Imee Marcos on her loves, martial law, betrayal and life after EDSA

CYBER PROUST - Jojo G. Silvestre () - November 21, 2010 - 12:00am

When Imee Marcos re-cently celebrated her birthday, she invited members of the media for a three-day familiarization tour of Ilocos Norte’s tourist spots. She gave us a hectic schedule, which she claimed, was typical of her workday. “I’m afraid I exhausted you,” she told us, “but even my own children tell me after we go on a holiday that they need another holiday just to relax.”

After taking in the sights in the Wind Farm in Bangui, the beaches of Pagudpud, and the Patapat Road which overlooks China Sea, then back to the lake and sand dunes of Paoay and getting the feel of Northern illustrado life in the home of Juan Luna in Badoc, capped by a relaxing afternoon of empanada and barbecued longganiza at the Marcos ancestral home in Batac, I can easily say Ilocos Norte is a feast of cultural, historical and natural offerings.

And yet, if you must ask me my favorite tourist attraction, my number one is Ilocos Norte’s governor, Imee herself, who almost always ends up being asked to pose with foreign tourists, balikbayans, and local travelers for photo ops. The sightings of the governor can vary from a workday in the capitol, which goes all the way to nine in the evening when she signs all the papers and opens her e-mail, to her inspection trips to the mountains and shorelines of this beautiful province.

I asked her if it was easy campaigning, considering that Ilocos Norte is Marcos’ turf. “Not really,” she said, “because I started out with only a few mayors on my side, so I went from one town to another.” Which was a good way to tell them she meant to play her part well. Local governance job is not her cup of tea, but as she said, “I am happy to be here, and there is much to do.”  Come Nov. 23, the Department of Tourism is turning over to the provincial government the much-neglected Malacañang of the North located right along the fringes of the legendary Paoay Lake. “It’s a welcome development because we can fix it. It was beautiful already and they let it rot,” she said. It is one place she can call “home” because that was where the family stayed when they went home during those years when her father President Ferdinand E. Marcos was in power.

Our interview took place from one town to another. First, over native fare that included puto, tinudok or carioca in Manila, and various versions of the malagkit or “dikit” in Ilocano, including dudul and suman at the Paoay lakeside residence of the Diaz family. Next was at the rest house of Dr. Joven Cuanang in Sitio Remedios in Currimao town, this time over giant prawns, steamed fish, and the all-time favorite crispy bagnet, the Ilocano version of lechon kawali. Finally, at Ford Ilocandia, after a dinner of pakbet, the famous mixed vegetable stew, and the mixed green salad the Ilocanos call KBL, reminiscent of the political party that was in power during the New Society period.

The best part about interviewing Imee is her willingness to tell all, when she wants to tell all, and her outright refusal to say a word if she believes she cannot answer the question. If you heard my tape-recorded interview, you would be impressed, as she shifted from one intonation to another, including a style of speaking that is so like her father’s. Imee can talk about any subject and she proved this as we moved from one topic to another, not necessarily in a logical way.  This one is her daddy’s girl, and she’s living up to the image with zeal, optimism, grace and dignity.  


THE PHILIPPINE STAR: How often were you here in Ilocos when you were a child?

Ilocos Gov. Imee Marcos and the different rooms of the Marcos ancestral home in Batac displaying portraits of the young Ferdinand Marcos and the Imeldific First Lady: “I always think that I am a Marcos because I like Ilocano food like simple vegetables. I always think I’m more Ilocano because I was such a daddy’s girl growing up, that my habits are very much like my dad’s, a little bit nerdy.” Photos by WALTER BOLLOZOS

IMEE MARCOS: During weekends, summer vacations, Holy Weeks, and my dad’s birthdays.  I have very funny memories of Holy Week. Since our house is right in front of the church, we would watch the processions and sometimes the different factions would fight during the processions and we would all run back to the house, kasi nagbabakbakan na sila. Of course, those things don’t happen anymore. I think yung nagbabakbakan, my dad was still a senator. It was quite funny. It was quite fierce.

