Today is Imelda Marcos's 86th birthday. In observance, I'm reposting an item I first published in October 2011. Here's wishing the old battle-axe the justice she deserves.
The Legacy of the Shoes
"I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes, I had one thousand and sixty."
Imelda Marcos (The number was officially placed at 2,700.)
is, or used to be, based on something called objective truth - an
implicit belief that what is written down is a fairly accurate account
of what actually happened. But it's been said that if you tell a lie
enough times, it becomes the truth. This would appear to be the case
with Imelda Marcos and her children, Ferdinand Jr. (nicknamed
"Bongbong") and Imee. The fact that they have been living, despite
attempts to divest them of some of their wealth, in palaces for the last
forty-odd years may have had the effect of reinforcing their own
delusions. Bongbong was elected a senator and Imelda elected a
representative to the Philippine Congress. Imee is now governor of
These uncommonly wealthy but quite mediocre people
no longer have any reason to lie. Ferdinand's children could have simply
said "I am not my father" and let themselves off the hook. Instead they
go on repeating the same scabrous song and dance that Imelda has
performed for twenty years - that Ferdinand Marcos left the Philippines a
safer, richer, and prouder nation than he found it. What they can't
seem to grasp is the simple fact that it doesn't even matter if a man
acts like a saint 364 days out of a year if he acts like a demon on the
last. Ferdinand Marcos didn't have to be a saint or a demon. He simply
needed to be a good president.
Current Philippine president
Benigno Aquino III was asked in a recent conference with the foreign
press if he would consider granting a request from the Marcos family
that Ferdinand be given a state funeral. Aquino, whose father was assassinated
either by direct order of Marcos or by Marcos supporters in 1983, and
whose mother beat Marcos in a now-famous "snap election" and subsequent
People Power Revolution, replied unequivocally "not on my watch".
means the Marcos family will have to wait until 2016 when Aquino leaves
office and another president, perhaps more sympathetic, may give them a
hearing. Or they will have to bury the body of their patriarch, dead
since 1989 and lying in a state of perfect preservation in a glass case,
in his native province of Ilocos Norte.
Henry Sy, the wealthiest
man in the Philippines, had a dream when he opened his first shoe mart
in 1948, that one day every Filipino would own a pair of shoes.
Sixty-three years and 41 SM Malls later, I can say from
experience that Mr. Sy's dream hasn't yet been realized. When I got
married in Balibago, Pampanga in 1995, I had to buy my bride's father a
pair of shoes so he could attend the wedding.
When the Marcos
family was whisked away by the U.S. military in February 1986,* when it
looked like the presidential Malacañang Palace would be overrun.
President Reagan himself offered the Marcoses asylum in the U.S.
Witnesses claimed they saw diaper bags filled with gold objects and
pallets of freshly printed Philippine Pesos loaded onto the C-141. But
most of the money that Marcos stole from the Philippine treasury and in
various scams was already safely hidden in overseas banks accounts and
in real estate investments. The city of New York seized the Marcos
properties. According to one account, Imelda considered buying the
Empire State Building, but thought it would be too ostentatious even for
When Malacañang was finally searched, the stashes of
artworks, nick-nacks and doodads that were found there included 2,700
pairs of shoes belonging to Imelda. A month after the Marcoses fled the
Philippines, Lance Morrow wrote an essay, "The Shoes of Imelda Marcos" for Time.
parable of Imelda's shoes has something to teach. She could never wear
them all. Nor could the Marcos family, one suspects, manage to spend the
billions of dollars they plundered from the Philippines. . . . The
Marcos plundering seems ultimately a cheerless affair, covert though
sometimes ostentatious, avaricious though often prodigal. Christ said,
'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the
poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.' Marcos did not wish to
wait. He turned Christianity upside down. He took nourishment from the
mouths of the poor and transformed it into his treasure on earth. Such
venality is not a matter of either Freud or metaphysics. It is just a
brutal habit, the crocodile reflex of a man too long in power. It is a
subdivision of the banality of evil."
What makes the image
of those 5,400 shoes especially obscene for Filipinos is that owning one
pair is a status symbol when so many will either never own them or will
never have a life in which shoes would be practical. Instead, the
majority of Filipinos wear flip-flops, or "tsinelas" (a word, like so
many others in Tagalog, borrowed from the Spanish).
But in a
world that rewards excessive greed, that allows a tiny handful of people
to own almost everything and that can impoverish everyone else in the world
by impetuously trying to increase their wealth, Imelda is perfectly at
home. If those shoes could walk, they'd be marching over the bodies of
the protesters who are trying to "occupy" Wall Street.
was carried aboard a C-9 on a stretcher, while his family and their
belongings, along with some 49 "supporters" were loaded aboard a C-141.