To read this article in Filipino, see Imelda Marcos
Imelda Romualdez Marcos is a former First Lady of the Philippines, former congressional representative of Leyte, former district representative of Ilocos Norte, patroness of the arts and culture, and perhaps the most colorful and controversial First Lady to ever occupy the Malacañang Palace.
Early Life and Education
Marcos's family is described as a respectable middle class family that has produced lawyers, politicians, and artists. She was born on 2 July 1929 at San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila. Her parents were Vicente Orestes Romualdez, a lawyer, former dean of the law school of St. Paul College, and a music and culture aficionado; and Remedios Trinidad, a dressmaker who traces her roots from Baliuag, Bulacan. She was also a niece of Daniel Romualdez, the Speaker of the House of Representatives during the early 1950s.
Marcos obtained a bachelor's degree in education from St. Paul College and won a scholarship for voice culture at the Philippine Women's University in Manila. Thus, her affinity to politics and the arts and culture could be traced to her family background and her upbringing.
Beauty Pageant Queen
A beauty queen in her own right, Marcos was also a fixture in several beauty pageants in the 1950s. She was crowned the “Rose of Tacloban” at the age of 18. In 1953, she also competed in the Miss Manila beauty pageant. Although she placed among the top winners, both the pageant and Marcos generated controversy due to her complaints about not winning the title. This prompted then Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson to bestow upon her the title of “Manila's Muse.” The controversial incident would prove to be the start of a life surrounded by one controversy after another.
On 17 April 1954, in her mid-20s, she was married to rising political star and congressional representative of Ilocos Norte, Ferdinand Marcos. They were married after a whirlwind courtship that lasted 11 days. This celebrated marriage prompted observers to note that the union might have had political undertones because of her blood relation to House Speaker Romualdez. However, speculations remained purely speculations as their marriage would eventually last until the death of the former president on 28 September 1989. The couple have three children—Imee, Bongbong, and Irene. They also have one adopted daughter, Aimee. Except for Irene and Aimee, Imee and Bongbong eventually followed the footsteps of their parents as they also pursued their respective political ambitions.
In 1965, his husband was elected as the 10th president of the Republic of the Philippines. They would become the focal point of politics, government, and society in the Philippines for two decades.
The First Lady
First Presidential Term
As First Lady, she wielded power and influence that later on would encroach on the powers and responsibilities of other government officials. During the first term of President Marcos from 1965 to 1969, she concentrated on socio-civic activities and programs in her capacity as First Lady. Her background on the arts and culture had obvious effects regarding her choice of projects for the country. She presented four goals to Filipinos in order to build a better and progressive Philippines. These include the beautification of the country, tourism, providing incentive of proper climate for culture, and improvement of social services.
She became the self-designated “patroness of the arts” and the flagship project of all her cultural and artistic endeavors was the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex. National Artist for architecture Leandro Locsin designed the main building following the First Lady's vision of the CCP as a landmark of architectural beauty. Critics blasted the project as too ambitious and extravagant and predicted its failure. She pursued the project anyway and resulted in the establishment of the center for excellence in the arts and culture in the country. Filipino artists were given a much deserved attention and logistical support, while foreign artists and cultural performers were brought to the country to showcase their talents, usually at the CCP.
Although her critics pictured the CCP Complex as a symbol of her extravagance, it cannot be denied that the project was instrumental in the development of Philippine culture and the arts, as well as in the discovery of new Filipino talents. Later on, the CCP Complex would also contain other structures such as the Folk Arts Theater, the Coconut Palace, the Film Center of the Philippines, and the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
Martial Law Years
In 1969, President Marcos became the first Philippine president to be reelected. Toward the end of his second term, his administration faced criticisms from various sectors of Philippine society. Members of the opposition predicted that it was only a matter of time before he will attempt to prolong his stay in power. This came into fruition on 23 September 1972 when he declared Martial Law.
The declaration of Martial Law not only centralized political and military powers in the hands of President Marcos, but also allowed the First Lady to gain political powers that she used to advance various activities, programs, and agenda. From culture and the arts, her influence then shifted to encompass politics, as well. In the process, a term for a form of dictatorship was coined by Philippine media to describe the power of the presidential couple—conjugal dictatorship. As used in this case, the concept of conjugal dictatorship refers to Imelda—aside from her husband—wielding tremendous political power and influence over the country and using such powers to gain personal advantages.