Was it easy for your parents to convince you to study in England?

I was dying to leave. My dad’s dream was for somebody to go overseas.  He never had the money to go overseas so that was his big frustration.  After the war, there was a GI bill that encouraged Filipinos to study abroad but he was not able to use his privilege. So he was very frustrated. Then my brother went. He really wanted Bong to go, and Bong went very young. Dapat si Bonget lang eh.  Ako gustung gusto kong umalis.  I was dying to leave. I just pushed, and badgered and nagged. And begged, groveled, and promised, lahat na.  I stayed a long time. I had also a stint in California for a year. I came out of England too young for college. I was only 15, and then, I qualified for Princeton. I really wanted to go to Princeton because it was small because I was scared of going to the big Ivys so I chose a little one. And then, my dad realized, ay, puros lalake pala doon. So they told me to get older first.

Did you have a social life in England?

In England, I was an interna so I lived in school. I was also an interna in California. I went to five boarding schools. I did nothing but boarding school. People think it’s hard but we’re also used to it. Like when Bong visited the Philippine Military Academy and they were all complaining because there were so many rules.  We were like looking at each other. What are they talking about? This is better than my dad. My dad was very strict, very structured. And my grandmother, my father’s mother, it was worse. But it was great, you got used to it.

How was Doña Josefa?

I was a favorite. So, I had a different spin from that of my other cousins. Favorite na favorite ako kasi mataas ang grades ko. Naiinis siya sa mga lalake, kay Bongbong at kay Nonong (a cousin), kasi magulo at malikot. I was always reading. I had this nerdy side. I am rebelde but I am very nerdy so she was like very okay with it. Tsaka parati akong first honors eh di type na type niya yun. She was a librarian, so she was giving me these books that were age-appropriate. They were so perfect. I got on with her. My mom was completely frightened of her.

You came across activists during your studies in the states. How did you react when they confronted you?

Right on the first day of school, I already had this kind of thing. Wala eh, I grew up in a political atmosphere, so there’s always a controversy. I talked to them. Some of them were my friends also. I later came to know quite a few of them, because we eventually studied at the University of the Philippines (UP).

It seems you had many friends who were activists. Who were they?

Like in the film area, Joel Lamangan and Behn Cervantes.  Mahal ko naman yung mga yun, eh.  So, eventually, may nakulong. Si Joel Lamangan, kalalabas lang nuong maging crowd director sa Himala. Si Lino Brocka, umaakyat sa Malacañang yan, eh. Wala lang, nakikipagkuwentuhan, nakikipagtsismis.

Was your stay at the UP fun?

I always liked UP. I always enjoyed it. My dad loved UP. There’s only one school for him. So, when my son, Michael, applied to only one school, which was UP, I was really frightened.  I told him it’s very hard to get in, so, “if you don’t get in, paano?” “Well, then, I don’t go to law school,” he said. He was so diehard. Ewan ko ba?  I never talked to him about it.  I guess it was by osmosis. He just assumed he could only go to a public school. My grandparents were public school teachers and my dad was educated in public school — from kindergarten to college. So wala siyang alam kundi public school. So it was a big deal. We’re the first generation that’s actually public school-educated. It was like a major league.

I am in touch with my law school friends. I like my law school teachers. UP is a place that celebrates eccentric and brilliant people. Just because they were completely nuts like Professor Bienvenido Ambion, who was our criminal law teacher, didn’t mean that we didn’t worship the ground that he walked on. He was a little bit of a cult and I loved criminal law. He was sort of a great teacher. And then there was Professor Perfecto Fernandez. They were great. We had a lot of good teachers.

What about your Princeton professors?

