In 1978, the administration Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party fielded Imelda as a candidate in the Philippine parliamentary elections of 1978. Because most opposition candidates were either in jail or had limited mobility due to Martial Law, Imelda Marcos easily won a seat as a member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa (National Congress) representing Calabarzon.
On August 7, 1982, Marcos appointed Imelda to his executive council. He assigned presidential powers to the executive council in the event of his death.
Imelda, who shared his delusions of grandeur, contemplated the commissioning of a panoramic mural of the country’s history in which every face would be a Marcos family resemblance. Consonant with all this, Marcos dreamed of founding a royal dynasty. His feckless son, Ferdinand junior, known as Bong Bong, whom he named Governor of his native province of Ilocos Norte, would be his heir. He had Imelda, the potential queen mother, elected Governor of Manila and gave her a seat in his cabinet and numerous other public positions. And, like a feudal monarch, he filled his court with faithful relatives and cronies, among them General Fabian Ver, the armed forces Chief of Staff, a cousin.
Imelda made no effort to conceal their ambitions either. She ordered a garish painting of them and their three children, their chests ablaze with real sashes and decorations. Huge paintings of Ferdinand and Imelda, each with sashes and decoration, also hanged at the Philippine Consulate in New York during the Marcos era. The painting adorned the audience chamber of the Malacañang Palace, where Marcos would preside over formal functions from a gilded throne. As befit his imperial presidency, he received visitors to his private study from behind a desk perched on a dais, majestically peering down on the guests as video cameras taped the session.
Imelda was deeply upset by reports of the three thousand pairs of shoes found after her escape from Manila in February 1986. Though they were mostly French and Italian, she later insisted that she had accumulated them to promote the Philippines shoe industry “on my trips abroad.” But her footwear fetish was merely neurotic compared with the madness of her global spending sprees. She traveled with film crews, hairdressers, bodyguards, and other retainers, including her “blue ladies,” wealthy matrons in aquamarine dresses whose husbands relied on Marcos for favors and usually financed the junkets – if anyone did. After the director of Philippine Airlines repeatedly dunned Imelda to pay for the chartered jumbo jets, Marcos nationalized the company.
Imelda once said, “I have surpassed Cinderella,” but she was a Cinderella with a twist. Instead of marrying the handsome prince and living happily ever, she overcompensated for her miserable childhood by seeking revenge against the upper classes while claiming to be one of them.
A kinky episode unfolded late in 1968 after the arrival of Dovie Beams in Manila. Beams, an overage American starlet hired to play the female lead in “Maharlika,” a propaganda film portraying Marcos’s supposedly wartime exploits, met President Marcos after she arrived in Manila. She began a liaison with Marcos that lasted for nearly two years, where according to her, she was moved into one of Ferdinand’s safe houses. As a precaution, Dovie had hidden a tape recorder under the bed to acquire electronic evidence of their trysts. She convened the press later and played the tapes, which student radio stations promptly broadcast – giving the public a heavy dose of Marcos’s sexual encounters and revealing Imelda’s sexual inadequacies as told by Marcos.
Like other Filipino wives whose husbands maintained queridas, Imelda asked only that Marcos exercise discretion. But he had violated the rules of the game, humiliating her in the eyes of the Manila socialites whose acceptance she sought. He knew it and, to atone, catered to her every whim from then on. Imelda used the humiliation of the Dovie Beams affair as leverage to begin developing an independent political agenda which gave her more and more political power. “It was a turning point,” one of their friends later said. “He could no longer control her, and she went crazy with power and greed.”
Six months after martial law was lifted on January 17, 1981, Ferdinand Marcos was re-elected president. While her husband began to suffer from lupus erythematosus, Imelda effectively ruled in his place.
Aquino returned to the Philippines on August 21, 1983, and was assassinated at the Manila International Airport upon his arrival. With accusations against her beginning to rise, Ferdinand created the Agrava Commission, a fact-finding committee, to investigate her, ultimately finding her not guilty. That was an expected conclusion!
On February 7, 1986, snap elections were held between Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno Aquino Jr. Despite Ferdinand Marcos claiming to have won the election, allegations of vote-rigging led to mass protests that would be later known as the People Power Revolution.
