Meeting the Marcoses
- Paulynn Sicam (The Philippine Star) - October 2, 2015 - 10:00am

When I was a very young reporter in the late Sixties, I was assigned by my editor to seek an interview with the First Lady Imelda Marcos to ask her how she felt about the many rallies and demonstrations mounted by students in Manila. I did not get a reply until one day, I reported on one of Imelda’s bravura performances, sans her usual jewelry but with tears and all, before the poor of Tondo, and soon after, I got a call from Malacañang Palace saying the First Lady had agreed to the interview I had asked for two months before.

I bought a tape recorder, wore my best outfit, and was in the palace on the appointed date and time. As I entered the music room, I saw Imelda sitting prettily on a divan. She looked surprised to see me, and exclaimed. “Miss Paredes, I did not knew you were so young!”

I almost tripped on the carpet as I tried to keep a straight face.  She told me not to use my tape recorder or take notes. She didn’t even want me to write about it from memory. She just wanted to chat. It was a two-hour session uninterrupted even by a snack or a drink, and she did all the talking. There is no record of my visit with Imelda but I remember that she spoke about the terror of living under chandeliers in the palace, especially during earthquakes, and at times like those, how she missed the Quonset hut she lived in as a child in Tacloban.

Sometime in the mid-Seventies, Imee Marcos came home from studies abroad and her father named her chairperson of Kabataang Barangay.  She was attractive, bright, and smart in her KB T-shirt, jeans and boots — providing just the right touch of youthfulness to camouflage the image of the heavy-handed martial law regime. I thought she’d make good copy so I wangled an interview. My article, published in Goodman magazine, was a hit. Imee was a breath of fresh air, savvy and very quotable, definitely a more interesting subject than her mother. The best thing about being Marcos’ daughter, she said breezily, was not having to deal with traffic.  Articulate and blasé, she was hugely entertaining.

Several years later, Imee figured in a very public though unpublished fight with her mother over her relationship with Tommy Manotoc (whom she eventually married and later divorced). She emerged from their battle royale an exhibitionistic fashionista who flaunted strangely designed gowns and dropped highly controversial statements that raised eyebrows. I needed to know more about the rebellious new Imee and called for an interview. 

It’s been a while since the interview and I no longer have my notes but I remember her explaining her new found fashion flair as a duty to keep the public entertained. It was, she said loftily, noblesse oblige.  She also spoke about her difficult relationship with her mother, from childhood to their most recent clash, and the factions in the palace — the Ilocanos who were the hard-working intellectuals, and the Warays loved to party. She clearly aligned herself with the Ilocano group headed by her father, and said her brother Bongbong and her mother were in the other group. 

The interview went so well, Imee was totally candid and we covered a lot of ground, only a few details were off-the-record. It was all good, until she came up with an idea. She wanted me to interview her father, President Marcos.  Specifically, she wanted me to have the same kind of free-wheeling conversation with her old man, something the usual palace interviewers would never be able to swing, and draw up a human portrait from the most hated and feared person in the country.

I began to panic. I was anti-Marcos, activists were being tortured and killed, and my mother was in detention, and Imee wanted me to have an intimate chat with the dictator who caused all the heartache in society? I refused and explained to her why. But in the end, Imee had her way.  Just when I thought I was off the hook, her military aide called to say my appointment with President Marcos was in a week’s time at 10 a.m.

Imee had briefed her father about what she wanted out of the interview, so we didn’t talk about politics or human rights or detention, or anything I would have wanted to challenge him about. He rambled for two hours about this and that, including his alleged exploits as a guerrilla during World War II that I found utterly boring.

If there is anything I remember about that interview from over 30 years ago, it is how Marcos described his three children. Imee, he said, was his intellectual twin. He said he guided her intellectual development since she was a child and he was very impressed with the result. Irene, he smiled, was delightful and caring, everyone’s sweetheart. 

And how about Bongbong? I asked.  The dictator paused, “Oh, Bongbong . . . He has, um, good muscle coordination.”

Everything Marcos told me was on-the-record.

When I left Malacañang, I was given a Betamax copy of the interview that I asked a family friend who was close to the dictator, to review its contents and tell me how much of his war stories were true. He said, 40 percent.

My separate interviews with Imee and President Marcos were serialized in Mr. and Ms. Magazine sometime in the early ‘80s.

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