I had a lot of good teachers in Princeton. My favorite teacher was my Chaucer teacher. Then I had a bit of a rock teacher who was teaching Islam. I am a religion major, so I did a lot of theology.  I wanted to study the Philippine revolution. I didn’t think that the Filipino revolution could be understood, because the revolution against the frailes and, in fact, the heroes of the revolution wanted to become members of the Spanish parliament, the Cortes, they had no intention of becoming independent. So it was important to understand the religious dynamic. And I also felt that it’s still present today, that the church is still a very, very powerful institution and its political impact is grossly underestimated until today. I actually wrote about the Iglesia Ni Cristo for my thesis. Today, there’s even more like Brother Eddie (Villanueva) running for president. There’s Brother Mike Velarde, and then, there’s the issue of the whole Mindanao conflict. I think that Filipinos are deeply religious people. So it cannot be helped that the religious sentiment enters the civics sphere, masiyado tayong relihiyoso, eh. Yung ating world view is infused with religiosity.  That is what being Pinoy is. Our annual calendar, even the planting calendar is defined by saints. Provincial life is all about fiestas.

How do Ilocanos view education today?

Here in the province, for example, only the children of OFWs can afford private schools. So it’s a major status symbol.  Ilocanos like to go to school.  If Bulakeños want to start an enterprise, or Kapampangans want a big house, we have a paper chase in Ilocos. We want a wallpaper. Even if it’s a nipa hut, we just wallpaper it with these groovy degrees.  Sa Ilocano, it’s a wallpaper.  You go to a fishing village somewhere, and suddenly you see the diploma of a Harvard cum laude. I mean it, I’ve seen it time and time again when I do house to house. It’s always some big universities in the United States.

Let’s shift gears. How are you and President Noynoy?

I entered as a congresswoman with him. Magkabatch kami, eh, 1998. And we were both three terms. We both ended up in the minority. We were in the opposition.  The more unusual coupling was with Ka Satur, di ba? Naaaliw ang mga tao, and they were asking, “bakit parang nasa parehong panig na kayo?”

But what did your father tell you about Ninoy Aquino?

My father was a very well read and a very cultured man. Funnily enough, we never spoke too much about politics. At the dinner table, it was supposed to be literature and music, and the rest was work. What have we read? Isn’t this guy overrated? Isn’t this guy brilliant?

Were there expectations of each one of you, like you, you’re going to be like this?

I think Bong got more of it, because he is the only son and the junior. I am Imelda also but I am so unlike my mother.

You know, I read somewhere, that your mother thought of you as an ugly duckling.

Well, no, my mom was very good about it. I didn’t look like her. She was such a stunning beauty. It was people telling me all the time “bakit ang itim-itim mo?  Bakit di mo kamukha mommy mo? Bakit di ka kasingtangkad?  Bakit di ka mestisa?” You know naman people, they are so taklesa (tactless).  In hindsight, I should probably have retorted, “sino ba naman ang kamukha ng nanay ko? Namumukod tangi naman talaga yan. Iba naman talaga ang itsura niyan. Wala yang kaparis sa ganda.”

Did it affect you?

In the beginning, I was getting really tired of it. Which probably contributed to my nerdiness. But okay lang.

How about your fashion sense?

My mom and I are completely different. My mom really goes for classical tailoring. Mine is boho, eccentric, from the theater. I was always eccentric. My mom was very, very classic. She is really Valera. We also had totally here for location hunting have made it all the way to this far province, and when they finally come here, sulit naman, because we have so many strange, wonderful locations.

Would you welcome movie productions in need of good locations?

We are willing to absorb part of the cost. We haven’t programmed it yet, but we have set aside P10 million for that sort of thing — catering, van rentals, talent fees, and so on.  We’re going to partner with whoever shoots here for commercials and movies.

Do you miss the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP)?

I miss ECP. I had fun there. Lots of talented people. It’s a family thing. We like hanging out with really talented people, and helping them and getting their stuff going. We’re still like that. I still have a studio running. I am very, very interested in multi-media digital arts. And I think the creative, the game development area, all the interactive platforms, all that stuff was really booming. And I think there’s a role to play there. We may not be the most high-end but we are so creative, so innovative. I think that in software development we have a role to play.