On February 25, Ferdinand Marcos, with his wife Imelda by his side, still held the inauguration at Malacañang Palace. The couple later emerged on the Palace balcony in front of a loyalist crowd, and Imelda sang a song for the crowd.
Later that day, Ferdinand Marcos finally agreed to step down and was given safe passage for him and his entire family to flee to Hawaii, United States. In their haste to escape, they left a lot of evidence of her massive spending spree, i.e. gallons of expensive custom-made perfumes, three thousand pairs of shoes, three thousand panties, hundreds of black bras, five fur coats, including minks. Imelda’s quarters bore quantifiable evidence of her mania for expensive items – a never ending attempt to fill the needs of a deprived childhood. There were hundreds of costly silk dresses, a ten-foot high closet packed with her gowns. According to the late journalist, Nick Joaquin, underneath her bed were bundles “of gold-chain necklaces and a receipt for over two million dollars from the jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels. She led the life of Marie Antoinette and much more while at Malacañang Palace.
In 1991, President Corazon Aquino allowed the Marcos family to return to the Philippines to face various charges after the 1989 death of Ferdinand Marcos.
The Philippine Supreme Court considers the unexplained wealth of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos to be “ill-gotten” based on the definitions set forth in Republic Act 1379, which was passed in 1955. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of R.A. 1379 says that property acquired by a public officer or employee which is “manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer and his other lawful income” is “presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.” The bulk of the assets of the Marcoses, including the Marcos jewels, were treated as unlawful in a 2012 decision which specified that “according to the Official Report of the Minister of Budget, the total salaries of former President Marcos as President from 1966 to 1976 was ₱60,000 a year and from 1977 to 1985, ₱100,000 a year; while that of the former First Lady, Imelda R. Marcos, as Minister of Human Settlements from June 1976 to February 22–25, 1986 was ₱75,000 a year”– about $304,372.43.
Estimates of this ill-gotten wealth vary, with sources estimating a figure of about US$5 billion–10 billion for wealth acquired in the last years of the Marcos administration. The Daily Telegraph estimates her current net worth at a more modest $22 million. Still, it states that it is likely that she and her husband stole billions while in power and that the amount they stole could have paid off the entirety of the Philippine foreign debt.
As early as 1969, the CIA determined that Marcos had already stolen several hundred million dollars, and by 1972, other American officials had become aware that Marcos was raiding the national treasury. Nothing was said, however, to avoid embarrassing an ally.
In a 1985 report to the United States Congress House Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Bosworth estimated that the Marcoses had stolen an accumulated wealth of US$10 billion “in recent years,” in the context of the rapid decline of the Philippine economy in the early 1980s. The same figure was cited by the Philippines’ Office of the Solicitor General soon after Marcos was deposed by the EDSA Revolution in 1986. Bosworth’s source, Dr. Bernardo Villegas of the Philippine think tank, the Center for Research and Communication (CRC), noted that the figure ultimately cited by Bosworth was a conservative estimate and that the amount probably came closer to $13 billion.
However, Dr. Jesus Estanislao, another noted economist from the CRC, pointed out that this figure reflected amounts taken out of the country in the years immediately before the ouster of the Marcos administration. There was no way to accurately estimate the wealth acquired by the Marcoses since the 1950s. He suggested that the figure could be as much as $30 billion.
Aside from the Marcoses’ amassed wealth, Imelda Marcos was famous for spending it, with some accounts calling her “the ultimate personification of conspicuous consumption.” On one occasion, Imelda spent $2,000 on chewing gum at the San Francisco International Airport and forced a plane to do U-turn mid-air because she had forgotten to buy cheese in Rome.
Some of this wealth has been recovered due to various court cases – and has either been returned to the Philippine government or awarded as reparations to the victims of human rights abuses under Marcos’ presidency. Some of it has also been recovered by the Philippine government through settlements and compromise deals, either with Imelda herself or with cronies who say that specific properties had been entrusted to them by the Marcoses.
In March 1968, Ferdinand and Imelda opened four accounts, under the names of William Saunders and Jane Ryan, with Credit Suisse in Zurich. These were later moved into other accounts under various dummy foundations, but when the new Philippine government discovered relevant records after the 1986 EDSA revolution, the Swiss Federal council froze them.