Governor of Metro Manila
In 1975, she was appointed by her husband as governor of Metropolitan Manila—then composed of four cities and seven towns—and the first of numerous government positions that she will occupy in the Marcos administration. It was said that as governor of Metro Manila, which also encompasses the capital city of Manila, Imelda became the second most powerful person in the Philippines, next only to her husband.
Among the notable projects that she undertook during her governorship was the construction of the first line of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system. The first mass transit service in the Metro Manila stretched from Caloocan and running through Rizal Avenue and Taft Avenue until the southern terminal point in Pasay. Although many jeepney drivers' groups complained about the project, it eventually proved useful to the commuting public in the long run.
Other projects that Imelda undertook during her tenure as governor of Metro Manila were the following:
- reclamation program along the Manila Bay shoreline,
- reclamation of a large tract of swampland called Dagat-dagatan (bounded by Manila, Malabon, Navotas, and Caloocan), and
- building of flower boxes all over the metropolis as part of her beautification campaign.
Human Settlements Minister
Imelda was also appointed Minister of the Ministry of Human Settlements in 1978. In the words of political scientist Alexander Magno in the book, Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People (A Nation Reborn) volume 9, "the functions of the ministry were so diverse and ill-defined... and encroached on the work of other agencies" at the time. The ministry became her private kingdom that catered to her various programs and projects. In fact, the Ministry of Human Settlements actually resembled a small national government as it had projects on housing, agriculture, finance, education, and public works.
Aside from the governorship of Metro Manila and being Human Settlements minister, Imelda also occupied other high-profile positions in the government. She was a member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa (the official name of the Philippine Parliament during the Marcos administration).
She was also appointed by President Marcos as Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary. As a special envoy, she was instrumental in the opening of Philippine diplomatic relations with socialist states such as the People's Republic of China (PROC), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and socialist countries in Eastern Europe including Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. She also strengthened the diplomatic and religious ties of the country with the Vatican.
Imelda was also instrumental in securing an agreement on behalf of the Philippine government with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari. Under the auspices of Libyan president Muammar Khadafy, she negotiated peace with the leadership of the MNLF and was able to sign the Tripoli Agreement on 23 December 1976. Under the agreement, a ceasefire between the government and the Muslim rebels will take effect in exchange for the commitment of 13 Mindanao provinces to an "autonomous region" headed by Filipino Muslims.
The following are some of the high-profile projects of Imelda encompassing different sectors in society.
- Social Welfare Program
- Reception and Study Center for the Children and Youth
- Nayon ng Kabataan (Orphanage)
- Marillac Homes for Wayward Girls
- Home for the Aged
- Molave Village for Delinquent Boys
- Save a Life in Every Barrio
- Health and Medical Institutions
- Cultural Programs
- 1974 Miss Universe Pageant
- Manila International Film Festival (MIFF)
- Kasaysayan ng Lahi
- Green Revolution
- Improvement of Rizal Park
- Nayong Pilipino
- Planting of fruits and vegetables all over the country
The consequences of a conjugal dictatorship can be seen in the liberty of diverting funds from other government programs to finance choice projects. This could also be applicable in diverting funds for personal advancements. Among the allegations against Imelda was her extravagant lifestyle that was reportedly funded by the treasury of the government.
Among her alleged display of extravagant lifestyle included five-million-dollar shopping tours in New York, Rome, and Copenhagen in 1983; sending a plane to pick up Australian white sand for a new beach resort; the purchase of a number of properties in Manhattan in the 1980s, including the $51-million Crown Building and the $60-million Herald Centre. Her New York real estate was later seized and sold, along with much of her jewels and most of her 175 piece art collection, which included works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Canaletto. She responded to criticisms of her extravagance by claiming that it was her "duty" to be "some kind of light, a star to give the poor guidelines."