What I’m finding with local government work is that a background in film, a most unlikely background, is actually the perfect preparation because you are forever having to come out with very creative solutions with very scarce resources. So you better think out of the box. Otherwise, paano mo sasagutin lahat ng problema nila? How can you have enough medicine? How can everybody go to school? It’s impossible, you’ll never have enough for everyone. So you have to be really creative, to be innovating every step of the way.

Do you travel?

I like to travel. I am a Lonely Planet sort of tourist. I am not interested in six-star hotels. I like to walk around, eat the food. Michael, my son, complains that when we go on a holiday, we need another holiday when we get back. It’s just like I am working. My children tell me, “wala na lang tayong ginawa kundi maghabol nang maghabol.”  I am a real tourist. I wanna see everything. But I am getting lazier and lazier to travel far now. Dati, isang kalabit, I’ll go.

So, how was life after EDSA?

Well, siyempre, eh di naexile kami. My parents had a very good attitude.  My father only half-jokingly said, “O sige, two years, ha?  After two years, tama na, corny na.” And it was pretty much like that the first couple of years. Siyempre, it was all very fresh and we were so, as they say, we were so alien. It was so difficult, but after that, we just adjusted.

Morocco was a tough place to live. It is beautiful and the culture is really fascinating, but it’s hard to adjust. But having said that, we were okay. In a way, it was very well for one to start a young family. If I carried on in Manila the way I was working, I would never have seen my children. I fell into early retirement and it worked out well kasi I was a fulltime mom. It was a real privilege. I enjoyed being very domestic.

How was Portugal?

We lived in a farm in Portugal after Morocco. We were planting most of our food.  It’s another tough place to live but gorgeous.  The boys got a lot of attention, as a result. Mabuti rin, they’re much more independent than a lot of kids who grew up locally. Walang katulong, walang masiyadong mautusan. Siyempre, marunong sila so they can cope.

How about Singapore? You left again after you returned to the Philippines in 1991.

We left in the 1990s because the children were sick all the time, and puro brownout. That was the height of the brownouts. They were always sick so it was uncomfortable, so we went to Singapore. We were there for six or seven years. We didn’t come back until 1998. In Singapore, the children were very happy. We had a very regular existence. They took the bus because it was very safe. It was a very cushioned sort of existence, but I enjoyed myself. I like being a full-time mom.  Some working women are rather patronizing about full-time moms. I have great respect for both. I really enjoyed spending a lot of time with the kids. In fact, it worked out very well for the family.

Did you go to school in Singapore?

I always go to school. It’s a disease. Now, I am driving the capitol employees nuts because I am always having five-day seminars, three-day seminars. They’re all semi-going psycho. And then we have a consultation again on Wednesday, and then we’re going to have capability building with UNDP again. I love this stuff. It’s like going to school. I think things have changed so much; we’re like a knowledge-driven world today. You know, if you don’t go to school and do not get updated every three months, you are laos already.

What do you tell the kids about love? 

I’ve never really been a traditional parent. I think that by force of circumstances, since I am very busy, I tend to pick my wars.  I don’t argue about the length of hair and stuff like that. I don’t ground them. About love? They’re so old na, eh. I don’t know how much you can do. If you’re still arguing about these things at their age now, it’s too late. You blew it already.

How are you and your husband Mark (Chua)?

He is all right, a very quiet guy.  He’s fun. He spent a great deal of time abroad, so we joke about things, like bananas or eggs. You know, the people who have been educated overseas sometimes, they say, you are a banana, yellow outside but already white inside. Or you’re an egg. No matter how long you’ve been away, you’re still yellow inside.

Do you feel like an Ilocano?

I know where I came from, but I think it’s a starting point, it’s not a limitation. So, we’re very well-rooted here in Ilocos. It’s like my parents. They knew very well they came from small towns. One came from Batac, Ilocos Norte, and the other one came from Tolosa, Leyte. So, they’re very suspicious of city slickers. Always very worried that they weren’t good enough.  Very, very ambitious. I know exactly where I come from. I come from Ilocos, but it’s not going to stop me from being the best that I can be, and going out into the world and proving that we’re as good as anyone else.

