Imelda Marcos, the former Philippine first lady and the stuff of shoemakers’ dreams, has a new vocation.
Imelda Marcos, the former Philippine first lady and the stuff of shoemakers’ dreams, has a new vocation. The Philippine parliament, their faces straighter than a Manolo Blahnik seam, has named Marcos – the biggest of the big spenders – the country’s champion of the poor, appointing her chair of a key committee tasked with halving poverty by 2015.
The story of the spendthrift queen’s unlikely renaissance already ran like a Filipino joke that doesn’t translate. Her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, was one of the great crooks of the 20th century: he looted up to $30bn of the country’s money during his 20-year dictatorship – recalled un-fondly as the Marcos Kleptocracy – leaving the Philippines in a lasting economic funk. “We practically own everything in the Philippines,” Imelda once famously quipped to the Manila press. When exile and humiliation followed, it seemed little more than the Marcoses deserved.
Twenty years have passed and, with the late Ferdinand now occupying a glass display case in the town of Batac, the rehabilitated Imelda, after escaping a string of embezzlement charges, has marshalled an astonishing political comeback. In May, at the age of 80, she won election to Congress, just as her son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr (also known as Bongbong), secured a Senate seat and her daughter, Imee, became governor of their home province of Ilocos Norte.
Are Filipino memories really so short? “We Filipinos are a very forgiving, forgetting people,” admits Carlos Conde, a journalist who covers the Philippines for the New York Times. “We forget very easily. To people outside, putting Imelda in charge of tackling poverty might be a bitterly ironic thing. But I covered her election campaign, and I clearly saw that people still like the Marcoses – they revere them.”
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