After EDSA Revolution
The end of the Marcoses in power came on 25 February 1986. Their family fled to Hawaii via Guam after the four-day EDSA People Power Revolution. Marcos was succeeded by Corazon Aquino, widow of the slain former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. Upon assumption to the presidency, President Aquino issued Executive Order No. 1, creating the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to investigate and sequester the alleged unexplained wealth of the Marcoses. President Aquino also abolished the Batasang Pambansa, the Ministry of Human Settlements, and various institutions associated with the Marcoses.
After the Marcos family left the Philippines, members of the new government who went to Malacañang discovered evidence of Imelda's legendary extravagance. Left behind when they evacuated from the palace were 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags, and over a thousand pairs of shoes. The exact number of shoes varies between accounts but estimates of up to 3000 pairs of shoes have been published. Most of her shoes were put on display when President Aquino decided to convert Malacañang into a museum.
In the immediate years after 1986, the Aquino administration refused to allow the Marcoses to return to the Philippines. On 9 June 1989, the Department of Transportation and Communications issued (DOTC) Memorandum Circular No. 89-291, which states that any aircraft carrying former President Marcos—or his remains in case of death—is prohibited from entering Philippine airspace or landing or disembarking in Philippine territory. The memorandum used the terms "in the interest of national security and tranquility" in formalizing the prohibition. Former President Marcos died in exile on 28 September 1989. President Aquino reiterated her refusal to allow the repatriation of his remains for national security reasons.
Marcos's supporters challenged the directive of the Aquino administration before the Supreme Court. In the case of Marcos vs. Manglapus, the high court, voting 8-7, upheld the decision of the government not to allow the return of former President Marcos and members of his family. In 1991, Imelda and the other Marcos family members were eventually allowed to return to the Philippines.
Attempts to Clear the Marcos Name
After their return to the Philippines, the Marcoses took various steps to clear their name of allegations of corruption and political persecution and restore the glory days of their family. Imelda made a bid for the presidency during the 1992 presidential elections. She finished fifth in the elections eventually won by Fidel V. Ramos. In 1995, Imelda made a political comeback and was elected representative of the first district of Leyte in the House of Representatives. Imee and Bongbong also became Congressional representatives of Ilocos Norte.
In 1998, Imelda made another bid for the presidency but finished 9th among 11 candidates, behind eventual winner Joseph Ejercito Estrada. Imelda has abandoned her political career after the 1998 elections. However, there were persistent rumors that she was interested in the mayorship of Manila although she no longer ran during the three elections after 1998.
It was during the Estrada administration when many of the cases filed by the Aquino government against the Marcoses were dismissed by Ombudsman Aniano Desierto due to technicalities. Consequently, allegations of preferential treatment for the Marcoses were raised against President Estrada because of the numerous cases that have been dismissed during his presidency.
On 29 June 1998, the Sandiganbayan convicted Imelda of the charge that she had entered into an agreement—when she was still First Lady—disadvantageous to the government. Imelda appealed her case before the Supreme Court. In the case of Imelda Marcos vs. Sandiganbayan, the high court reversed the decision of the anti-graft court and cited Sandiganbayan Justice Francis Gatchitorena for his alleged bias against Imelda. As of 2007, Imelda and her children continue to face a number of civil and criminal cases filed against them and are still pending resolution at the Sandiganbayan.
In February 2006, Imelda insisted that former President Marcos acquired his wealth legitimately as a gold trader. She claimed that by the late 1950s, he had amassed a personal fortune of 7,500 tons of gold. She added that after gold prices climbed in the 1970s, the Marcos family wealth increased to $35 billion. However, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) declared that the Marcos family has no record of tax declaration or payment on these assets.
In October 2019, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division junked the ₱267.37 million civil case against the Marcoses, their business associates Fe Roa Gimenez and Ignacio Gimenez, and other cronies. It was the third case the PCGG lost that year due to what the anti-graft court said were insufficient evidence. In August 2019, the Sandiganbayan Second Division dismissed the ₱102-billion forfeiture case filed in 1987 against the Marcoses and their cronies, and earlier in October the ₱1.052-billion civil case filed in 1989 against the Marcoses, former Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. and some of his relatives. The anti-graft court upheld the dismissal of the P267.37-million forfeiture case in 2020.