When people in the capitol tell me, kasi ma’am ang taas ng standard ninyo, nalilito ako. Because there’s only one standard whether in Ilocos or Manila, London or New York. One standard lahat yan. Don’t tell me you’re going to be more mahina because nasa probinsiya ka. Hindi ahh.  Hindi yan katanggap-tanggap. There’s only one standard. I don’t really get it when they say “ang taas po ng standard ninyo. Lumake po kayo sa abroad.” Kaya nga, gamitin ninyo ako. Kasi kayo ako narito hindi para sabihin sa inyo na magaling na kayo. Narito ako para sabihin sa inyo, “hoy, bakit ganyan?” So, we just have to get better. Sometimes naman, sila ang nagsasabi sa akin, you’re going too fast. Kasi I am very, very impatient. And hindi na naiintindihan na ng tao. Patience is not a gift that I was dealt. I am always nagmamadali.

Have you been consulting with all these experts who are Ilocanos?

 I try to bring as many clever Ilocanos back home as I can.  That’s a big thing for me. I don’t think we’re big or small. We’re very remote. We’re not that rich, we’re not a billionaire province. On the other hand, I think I’ll match one for one the talent in Ilocos Norte.  We have hugely talented people. I mean, this is a genius country. Ang daming magaling dito.  Wala na kasing magawa kundi mag-aral nang mag-aral. I am surprised the top NASA scientist si Joey Comiso, the one whom Al Gore keeps quoting on polar caps, yung mga global warming, Ilocano rin. There’s a long-standing relationship between NASA and Ilocos.  Even Dr. Calalay who was the ceramic engineer for space shuttles. There are people of such caliber, who are really amazing. It is amazing. Of course, there’s Jun Palafox who’s helping us now. He comes from Bacarra. There’s Dr. Joven Cuanang who put St. Luke’s to world-class standards. He is from Batac and Currimao. The poverty guru, one of the top macro economists, Prof. Arsenio Balisacan, is from Batac. He is my favorite. We really have mind-blowing talented people. And doing really pioneering work, really pushing the envelope sort of stuff. It’s very exciting to bring them back.

Any advice for President Noynoy?

Noynoy knows who his friends are. So that’s important. You really need to know who your team is.  I think he does. That’s valuable. Kasi yung barkada niya sa Congress, the liberal party stalwarts who are with him now, yun pa ring sa time ng Congress. And he trusts them, and that is important. You need to trust some people. They have to cover your back for you.  I think he has got that number.

Ang daming problema kasi, eh. Ang dami naman kasi niyang minanang problema, eh. Hindi mo malaman kung anong uunahin mo. Bunuin mo yung isa, sampu naman ang lilitaw. I think he has more than a full plate kasi, eh.

Do you see yourself as president?

I don’t see myself nga as governor, eh. When they call me Governor Marcos, I am looking for Bongbong behind me.  I am not used to it yet, aside from the bureaucracy, which I am learning to get used to, I have to learn time management. I still haven’t figured out how to say no, how to tell everybody I am going home na, ayoko na. It is ridiculous na. I come home 8 or 9 p.m. Kasi 6:30 ng gabi, di ko pa nabubuksan yung e-mail, wala pa akong napipirmahang papel, nakapila pa rin yung tao sa labas. Galing ng Pagudpod, alangan namang di mo kausapin. They come from so far away, or it is always urgent, or someone needs immediate treatment in the hospital. I am still learning how to manage time. I am very new. I am only four months in the job. So I haven’t figured it out. When do I say “kailangan ko na munang matulog?” I am not there yet.

I read somewhere that you’re not interested in local politics. Why did you agree to run for governor?

I am not interested in politics, period. But I am here already, I am happy to be here and to be home.  I actually could have been governor in 2007 unopposed by just swapping with Bongbong, but I opted out.  My brother put my cousin, Michael Keon, as our candidate and campaigned hard for him.  When Bongbong decided to run for senator, I don’t know why Michael refused to join Bong, and it became necessary to make a party stand. So I had to run, and I dragged my mom before the deadline, and convinced Rudy Farinas by text, and we filed half an hour before deadline.

