Sunday Lifestyle

We deserve Imelda

I am not going to see the documentary Imelda, in spite of all the ruckus it has raised and the urgings of friends who saw it. "When she speaks," says one, "you are wondering if she is serious or touched in the head." General Fred Lim said, "Well, how do you catch a fish except through its mouth." And yet another says, "It’s really funny, you’ll die laughing."

Indeed, it only hurts the most when we laugh.

For those old enough to live through and recall those grim years, we had choked on Imelda, God spare us now from her verbosity and frivolity.

I met her twice when she opened exhibitions at our Solidaridad Galleries in the late ’60’s. Marcos was serving his first term. I picked her up at Malacañan; she didn’t know me from Adam but she did her homework. At the gallery, I talked to her about Filipino art – she was absorbing everything. She was a fast learner and soon, she had us cultural workers in Malacañan where she spoke about her plans for a Cultural Center. And there it is the fascist complex that she built, the "suppository" of Philippine culture.

I’ve always attributed to Imelda part of the good fortune of our visual artists. At those two Solidaridad shows, for instance, she brought along her Blue Ladies and camp followers who, at her urging bought paintings. Then it became fashionable for the rich Filipinos to patronize Philippine art, adorn their houses with Filipino antiques. Since then, it was possible for the better painters to make a living on their work. Until Imelda came, it was only Amorsolo, Botong Francisco, Vicente Manansala who could live on their paintings. Today, if Malang, Ang Kiukok, and others are millionaires, it is due not only to their talent but to the trend in patronage that Imelda started. Too, Imelda promoted the theater, the grandiose festivals, the great Roman parades that challenged not just the creativity of our people but also their sense of community. She ignored the writers, however, because they are elitist. I’m sure she did this because she does not read.

Sure, Imelda had some vision, no doubt inspired by Jackie Kennedy’s efforts in America. Her "edifice complex" brought about a frenzy in beautifying towns; at times this obsession with facades deteriorated into "Potemkin villages," hiding the slums behind white picket fences and, in Tondo, a false front of handsome chalets before the hovels of the poor.

So some theater people and some well-connected cultural workers look back at the Marcos years as their golden age.

What we have completely forgotten is that Imelda is the other half of the Conjugal Dictatorship that ravaged this country for two decades, that stashed billions of dollars – our money – in foreign banks, squandered this in shopping trips and in the purchases of real estate everywhere.

What we have forgotten is that in these 20 years, thousands were imprisoned without trial, tortured and killed, two rebellions started and hindered our development.

What we have forgotten is that this Conjugal Dictatorship started the diaspora of millions of our countrymen to countries where they are maltreated and debased.

What we have forgotten is that this Conjugal Dictatorship deformed our military from the citizen army that fought with courage and sacrifice in Batasan and in the guerilla war against the Japanese.

What we have forgotten is that this Conjugal Dictatorship sunk us into the bog of dependence on the United States. Where, after all, did the dictatorship get its support but from Washington.

And worst of all, this Conjugal Dictatorship exacerbated our moral decay from which we have yet to recover.

When the terrible earthquake devastated Northern and Central Luzon in 1981, I was told that the Ilokanos beseeched Divine Providence, saying Marcos and they had committed no sin, that it was all Imelda’s fault. She came from the Visayas and the Visayans are known for their flamboyance and profligacy. Of course, all those stupid Ilokanos were wrong, their tenacious attachment to Marcos is ethnicity dragged down to its lowest level of absurdity.

But God and we know otherwise, that Imelda would not have bought those 3,000 pairs of shoes – while thousands of Filipinos are barefoot! – without the knowledge and approval of her husband.

Once, at a dinner where Hans Menzi was present, Hans got an urgent telephone call. He was then Marcos’ aide-de-camp; he had to leave immediately for Malacañan. The couple were squabbling again over Dovie Beams – a Marcos girlfriend – and he was needed there as peacemaker.

Whatever relationship Marcos had with his wife, the fact remains that he needed her, that he used her, and that there was a time when he gave her so much power, in the last years of his regime, as Malacañan insiders said, it was Imelda who was actually running the government.

James Hamilton Paterson, who wrote a book about the Marcoses (America’s Boy), was also very kind to the couple. He theorized that towards the end, Marcos permitted Imelda to do almost anything she liked, because Marcos was "bored." And why not? He had all the money he wanted, all the women he lusted after, what were the challenges he had yet to face?

No, the real documentary on Imelda and Marcos will never be made; How do you encompass 20 years of corruption and mayhem into two hours? Maybe, it will have to be Chit Pedrosa who will update her Untold Story about Imelda, and call it, the Untold Story of Imelda Part II.

There are rumors that the producer of this documentary was in cahoots with Imelda, and that the court’s temporary restraining order was scripted to draw attention to the film.

Those who saw the documentary say that Imelda showed absolutely no remorse, no guilt at what she and the Marcoses did. From them, not one word of apology for the havoc they inflicted on us. Not just the Marcoses, but all those panderers who helped in the plunder of this nation, not one whisper of mea culpa from them.

Twenty years, Ferdinand and Imelda touched so many lives, bestowed favors to many who are poor, grasping, sure they have loyal followers, those to whom they larded out crumbs, and those who do not know, look at all those brainless UP students crowding around Bongbong Marcos, asking for his autograph; look at all those fawning acolytes lapping up Imee Marcos‚ pious pronouncements in and out of Congress.

They say the documentary is very fair to Imelda.

But she and all of the Marcoses and their toadies were never fair to us.

Sure, we deserve Imelda because many of us are spineless, gutless, because we have willfully lobotomized ourselves.
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