” Steel Butterfly”
“They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.”
The Marcos Regime is primarily known for its brutality and corruption. However, Imelda Marcos is known notoriously for her love of material things and most infamously shoes.
Imelda Marcos, in full Imelda Romuáldez Marcos, née Imelda Remedios Visitacion Romuáldez (born July 2, 1929, Manila, Philippines) public figure in the Philippines who wielded great power during the 20-year rule of her husband, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. She remains one of the richest politicians in the Philippines through her collection of clothing, artwork, and jewellry, along with money in offshore bank accounts under the pseudonym “Jane Ryan”. As a result, she has been called a kleptocrat by her critics who accuse her of plunder.
The harsh rule of Ferdinand Marcos and the Marcos regime led to much of the poverty in the Philippines and suffering. Yet, Imelda and the presidential family hardly suffered. They lived a lavish, ostentatious, glamorous, royal lifestyle at the expense of their people. Draining most of the funds from the Philippine government, Imelda Marcos purchased extravagantly. Imelda travelled to New York and other destinations to buy fashions, high-end jewellery and other luxury items. She visited all of the major palaces and cities of mankind and purchased items left and right. Imelda bought the world’s biggest diamond in 1983. She bought a Michelangelo piece for three and a half million dollars. In addition, she bought a 26 story skyscraper in Manhattan.
In December, 1975, Cosmopolitan Magazine named Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines, as one of the ten richest women in the world. It even went a step further and speculated that Imelda was perhaps the richest woman in the world, richer than Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.
Everyone knew Imelda was rich; she made sure of that. She had an insatiable desire for expensive things and flaunted them. No one at the time really knew where she got all the money that she spent so impulsively. She was, after all, unemployed and had no independent wealth. In addition, her husband, the dictator,Ferdinand Marcos, had made less than $5,000 a year for the last ten years in office.
Nonetheless, there was Imelda, spending $40,000 on a Honolulu shopping spree in 1974, without trying anything on. Her excess knew no limits and she spared herself no luxury:
“Another report had Imelda and a gaggle of friends demanding Bloomingdale’s in New York be closed for a private shopping extravaganza, then marching through the store pointing to desired items and saying, ‘Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.’”
She was referred to by one sales clerk as ‘the Mine Girl.’
Responding to criticism of her self-indulgence and the spending of public money for high-profile projects that did nothing to alleviate the poverty of the Filipinos, Imelda remarked that is was her “duty” to be “some kind of light, a star to give [the poor] guidelines.”
By 1981, Imelda’s personal popularity was at an all-time high. She jet setted around the globe, shopping and hobnobbing with celebrities such as the perennially-tanned American actor George Hamilton. After having secured the Miss Universe Pageant for the Philippines in 1974 – which necessitated the rapid construction of the 10,000-seat Folks Art Center – Imelda continued to indulge her “edifice complex,” building 14 luxury hotels, a multimillion-dollar Nutrition Center, Convention Center, Heart Center and, in 1981, the infamous Manila Film Center.
Imelda wanted Manila to rival Cannes as a world film capital. At the cost of $25 million, Imelda approved plans for the Manila Film Center to be built to host an international film festival. Opening night was set for January 18, 1982. The project was grandiose and expensive; the building on Manila Bay was designed to look like the Parthenon.
Delays hampered the progress. As the deadline drew nearer, it required 4,000 workers, working in 3 shifts, around the clock, if the building was going to be ready.
Then, at 3 a.m. on November 17, the upper scaffold collapsed and sent workers falling into wet cement. A witness said that some of the workers were impaled on upright steel bars.
Imelda was contacted about the accident. She was told that the recovery of the bodies would take a lot of time – time, evidently, that Imelda didn’t want to give up. She ordered the construction to continue as planned and that the bodies – maybe as many as 169 – be covered with cement. It is believed that many of those who fell into the cement may have been buried alive.
The full story has never been told, as news crews, rescuers, and ambulance teams were barred from the scene for nine full hours, while the government, under martial law, prepared its official version of events, censoring all news and silencing all witnesses.
Despite all, the festival opened on schedule on January 18, 1981, and had among its guests Brooke Shields, Franco Nero, Ben Kingsley, and Robert Duvall. The first film shown in the theater was the tasteful biopic, “Gandhi.” Unknowingly, the stars partied atop a mausoleum of dead workers.
“During opening night, Imelda ‘strode on stage in a Joe Salazar black and emerald green terno with a hemline thick with layer upon layer of peacock feathers.’ “Some said there were diamonds embedded in the skirt.
The next year, as a result of the accident scandal, the government withheld $5 million in festival funding. Imelda was in a fix. She had to pay for the festival somehow, so she ran pornography films in the festival’s second and, understandably, last year.