Was it easy to campaign here?

No, it’s hard to campaign here because of the big land area with very few people. So we’re always climbing mountains, or going through the coast when we campaign. I had a tough opposition here when I ran for governor. I only had five mayors out of 23 that were with us at the beginning. Eventually, it became nine yata. The rest were for the administration. As a general rule, it’s very hard to be with the government if you are not with the administration.  Sasama ka na kasi di mo makukuha yung mga projects mo.  GMA was rarely draconian about party lines. Talagang di magre-release ng pera, di siya magbibiro.  For example, since I was an oppositionist congresswoman, I didn’t get any funding releases after the first quarter of 2005. So hanggang 2007 gutomBale three years na almost wala.

How are you doing in your job as governor?

On a workday, I spend a lot of time in the office because a lot of people go there. Yesterday pala (her birthday), so many people went to the capitol. But because I went to the workshop, all the mayors went to the workshop and they had this giant cake that they brought with them. It kept traveling all over because they kept following me.

Everybody has problems, the people and the mayors also. Like we just finished the barangay elections. Pati sa Sangguniang Kabataan may protest.  Naloka naman ako. I keep telling DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, “kami, hindi pa kami surrender.”  We intend to push the millennium development goals. We intend to do it, do or die, by 2016. Our real priority talaga is jobs. This jobless growth is such an issue.

Are you ready for this? I mean, your job as governor?

On the one hand, I never prepared for the local government. Diyos ko, ang mga problema, from rabbies to away ng mag-asawa, nakakaloka siya. So, yung mga nagseselos sa asawang pulis, lahat nirereport.  On the other hand, I don’t think my family has ever done anything else.  This has been our lives from the very beginning. Besides, Kabataang Barangay was, in a way, the same. That’s why I am very familiar with grassroots. I am very comfortable with the grassroots, the community organizations, the neighborhood networks. Mas sanay ako doon, because that was Kabataang Barangay, barkadahan. I really enjoyed the KB because of the kids.

How is the local economy? I’ve heard that there’s so much money going around because of remittances from abroad.

We get millions per month from overseas in remittances. That’s why we have 30 to 40 banks between Batac, Laoag, and Bacara. The problem is all the banks are here and the Ilocanos never borrow. Never, never because, as they say, “they won’t be able to get some sleep.” I think we just want to look at our passbooks. Or they keep it in the lacasa or camphor chest. The passbook is there, wala lang. They don’t even look at it, and then, years later, P1 million na.  Ay may pera pa pala diyan.

We will soon be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution. Any message to the Filipino people?

I always say the same thing. At the end of the day, the value really is how it transformed the people and if it really changed lives. Have we improved our lot? Is the country today prouder? Is our country today stronger than before? Those are the questions. If in the end we can answer yes to all these questions, nakaahon tayo sa kahirapan, mas pantay ang playing field, more just and less poor country, okay na, medyo tatanggapin mo. Ang masaklap, parang hindi. That’s really the problem. On a certain level, it really doesn’t matter what happened to the Marcos family. Tanggap mo na, eh. Talagang ganiyan ang buhay eh. But ang hindi ko matanggap ay hindi talaga tayong umunlad, hind talagang bumuti. Of course, things have changed, and many things have been improved, pero over all, wala. It’s a little bit malungkot, di ba? I hope that for all the heartbreak, for all the sacrifice on all sides na nangyari mula nuong EDSA, sana natuto na tayo. The usual history repeats itself. Sana naman, we should study it so we are not condemned to repeat it again and again and again. That’s all. It’s not personal anymore, eh. It’s long gone, marami nang nangyari since then. Sabi nga nila, the unsinkable nga kami. Okay lang yun, that’s personal lang naman. The bigger concern is the country. We should learn. You really have to touch people’s lives, that’s the only measure, that’s the final measure and in the end, the only truthful one.

