In February 2006, the Philippines marked 20 years of freedom since its “people power” uprising sent former President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda Trinidad Romualdez Marcos into exile in Hawaii. Marcos was driven from power following a 20-year reign, which included nine years of martial law used to keep him in office and jail his opponents.
In light of Imelda Marcos’ reputation for extravagance, 65 parasols are easy to explain. After all, the sun is hot in Manila. But what did the former Philippine First Lady do with 15 mink coats? These were among the items listed in the government’s inventory of possessions left behind in Malacanang Palace by the fleeing Marcoses. Also listed were 508 floor- length gowns, 888 handbags and 71 pairs of sunglasses. The final tally on Imelda’s shoes was 1,060 pairs, less than the 3,000 originally reported.
Imelda’s family is described as a respectable middle class family that has produced lawyers, politicians, and artists. She was born on July 2, 1929 in San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila. Her parents were Vicente Orestes Romualdez, a lawyer, former dean of the law school of St. Paul’s College, and a music and culture afficionado; and Remedios Trinidad, a dressmaker who traces her roots from Baliuag, Bulacan. Imelda was also a niece of Daniel Romualdez, the Speaker of the House of Representatives during the early 1950s.
A beauty queen in her own right, Imelda was also a fixture in several beauty pageants during the 1950s. Imelda 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, the pageant – and Imelda – generated controversy due to Imelda’s 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.
Imelda Romualdez grew up in the southern province of Leyte before returning to Manila when she was in her 20s, where she met rising political star, Ferdinand Marcos in the Congressional cafeteria and married him 11 days later. As she recalls, the common opinion was that “Whoever will not marry this guy is stupid.”
When her husband was elected president of the Philippines in 1965, Imelda Marcos became an unusually politically active first lady, not only helping to campaign but also establishing public institutions and cultural projects and serving as the governor of Metro Manila and the minister of human settlements and ecology. After the Marcoses declared martial law in 1972, they continued to rule the Philippines as a dictatorship, using their power to amass great amounts of private wealth and siphoning billions of dollars in foreign aid and domestic profits into private international bank accounts, while most Filipinos remained in extreme poverty. Opposition to the Marcos administration was quickly squelched, with thousands of journalists, students and other dissenters taken into custody as political prisoners. Meanwhile, Imelda Marcos remained a beloved and powerful figure worldwide, traveling around the globe and increasingly taking the place of her husband as his health began to deteriorate.
(Adapted from The Biography Channel: Imelda Marcos Marcos, Imelda Romualdez at INDEPENDENT LENS)
On December 7, 1972, an assailant, Carlito Dimahilig, tried to stab her to death with a bolo knife during an award ceremony broadcast live on television. Critics claimed the assassination attempt was staged. The assailant was shot to death by security police and the wounds on Marcos’ hands and arms required 75 stitches. In 1978, she was elected as member of the 165-member Interim Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) representing the National Capital Region.
As a Special Envoy, Imelda toured China, the Soviet Union, and the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe (Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, etc.), the Middle East, Libya, then ruled by strongman Muammar Gaddafi, the non-Soviet dominated communist state of Yugoslavia, and Cuba. To justify the multi-million expenditure of traveling with a large diplomatic entourage using private jets, she would later claim diplomatic successes that included securing of a cheap supply of oil from China and Libya, and in the signing of the Tripoli Agreement.
Imelda’s extravagant lifestyle reportedly included five-million-dollar shopping tours in New York, Rome and Copenhagen in 1983, and sending a plane to pick up Australian white sand for a new beach resort. She purchased a number of properties in Manhattan in the 1980s, including the $51-million Crown Building, the Woolworth Building (40 Wall Street) and the $60-million Herald Centre; she declined to purchase the Empire State Building for $750m as she considered it “too ostentatious.” 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.
When the Marcoses were ousted from power by a popular uprising in 1986, they fled to Hawaii, where Ferdinand died in 1989. Imelda stood trial in New York on charges of fraud, but was acquitted of all charges. Philippines President Corazon Aquino ordered Marcos’s enormous collection of shoes, clothes and art to be put on display at Malacanang Palace as a demonstration of the regime’s corruption and extravagance.
Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines in 1991 and campaigned unsuccessfully for president, but soon after won election to the House of Representatives. Two of her three children, Imee and Bongbong, are also active in politics, while her daughter Irene remains out of the public eye.
Numerous court trials followed, in which Marcos was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 18 years in prison. She successfully appealed and was never imprisoned. In 2001, Marcos was arrested and charged with amassing wealth illegally and sentenced to nine years in prison, a conviction that was also overturned. She continues to face more than 150 additional corruption-related charges, and has become a reviled yet notorious cult figure. Today, she receives a monthly pension of $90 from the Filipino government as a widow of a war veteran.
(Adapted from The Biography Channel: Imelda Marcos Marcos, Imelda Romualdez at INDEPENDENT LENS)


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