Ferdinand Marcos was elected president of the Philippines in 1965. Ferdinand, Imelda, and their children moved to the lavish Malacanañg Palace. Imelda became the first lady of the Philippines in 1965 and was compared on several occasions to an American first lady named Jacqueline Kennedy. With an unlimited bank account siphoning money from the Philippine government, the palace was decorated with the most ostentatious pieces from around the world. Imelda visited all the major palaces in mankind for inspiration and decor ideas for the Malacanañg Palace. Unfortunately, the Marcos regime is known for its oppressive rule. During the Marcos Regime, many Filipinos lived in poverty. In fact, during the Marcos regime the Filipinos were increasingly impoverished. Ferdinand Marcos essentially made himself dictator when he enacted martial law in 1972. The Marcos regime was also brutal to anyone who opposed it. There were several occasions of torturing and execution without trial.
Imelda Marcos served as governor of the Metro Manila Area in the mid 70s. While she was governor, she headed costly beautification and development projects. She also served in the interim national assembly and as the minister of human settlements.
In two decades, the Marcoses are believed to have embezzled up to $10 billion. Imelda’s most famous shopping spree occurred during a 1983 trip to New York, Rome, and Copenhagen. She spent $7 million in 90 days. In a single day in New York, she spent $3 million. Her New York loot included $2 million in fine jewelry and $35,000 on limousines. In Rome she purchased a $3.5 million Michelangelo painting. Her travel expenses were also extravagant; she once spent $2,000 in chewing gum during a stop at SFO. An airplane departing Rome was required to do a mid-air U-turn because Imelda realized she’d forgotten to purchase cheese.
Sometimes she shopped by catalog: In 1981, Sotheby’s abruptly canceled a $5 million art auction because Imelda had offered to purchase every item in the catalog before the sale even began. When she tired of buying objects, she would purchase whole buildings in her favorite shopping capitals: During her travels, she purchased several Manhattan skyscrapers, including the Woolworth building. (Rumor has it Imelda declined the Empire State Building for being “too ostentatious.”) For one daughter’s wedding, Imelda spent $10.3 million to renovate an entire town in the Philippines. She built a luxury hotel and airport in husband Ferdinand Marcos’s humble birthplace of Sarrat. Local homes were “refaced to look like 17th-century Spanish dwellings.”
After five years in exile, Imelda returned to the Philippines in 1991. Her assets are still being contested; the AFP reported last year that Imelda’s declared net worth was $22 million.
And yes, if you’re going to do the math, the government would’ve built two major airports and can feed the hungry for generations with the ill-gotten wealth she embezzled from the Filipino people.
February 25th, 1986, the rebels from the “People Power” movement overran the presidential palace. Basically, “People Power” was an opposition movement against the Marcos regime. They levied for Corazon (Cory) Aquinas to gain power and lead the country instead of the brutal semi-dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. When the rebels overran the presidential palace, a United States Army helicopter whisked Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos away and out of peril. The Marcos were forced to flee the country. “People Power” rebels were disgusted when they entered the presidential palace and saw the lavish and over-the-top lifestyle the Marcos were living, while they were barely surviving in poverty.
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were forced to flee the Philippines when the “People Power” movement took over the presidential palace. They were eventually exiled to the Hawaiian Islands. In exile, Ferdinand and Imelda faced legal problems and pressure to return the funds that they allegedly took from the Philippine government. Hawaiian merchants and natives were excited to see that Imelda Marcos was exiled to Hawaii and would live there because they thought that her crazy shopping sprees would boost their economy. Unfortunately, it did just the opposite! Imelda would go shopping and she would compulsively buy things, but then the next day she would return all the things that she got. She would return things that she had purchased weeks, months, and even years ago. The Hawaiian natives and merchants actually lost money to Imelda Marcos when she lived in Hawaii and most of their profit disappeared.
Win or lose, we go shopping after the election…
The woman who would become known as the “Steel Butterfly” for her combination of fashion sense and political resolve was born Imelda Romuáldez. Her mother died when she was eight years old, and her father, saddled with a failing law practice and mounting expenses, soon relocated the family from Manila to Tacloban. She was dubbed the “Rose of Tacloban” as the winner of a local beauty contest in 1949, and she graduated from Tacloban’s St. Paul’s College with a degree in education in 1952. That year she returned to a Manila that was buzzing with post-World War II construction, a city greatly changed from the city she had known as a child. Romuáldez caught the eye of many among Manila’s business and political elites, including the mayor, who in 1953 declared her the “Muse of Manila,” resulting in her picture appearing frequently in newspapers and magazines thereafter.