* * *

Different tastes in jewelry. She would say I have no respect, because I always wore plastic with gold. She said, I won’t give you anything anymore, you have no sense of value. And she had a point. But now she’s the same as me. She’s actually worse than me now. She is 168 (Divisoria shopping mall). She goes, “but it’s pretty, I like the color, and it jingles.”  Now she’s worse than I am, she’s even more high and low, she’s walang paki. She gets confused by the brand obsession with the season’s “it” bags. Now, she is asking, “bakit? Eh kasi, uso. Ahh, uso. Eh di naman matching sa damit niya,” she would wonder. Alam mo naman yung color coding nila ni Valera noon. From day one, he made my mom’s clothes. From the alaskin to the terno, everything. After that, Christian, then Joe Salazar. Pitoy Moreno made kimona for Mother, too.

Who designed for you?

But me? I had a lot of younger designers that time. Auggie Cordero did some, the tailored and malinis ones. Romulo Estrada was my favorite. I loved that guy. He used to hand-paint lobsters on white long dresses. He was brilliant. I loved Ernest Santiago. He was a real fashion hero. He was a real taste master. They all became my friends. 

Overseas, I had lots of friends, too, in the fashion circles. Halston, at that time, when he was not so sikat yet. I had to order, because RTW wasn’t as established yet.  I went for a lot of cashmere because I was always giniginaw.

As a teenager and a young bachelorette then, how was your social life in the Philippines?

I was forever abroad. It’s tricky coming back. A lot of friends that you grew up with remain your friends for the rest of your life. The problem with going abroad is when you come back, you have less and less in common. That’s a real issue, so there was a time when we were hanging around with lots of kids who were going to school abroad.  We always joke my sister, Irene, that she’s really English, because she left when she was nine. She’s really Inglesa, so we tease her about her English ways.

Who were your friends?

I have a very large family. My mom and her siblings are 11. So marami akong cousins. And then my mom has a lot of friends. So, they were Blue Ladies whose children we grew up with. And I had so many cousins.  A lot of Daniel Romualdez’s kin was always around us.

Some of them were critical, like Betsy. But was she your friend, too, at some point?

She’s like a third cousin.  She’s really malayo, and she’s a lot older than us. She’s never barkada. Malayo yun, eh.  Whereas with my mom’s 11 siblings’ children, we were more than enough.  My older cousins were my chaperones already. Then my brother had his barkada, too. To name them, I have to give you a list of 200. I had a lot of cousins among the Romualdezes. My Marcoses were the more sedate ones.  The contrast between the two families is very, very funny. It’s really a culture clash.

You once said Malacañang was like a snake pit.

Para ka ring nagpapalaki ng mga ahas. Siyempre, lahat nag-aaway-away, nagiintri-intriga.

What did your father tell you about love?

My dad? Ang tatay ko was very funny. He would say, “wala yan, parati namang in love, araw araw na in love.” “Init ng dugo lang yan,” he would kid my male cousins. On the other hand, he was very romantic also. He was always writing my mom. My mom was strict when it came to these matters because she comes from a conservative family. My father was always cracking jokes when it came to teenage crushes and that stuff.

Whose daughter was Aimee? Yours daw?

Her biological mother is a cousin of mine. You can see naman, sobrang Romualdez ang looks niya. That’s why that chismis never had legs. Sobrang Drew Barrymore ang itsura niya.

Would you like to talk about Tommy Manotoc?

Tommy is a private person. But if you want to know about him, someone was telling me he is on the Internet. The children know our story. At the end of the day, perhaps, we didn’t have that much in common. The children understood. He sees the children a lot. We talk about the children. Ayaw niyang nanghihimasok doon sa bigger decisions. He just sees them on weekends. They learned how to play golf from Tommy.

What do you tell people when they ask you about martial law? 

I don’t see myself as an apologist. Sa haba ng panahon, you have to judge it in context, in its time.  That was a period for strong leadership, which became very apparent in Southeast Asia. So, it is really an era na ganun ang takbo — Korea, Indonesia, lahat, iisa lang ang takbo noon. It was a post-war generation. Someday, it will be read in context. Of course, there’s been so much said.

