for a shopping spree. She started with paying $193,320 for antiques, including $12,000 for a Ming Period side table; $24,000 for a pair of Georgian mahogany Gainsborough armchairs; $6,240 for a Sheraton double-sided writing desk; $11,600 for a George II wood side table with marble top—all in the name of the Philippine consulate to dodge the New York sales tax… A week later she spent $2,181,000 in one day. This included $1,150,000 for a platinum and emerald bracelet with diamonds from Bulgari; $330,000 for a necklace with a ruby, diamonds, and emeralds; $300,000 for a ring with heart-shaped emeralds; $78,000 for 18-carat gold ear clips with diamonds; $300,000 for a pendant with canary diamonds, rubies and emeralds on a gold chain.”

That was a mere two weeks, a virtual blip in the two decades that the Marcoses had the full run of the nation’s till. Even now, nearly 30 years after she and her family were chased out of Malacañang partly for the staggering extravagance she indulged in while the country’s economy tanked to miserable depths, Imelda is not shy to admit that she owns jewels worth millions of dollars. And she is angry that the Philippine government plans to auction those that had been sequestered. She’d rather they were displayed publicly, “because I want the Filipinos to know what is world-class and see that.”

These days, the ranks of those willing to ask Imelda where she got the means to acquire the Bulgaris and Monets and Picassos she claims are hers are fast dwindling. More typical of late is the online site StyleBible.ph, which on her birthday ran a gushing feature about how “Imelda saved fashion … as she makes history with her well-heeled feet.” Never mind the victims of rights abuse during the Marcos regime, or the legion of Filipino poor on whose backs Imelda had forged her treasure trove.

“Scandal and politics aside,” said the piece with perfect equanimity, “the local art scene—from fashion to music, fine or performing—wouldn’t be where it is if not for her continuous help and patronage.”

One may argue that the grammatically mangled, air-headed spirit of the piece matched its subject. Unfortunately, many others like it are infesting social media these days, often unchallenged. And perhaps for a well-funded reason: Imelda says she’d like her son Bongbong to run for president in 2016.

The country is sufficiently warned.

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TAGS: 2016 Elections, Birthday, Editorial, Elections, Imelda Marcos, opinion, politics
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