In December 2019, the Sandiganbayan also junked what was widely referred to as the "mother" of cases in the effort of PCGG to recover an estimated $10 billion allegedly siphoned off by Marcos. The case had sought the return of 200 billion pesos ($3.93 billion) allegedly tied up in equities, several local and foreign banks and real estate in the Philippines and in the US and United Kingdom, and also included paintings and crates of jewelry amounting to nearly $9 million.
Resurrecting the Marcos Legacy
On 7 July 2007, personalities associated with former President Marcos gathered at the National Library of the Philippines to formally launch seven books about the different aspects of the Marcos presidency and era. Aside from Imelda, Imee, Bongbong, and Irene, the other attendees composed a virtual who's who list of Marcos's supporters and loyalists: Cesar Virata, Placido Mapa, Salvador Escudero, Jesus Tanchanco, Arturo Pacificador, Teodoro Encarnacion, and General Pedro Dumol.
According to Imee, the launch on that particular date—7 July 2007 (7-7-07)—was deliberate and symbolic as it had direct correlation with the number seven. It was widely believed and observed that former President Marcos's decisions in politics and governance would always involve the number seven and numbers that are multiples of seven—from dates of elections to the declaration of Martial Law.
The books were the brainchild of University of the Philippines (UP) professor Samuel K. Tan, the Mindanao expert of Tadhana, the two-volume history book project of former President Marcos. It was Tan who suggested to former National Library director Serafin Quiazon to write books out of the collection of Marcos papers in the library. The following books were the result of the writing project:
- A Hero's History - Remigio Agpalo
- The Filipino Military Tradition - Samuel K. Tan
- The Marcos Foreign Policy - Benjamin Domingo
- The Musical Arts in the New Society - Antonio Hila
- The AFP During and After Martial Law - Reynaldo P. Silvestre
- The FM Law Book - UP Law
- Light This Beloved Land - Rural Electrification Advocate of the Philippines (REAP)
Imelda: A New Musical
Imelda continues to be a newsmaker and talk-of-the-town even after her years as a First Lady. She has truly become popular not only in the Philippines but in the whole world. A musical was written and performed in honor of her and her ambition to put the country as an equal player with the rest of the world. Imelda (the musical play) is based upon the book written by Sachi Oyama that talks about the lifestyle and character of Imelda, leading to her manipulation of her husband. The musical is a play in two acts with songs composed by Nathan Wang and lyrics by Aaron Coleman. The musical director is Nathan Wang and Tim Dang is in charge of the stage direction.
Political Comeback and Business Ventures
In 1992, Imelda ran for president but finished 5th out of 7 candidates.
She was elected as representative of the first district of Leyte in May 1995. She sought the presidency again in 1998 but withdrew to support Estrada.
In 2006, she started her own fashion label, “Imelda Collection”, which featured jewelry, clothing, and shoes.
In 2010, she ran for the second district of Ilocos Norte. During her term, she also served as chairwoman of the Millennium Development Goals in the Lower House. She was reelected in 2013 and in 2016.
In 2018, the Sandiganbayan convicted Marcos on seven counts of graft and corruption, which disqualifies her from holding any public office.
- CNN Philippines. Court junks another Marcos ill-gotten wealth civil case. Accessed 27 December 2020.https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/10/25/Marcos-Gimenez-ill-gotten-wealth-civil-case.html.
- CNN Philippines. Sandiganbayan upholds dismissal of ₱267-M forfeiture case vs. Marcos, cronies." Accessed 27 December 2020. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/3/6/Sandiganbayan-upholds-dismissal-of-another-Marcos-ill-gotten-wealth-.html.
- Cortes, Rosario Mendoza, ed. 1999. Philippine Presidents (100 years). Philippine Historical Association with New Day Publishers.
- De Guzman, De Leon, et. al., eds. 1967. Women of Distinction (Biographical Essays on Outstanding Filipino Women of the Past and Present). Bukang Liwayway.
- Magno, Alexander. 1998. Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People (A Nation Reborn), volume 9. Asia Publishing Company Limited.
- Pedrosa, Carmen Navarro. 1987. The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos.
- Polotan, Kerima. 1969. Imelda Romualdez Marcos. The World Publishing Company.
- Reuters. Philippine court dismisses case seeking $3.9 billion of Marcos wealth. Accessed 27 December 2020.https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-politics-marcos-idUSKBN1YK0TM.