“I’ve had the best, best, best and the worst, worst, worst.” The words were spoken by Imelda Romualdez Marcos as she shook my hand during our first meeting in that May morning of 2010. Two weeks before, I wrote a proposal which I submitted to my cousin, Sonya Mathay, wife of then Mayor Mel Mathay, for the former First Lady to recount her life — the heights she had climbed and the depths into which she had fallen, emerging “bloodied but unbowed” and once again building a political career, this time on a smaller scale in tandem with her children. My proposal must have struck a chord in Mrs. Marcos and so I found myself before her in her penthouse at One McKinley Place in Fort Bonifacio, hearing the words that described her life in a nutshell.
For one who pictured herself as living in genteel poverty dependent upon the charity of her friends and supporters, I imagined that this charity must have been “as boundless as the sea.” She occupied a two-storey penthouse with a large uncovered terrace on the lower floor, a grand piano in the living room on which were framed photographs of her children and grandchildren. Mrs. Marcos said that the piano was used less as a musical instrument and more as a suitable resting place for personal mementoes. On one end of the sala hung a painting which she described as done by Franscisco de Goya. It bore a certain resemblance to his “La Maja Vestida.” On another wall hung a cubist painting that might, or might not have been, a Picasso. Prominently displayed was an enlarged photo of her and her husband with Chairman Mao holding her hand close to his lips. Antique furniture in the French style from the tables to the chairs covered the room. Poverty is apparently a relative term.
Mindful that she stood convicted in the eyes of her enemies for a multitude of crimes unparalleled in Philippine history, Mrs. Marcos stressed the point that none of the 901 cases that were filed against her in the Philippines prospered. To dismiss the failure to convict her as a manifestation of the infirmities of the Philippine justice system was to miss the point entirely. She had, in fact, passed through the wringer of American justice unscathed as a New York jury acquitted her in 1990 of charges made under the anti-racketeering act, a statute whose loose definition of “racketeering” was designed to secure conviction with relative ease. At that time the head of the NY prosecution service was Rudolf Giuliani of 9/11 fame. Her US acquittal, she seemed to say, clearly and strongly entitled her to the presumption of innocence.
Throughout the interviews, Mrs. Marcos maintained a critical stance on the US government which she felt abandoned her and her husband. She felt that their “betrayal” by the Americans was in retribution for the dominant role of Marcos in asserting Philippine sovereignty in cutting the lease of US bases from the original 99 years down to 25 years and later on down to 5 years.
She felt that it was an accomplishment that the nationalists and the leftists conveniently ignored in their blanket condemnation of her husband as a US lapdog.
The Imelda biography that this series of interviews was supposed to be the end product would not happen. There was a cooling of relationship between Mrs. Marcos and my cousin, Sonya, who, in the darkest hours of Imelda Marcos, remained loyal to her while scores of erstwhile “blue ladies” hurriedly left her. It was apparently precipitated by a loan transaction that Sonya arranged for Mrs. Marcos that did not turn out well. It had a telling effect on the physical and emotional well being of Sonya who died last November at the age of 81.
Considering that the political fortune of Mrs. Marcos is on the rebound, for the lady who once had the “best, best, best” and suffered the “worst, worst, worst,” the going is now getting to be good, good, good. Imelda celebrates her birthday on July 2. Born in 1929, she is now 83.
(About the author: Luis Bautista Lim is an AB Philosophy graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, college class ’66.)