In April 1954 she met Ferdinand Marcos, then a 36-year-old congressman who had already earned a reputation as an ambitious and media-savvy politician. The couple married after a whirlwind two-week courtship. Over the next decade Ferdinand and Imelda established themselves as one of the premier political couples in the Philippines. During that time Imelda gave birth to three children: daughter Imee (1955), son Ferdinand, Jr. (nicknamed “Bongbong”; 1957), and daughter Irene (1960).
First Lady Imelda Marcos projected an aura that propelled Ferdinand’s career. Perhaps that’s why he let her have what she wanted. But Imelda was not the only woman in Ferdinand’s life. His fling with Hollywood starlet Dovie Beams lasted from 1968 to 1970. Beams was known to have secretly followed Marcos as part of his entourage, calling him “Freddie” while the dictator called her “Big Eyes.” She often spoke in public about her affair with the president, including how Marcos would write poetry and serenade her.
She allegedly recorded a tape of Marcos, capturing the president’s pubic hair on camera. Imelda was so angry that she ordered a hit on Dovie Beams, forcing her to flee the country.
It is a testament to her residual power that Imelda Marcos was able to get a court order to prevent a damning film about her that was shown in the Philippines. What other widow of a reviled dictator could get her way in the country that she pillaged?
Consider the facts. She was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to a minimum of 12 years in prison in 1993. The Philippine Supreme Court overturned the conviction.
The Marcos estate lost a class action lawsuit for human rights violations. A US Federal District Court awarded the plaintiffs $2 billion. The money has yet to be paid. In 2003, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found Imelda Marcos guilty of funneling $659 million to private Swiss bank accounts and awarded the entire amount to the Philippine government.
We get Imelda’s spin on her own vanity when she boasted that as First Lady she took an hour to dress for kings and queens but she would take “double the time” if she was going to the provinces because the people needed “a standard, a star…especially in the dark of the night”.
In 1954, Imelda, met then-congressman Ferdinand Marcos in the cafeteria of the Philippine Congress and married him 11 days later. Ferdinand ran for president in 1964 and won by presenting himself and his wife as the John F Kennedys of Asia — young, fresh talent that was going to help the country advance. With the support of the US government, the Marcos’ hunger for power increased and in 1972, Ferdinand declared martial law. This was, according to Imelda, for the good of the people.
Imelda, said to have an “edifice complex”, she spent millions of dollars building structures for rich people in the capital city; in 1975 alone, she reportedly commissioned 14 luxury hotels, a multi-million-dollar Nutrition Center, a theatre, a convention centre, the Heart Center and the Lung Center, which did not benefit destitute Filipinos.
Everything Imelda did was, in her delusions — to benefit the common folk. “I had to be both star and slave,” she said.
An American journalist, the former ambassador to the Philippines, and the former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs provide some American insight. They portray her as a superficial woman who lived it up while her people suffered. Dressed to the hilt, Imelda met US Presidents, danced with Henry Kissinger, went to Libya to talk to Muaamar Gaddafi and met the Pope.
“It is not expensive to be beautiful. It takes only a little effort,” said Imelda, and her couturier, Christian Espiritu, recalls seamstresses going blind from hand-embroidering thousands of her gowns day and night to meet her tight deadlines.
“I hate ugliness. You know I’m allergic to ugliness.”
When this famous First Lady from the Philippines fled to Hawaii, she left behind a treasure’s chest containing jewellery worth millions, innumerable pairs of branded shoes, dresses and expensive paintings.
She is famous for amassing a prized shoe collection that most women would kill for.
But part of Imelda Marcos’ shoe stash, left behind after she and her dictator husband were driven out of the Philippines, has been badly damaged by termites, floods and general neglect. Among the damaged shoes are a pair of white Pierre Cardin heels, the sole of one destroyed by termites. Other shoes have been warped out of shape or messed by stains.
Hundreds of pieces of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ clothing, including the formal native see-through Barong shirts he wore during his two-decade rule, have also begun to gather mould and fray after being stored for years without protection at the presidential palace and Manila’s National Museum, officials added.
Ironically, more than 150 boxes of clothes, dress accessories and shoes of the Marcoses were transferred to the National Museum for safekeeping years ago after termites, humidity and mould threatened the apparel at the riverside palace. There they deteriorated further as the fragile boxes were abandoned in a padlocked museum hall that had no facilities to protect them.
Museum staffers, who were not aware the boxes contained precious mementoes from the Marcoses, opened the hall on the fourth floor of the building after noticing water pouring out from under the door. They were shocked to see Marcos’ shoes and gowns when they opened the wet boxes, officials said.