On December 21, 1990, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court ruled that these accounts could be turned over to the Philippine government on the condition that there be a concurring “final and absolute judgment” by a Philippine court. In 1997, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court established the funds “of criminal provenance.” It permitted their transfer to an escrow account in Manila, pending a ruling from a Philippine court which came in the form of a confiscation ruling by the Philippine Supreme court on July 15, 2003 in favor of the Philippine government by citing that the family only had $304,000 legal income during their reign in Malacañang Palace. Switzerland finally released a total of $683 million worth of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth to the Philippines Treasury in 2004.
In 2012, Imelda Marcos declared her net worth U.S. $22 million and was likewise listed as the second-richest Filipino politician behind boxer and politician Manny Pacquiao. She has claimed that her fortune came from Ferdinand Marcos’ discovery of Yamashita’s gold. I doubt that claim very much. This semi-mythical treasure trove is widely believed in the Philippines as part of the Japanese loot in World War II. But Marcos has also said that “If you know how rich you are, you are not rich. But for me, I am not aware of the extent of my wealth. That’s how rich we are.”
On January 13, 2014, three collections of Imelda Marcos’s jewelry: the Malacañang collection, the Roumeliotes collection, and the Hawaii collection, along with paintings by Claude Monet, were seized by the Philippine government. In 2015, a rare pink diamond worth $5 million was discovered in her jewelry collection. The value of the three collections was appraised to be at about $21 million on February 16, 2016, when the government of the Philippines announced their intention to auction them off.
Her property also used to include a 175-piece art collection, which included works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Canaletto, Raphael, as well as Monet’s L’Église et La Seine à Vétheuil (1881), Alfred Sisley’s Langland Bay (1887), and Albert Marquet’s Le Cyprès de Djenan Sidi Said (1946). On October 17, 2013, the attempted sale of two Claude Monet paintings, L’Eglise de Vetheuil and Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas, became the subject of a legal case in New York against Vilma Bautista, a one-time aide to Imelda Marcos. Bautista was sentenced in 2014 to 2–6 years in prison for attempting to sell “valuable masterpieces that belonged to her country.” All told, about P170 billion worth of the Marcos wealth had been recovered by the PCGG (Presidential Commission on Good Government) by 2018 from the Marcoses, about $3.6 billion out of their $5 billion to 10 billion estimated ill-gotten wealth.
In 2018, Sandiganbayan ruling convicted Imelda Marcos of seven counts of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in connection with her financial interest in Swiss-based foundations during her time as Minister of Human Settlements and interim member of Congress. She was sentenced to a minimum of six years and one month to a maximum prison sentence of 11 years “for each count” of graft.
According to Ruben Carranza, former Presidential Commission on Good Government commissioner, such legal defeats for the Marcoses are not enough since there are still at least 15 pending ill-gotten wealth cases against them. “It’s not over because there are still assets to be found. To date,there are cases still pending because the Marcos family has obstructed the cases, delayed these cases, trying to prevent Filipino people from getting back money that was stolen from them,” Carranza said.
The amount the Marcoses were estimated to have plundered from the Philippines is so large that it has been the subject of world records. Imelda Marcos, together with her husband Ferdinand (who is considered by many to be one of the greatest plunderers in history according to the Washington Post), were jointly credited in 1989 by Guinness World Records with the largest-ever theft from a government: an estimated 5 billion to 10 billion dollars salted away. Imelda is quoted as having stated: “We practically own everything in the Philippines, from electricity, telecommunications, airlines, banking, beer and tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, shipping, oil and mining, hotels and beach resorts, down to coconut milling, small farms, real estate, and insurance.” In 2009, Imelda Marcos was listed by Newsweek as being one of the “greediest people of all time.”
Imelda and her family gained notoriety for living a lavish lifestyle during a period of economic crisis and civil unrest. She spent much of her time abroad on state visits, extravagant parties, and shopping sprees and spent much of the State’s money on her personal art, jewelry, and buying prime real estate.
A History of the Philippines by Luis H. Francia
Source: In Our Image by Stanley Karnow