If there is one lady in these Islands who can command a presence despite her advanced age and her, well, ill-reputation, it would be none other than the Filipinos’ Madame, the Former First Lady Imelda Remedios Visitación Romuáldez Marcos.The Former First Lady celebrates her 81st birthday today and it comes at a historic moment in the life of the country: two days right after the proclamation of Simeon Benigno Aquino III, only son of the Marcos’ family’s fiercest opponents, the late couple Sen. Ninoy Aquino and Former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.
Despite her age though, the big-haired woman with the butterfly sleeves still commands a stunning presence wherever she goes. So many Filipinos who “hate” and “deplore” the long martial regime of the Marcos family suddenly become star-struck whenever Imelda enters the room. Suddenly, they rush to take a photo with the tall and gracious woman, stately in her coiffure and bespoke ternos. They kiss her, they take photos of her, the hug her. Imelda who thinks she is the country’s “Ina” or in English, “mother”, has basked in public attention since the time she became the First Lady of the Philippines.
Though accounts of her youth are varied and some traces have been altered (e.g. the supposed home where she “practically grew up” according to her is too ostentatious and unbelievable while others’ stories of how Imelda and her family lived in a cariton or push cart in the San Miguel district seems farfetched) there are still points of convergence that may shed light on the “formative” and critical years of the young Imelda Romualdez.
First, she was said to have been raised by an aunt here in Dapitan Street in Manila after her mother’s death. There were also accounts of how she was looked down upon by Manila’s high society girls she came in contact with by virtue of both her Romualdez family name and her looks. This was because upon arriving in Manila, she suddenly became a “hit” for her beauty and voice, being featured on magazines and becoming the “Muse of Manila”, an “honorary” title given to her after she filed a complaint when she lost the “Miss Manila” contest. But because she was poor relations to the more prominent members of the Romualdez clan, Manila’s highly snobbish alta sociedad looked down upon Imelda, la provinciana. It was even said that she was invited to a party of Peping Cojuangco with Pampanga’s elite as the guests and Imelda came home that night extremely ridiculed.
But it was also during her stay in Manila with her Tia Pacita that politicians started courting her. One of her suitors was Ariston Nakpil of the famous Nakpil family. She turned him down but his sister, the late Edith Nakpil Rabat became one of her fiercest Blue Ladies. Why, even the young Ninoy Aquino became one of her escorts!
But it was one Ilocano representative that took Imelda off her feet. While waiting for a cousin, Daniel Romualdez y Zialcita, during a session at the Camara de Representantes, Imelda was seen by Ferdinand Edralin Marcos at the Camara’s cafeteria. After 11 days of courting, they were married with no less President Ramon Magsaysay as principal sponsor. For trivia’s sake, it was also that same year when Ninoy and Cory Aquino were married, again with President Magsaysay as principal sponsor.
It was from that moment on when the big-haired lady with the butterfly sleeves became one of the Philippines’ most loved/hated icons. A true patroness of the arts and culture, of fashion and fine art, but also the pain of activists and human rights crusaders, Imelda Romualdez Marcos has, for 81 years, kept people talking about her.
During her husband’s martial regime, many abuses were said to have taken place and political oppression was the norm. However, Imelda added a strange flavor to the Marital err, Martial Rule of Ferdinand because it was during those decades when she and her friends took the limelight to feature “the true, the good, and the beautiful”, holding lavish parties, buying art and filling and making museums, organizing many, many cultural affairs and leading many programs. She put up many edifices, foremost of which was the Cultural Center of the Philippines, as well as the Heart Center, Lung Center, the Kidney Institute, the Coconut Palace, the Folk Arts Theater, etc. She became known for her fine jewelry, exquisite taste in the arts and her wide collection of clothes. She became an instant star, a radiant star that was friends with so many socialites from abroad, which included Doris Duke, George Hamilton, Dewi Sukarno, as well as here.
In the Philippines, she even had a select group of ladies acting as if “Ladies in Waiting”. The group was called the “Blue Ladies”. It included the likes of Imelda Cojuangco Ongsiako, Edith Nakpil Rabat, Elvira Ledesma Manahan, Ising Madrigal, and Baby Cruz. But it was during her height as First Lady when Imelda showed to members of Manila’s original 400 (or the supposed small, tightly knit, related 400 members of the country’s alta sociedad) that she was a force to reckon with. She was not going to let them pull her down and it was said that her revenge against the Old Rich who ridiculed her was during the highly publicized “magical” and extremely extravagant wedding of her daughter Irene Marcos to Greggy Araneta, a scion of the old rich historic family. When she refused to take the proffered arm of the father of Greggy Araneta, the venerable Don Luis Ma. Zaragoza Araneta, on live TV, it was said to be a painful slap on the face of the Old Order of the patricians, of the Oligarchs, and the triumph of the Marcos family’s “New Society”. (http://remembranceofthingsawry.wordpress.com/2006/09/19/sarrat-ilocos-norte-1983/)
And that’s just one of the many instances when Imelda sought to change things and make sure that her bloc was THE bloc.
Indeed, a lot has been said about her material wealth, her physical beauty, her reputation as well as her extravagance, ignorance and supposed sheer lack of compassion for the poor. But one thing is certain, this lady of character or should I say, THIS CHARACTER, in Philippine history hecho ayer.
A product of yesteryears, nobody can(should) replace Madame.
There will/should be only one true Imelda Romualdez Marcos, the lady with the big coiffure and beautiful ternos.
And the 3000 pairs of shoes? Well, that’s for people to debate on.
Pero para mi, cuando hay oportunidad para charlar con esta dama, seguramente, yo voy! (The foto below was in 1 October when I did finally meet the lady in the terno. I was a co-speaker in one event)