Workers hurriedly moved the boxes to a dry room and some were later brought to a museum laboratory, where a small team of curators scrambled to assess the extent of the damage, a process that may take months given the huge volume of the apparel.
The 83-year-old’s massive shoe collection, said to be in the region of 3,000 pairs, including top U.S. and European brands, astounded the world and became a symbol of excess in the Southeast Asian nation, where many still walked barefoot out of abject poverty.
After the 1986 revolt, Imelda’s shoes were displayed at the presidential palace as a symbol of the former first lady’s lavish lifestyle. The shoes were then removed from public view and stored in the palace basement in 1992. Imelda Marcos claimed many of the shoes were gifts from Filipino shoemakers in suburban Marikina city, the country’s shoemaking capital, for endorsing their products.
Among the hundreds on display, her favourite was a pair by Italian shoemaker Beltrami. The black pumps, embedded with stones and gold sparkles, fitted her so well, Mrs Marcos ordered more pairs in the same style.
People say I’m extravagant because I want to be surrounded by beauty. But tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage?
When her husband became president in 1965, Imelda took an active role in political life. The Marcoses used their power to amass private wealth, corruptly siphoning foreign aid, loans, and the profits of domestic companies into private bank accounts. The rule of her husband, former Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos, is largely remembered for its corruption and brutality.
When protesters stormed Malacanang Palace, it was famously discovered that more than 3000 pairs of shoes had been left behind in Imelda’s wardrobe.
She was later quoted as saying:
“They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.”
During the 1986 elections, a popular uprising forced the Marcoses into exile, and they fled to Hawaii. Ferdinand died in exile.
Amazingly, Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines in 1992 and campaigned for the presidency. Unsurprisingly, she received only a small percentage of the vote. However, in 1995, Mrs Marcos won election to the House of Representatives, representing the first district in her home province of Leyte.
Imelda Marcos has three children, Imee Marcos-Manotoc, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and Irene Marcos-Araneta.
President Marcos’ successor, Corazon Aquino, ordered many of Mrs Marcos’ shoes to be put on display as a demonstration of her extravagance. However, she has now opened her own shoe museum in Marikina, bizarrely stating
“This museum is making a subject of notoriety into an object of beauty”.
In December 2000, Mrs Marcos underwent surgery to remove a blood clot close to her brain, which doctors say could have killed her.
The following year she was arrested and charged with corruption and amassing wealth illegally, during her husband’s regime. She was convicted of some of the charges and sentenced to nine to twelve years in prison. This conviction was later overturned.
Just minutes after returning from his three-year exile, former Philippine Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the Manila airport on August 21, 1983. During his long career as reformist politician, Aquino had attracted the wrath of authoritarian President Ferdinand Marcos and spent eight years in prison on the unsubstantiated charge of subversion. His death, for which Marcos was blamed, ignited the national People Power Revolution which eventually led to Marcos’ downfall three years later. Adopting Aquino as their martyr and symbol, the Filipino people united behind his wife, Corazon Aquino, in the 1986 elections which Mrs. Aquino won, but where Marcos also claimed victory. On February 25, 1986, rival presidential inaugurations were held, but as Aquino supporters overran Manila and its television station, Marcos was forced to flee.
The Marcos family was transported by U.S. Air Force C-130 planes to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii where Marcos arrived on February 26. It was reported that when Marcos fled, U.S. Customs agents discovered 24 suitcases of gold bricks and diamond jewelry hidden in diaper bags. Moreover, certificates for gold bullion valued in the billions of dollars were allegedly among the personal properties he, his family, his cronies and business partners surreptitiously took with them when the U.S. provided them safe passage to Hawaii. When the presidential mansion was seized, it was famously discovered that Imelda Marcos had over 2700 pairs of shoes in her closet. After various attempts to move to another country failed, the Marcoses remained in Hawaii until his death in 1989. Imelda was eventually pardoned by Corazon Aquino in 1991.
A first lady no longer, Imelda Marcos has struck out on her own as a political force. She won her first election since returning from exile in the mid-1990s. Marcos served as a member of the House of Representatives for several years. In 2010, she won election to become the representative for Ilocos Norte province. This area is where her late husband was born and where the Marcos family still wields some political clout. Two of her children are in politics as well. Her daughter Imee won the post of governor of Ilocos Norte in 2010, and her son Ferdinand Jr., or “Bongbong,” was elected to the country’s senate that same year.
Marcos, however, may never fully emerge from the shadows of her past. She continues to face legal challenges regarding funds allegedly taken from the Philippine government. Some estimates indicate that the Marcos family amassed a roughly $10 billion fortune during their time in power.