Imelda Marcos has a vision. On her 85th birthday, she glimpsed another Marcos, this time, Bongbong, making a triumphal return to Malacañang. “I see a Marcos as president. That is destiny.”
What can one say? Some people see things and they are called prophetic. Others see things and they are called delusional. It’s not hard to see which one this is.
I myself thought when I read this that at the sunset of her life—and it’s been one pretty long and Imeldific life—Imelda has finally found her perfect role. That is, of Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond, in “Sunset Blvd.,” a faded silent-movie actor who lives in her fantasy world, dreaming of one day making a triumphal return to the silver screen. Except that in Imelda’s case, her dream does not pertain to herself, it pertains to her son. But which is about her anyway in the extended sense of the collective Marcos ego.
One is tempted to call this tragic, except that it lacks the tragic dimensions of Swanson’s-Desmond’s case, which come from her being once a great actress. Imelda’s former luster, as well indeed as her husband’s, is totally imaginary. This isn’t tragic, this is pathetic. This isn’t sublime, this is paralytic.
The Greeks, who made tragedy a quintessential art form, knew a thing or two about destiny, which they attributed not to an external influence but to an internal one. Destiny, they said, is character. You go by this and the conclusion is inescapable: Bongbong has no character, he has no destiny.
Put it in more practical terms, there is a difference between Bongbong and his father in the way they plotted/are plotting their course to Malacañang, in Ferdinand’s case as president and eventually as dictator. Neither of them was/is inherently charismatic—that would come later with Ferdinand, power, particularly absolute power, creating its own charisma. Ferdinand made up for that lack by manufacturing a martial aura about him through his claimed war medals: He was presumably the most decorated soldier, Filipino or otherwise, during the War. The mystique he created made him out to be more martial than the generals, even though he was a lawyer. As Bonifacio Gillego would later show, those medals were fake, as indeed much of his life was.
Bongbong doesn’t have that at all, real or imagined, authentic or manufactured. He hasn’t got a mythical, larger-than-life mystique around him, which helps—often decisively—to become president. The closest he has to it is his mother. But unfortunately for him, hers is a mythical, larger-than-life mystique that, unlike Cory’s, is weighed down by unsavoriness, constituting a minus rather than a plus. Think three thousand pairs of shoes and wonder if that can endear anyone—however he is just the son—to the voters.
The fact alone that many voters are looking for an alternative to Jojo Binay and Mar Roxas does not make Bongbong a viable presidential bet. I myself do not share my friends’ anxiety that this being a forgetful country and the Marcos’ billions remaining largely intact, they could always stage a comeback. Bongbong did manage to become senator—and Imelda a representative and Imee a governor—but that is as far as they will get. Being governor and representative requires only the votes of a certain section of the population, and being senator is just one of 12.
All this, however, brings us to a related point, which gives a twist to “Sunset Blvd.” That is the fact that the Marcos billions do remain largely intact, which is how they can even entertain the thought of going back to Malacañang.
On her 85th birthday, Imelda found occasion again to rail against Cory for pauperizing them. “Her first act (after Edsa) was to confiscate and sequester all the Marcos wealth even before we were tried.” That’s not true at all. Cory did try, but she did not manage to “confiscate and sequester all the Marcos wealth,” no small thanks to the ineptness or malleability of the Presidential Commission on Good Government which was tasked with it. That loot is still there.
We get an idea of its scale from Imelda’s former secretary, Vilma Bautista, who was caught and jailed in the United States for selling a Monet painting for $32 million, which she carted away after the Marcoses fled Malacañang in 1986. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg, that’s just a tiny corner of that tip.
That is what has allowed the Marcoses to stay around. That is what has allowed the Marcoses to fight off efforts to continue to recover the bulk of that wealth. That is what has allowed the Marcoses to run in elections and win various positions in government. That is what has allowed the Marcoses to wage a propaganda war in YouTube to try to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of their countrymen. That is what has allowed the Marcoses to dream the dream, or nightmare, of being able to return to Malacañang.
These things cost money, and money they have got. Oodles and oodles of it.
That is the one thing that has been lacking in all our efforts to fight corruption—recovering the loot back. That hasn’t happened, not then, not now. It’s not enough to jail them—and the Marcoses themselves have never been jailed—it has to come alongside getting back what they stole. Quite apart from that, the money should go a long way to alleviate the plight of a desperate people, it is the only thing that can prevent them from remaining a dark specter in the horizon. That’s true of Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile—yes, even Enrile, even well into his 100s. And that’s true of the Marcoses.
In the end, it’s not just Imelda who’s delusional for dreaming of a comeback to Malacañang, it’s we too for imagining they and their kind won’t ever do it without our recovering their loot first.
That’s living, or dying, on Sunset Boulevard.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.