To a certain degree, we’ve also been neglectful. I think many more people who made up a great part of that administration should talk, should write, should tell their side of the story. I think the other side of the story is very well documented. And even over-documented. But there should be the Cabinet members, many, many lawyers, many soldiers, who have lots of stories to tell, like Tata Condring Estrella. I am happy that Ronnie Velasco actually wrote something. I’m still waiting for Cesar Virata’s book. He is our one and only prime minister. Bobby Ongpin has all the stories in the world. Estelito Mendoza … these are brilliant people. (The late) Bong Tanco, for example, you’ll never hear his versions on rice and Masagana 99. When we were actually exporting rice, today we are the world’s greatest importer of rice. I mean, di ba? We had genius engineers like Fred Juinio who did the irrigation. Ang dami dapat. Even the younger ones down the line like Jimmy Laya and Many Alba. There were these brilliant people then involved in government. At least, it was the best and the brightest of that time. No question that everyone was first-caliber.

Cabinet meetings must have been a free-for-all.

During Cabinet meetings, there was no cookie cutter here. Everyone would participate in very lively, often very contentious debates. They also got scolded. Policy was really discussed, none of those endless PowerPoint presentations, cluster this and that. Iba talaga, bunuan.  At pag inaway ka ni Bobby Ongpin at tinanong ka ng tatay ko at hindi mo alam ang sagot, tepok ka. If Blas Ople suddenly asked you a question, or if Joe Aspiras asked you what it meant for tourism, for example, patay ka kung di mo masagot. Theirs was a brilliant group.  And if you couldn’t defend what you were saying, you would never hear the end of it. They would nail you to the ground.

And during my dad’s time, hindi lang yung Cabinet members ang magaling. Ang dami niyang taong magaling. Sa Nutrition at sa Population Centers, ang writer nila was Rio Alma. He became a National Artist. And the guy who was designing the stickers and campaign paraphernalia of my father was National Artist Ang Kiu Kok, together with Malang Santos. There was a culture of excellence.  Talagang may fixation yung parents ko na dapat yung pinaka matitinik, the best and the brightest, ang kasama sa kanilang trabaho.    I mean, it was worth working in the government. You didn’t leave the country, you didn’t join the private sector or join a multinational company to get a much higher pay. It was more fulfilling to join the government at that time. There were so many clever people, so many important things to make a difference. Adrian Cristobal, my dad’s writer, all these people ay nasa history books na, nasa literature na. I just know that during my dad’s time, whoever was pretty smart was always discovered, and always got a phone call to please try to work for the government, and we will do our best to compensate you. It will be a sacrifice but it will also be an adventure.

What can you say about the people in the government today?

There are still a few people today who were active in my dad’s government. Sina Ronnie Zamora, ang gagaling nila, ibang level pag nakausap mo.  Minsan nakakalungkot din, eh.  Dahil maraming magaling sa government ngayon, but ewan ko, the vision is very outdated. I think, very out of fashion. I think, whether you agreed or didn’t agree with my dad, he had a vision, he knew where he wanted to go. Maliwanang yung pagtutunguhan ninyo. Eh ngayon, kung minsan, nagiisip ka, saan ba tayo paparuon?  Where are all these going to lead us? So, it’s a little bit disillusioning. It’s a little bit scary.

Of the presidents after your father’s term, sino ang magaling?

Eh, siyempre, nagging president yan, lahat naman sila magaling. Mahirap namang magcomment, siyempre, ang tagal tagal ko nang naging opposition. Kasi, ever since, I have always been with the opposition. The only time I was not in the opposition was during the time of Erap.

What about the people who betrayed you?

Well, they know what they did. That’s more of their problem than mine.  Alam naman nila kung ano ang ginawa nila. Kung minsan nga, nagbibiro ako. Di na ako naniniwala sa karma, eh.  A friend would say, makakarma din yan. Alam mo, I was nine years in Congress, at makikita mo talaga sa politika, evil (is) rewarded, eh.  Hindi tutoo yang karma. Maraming masasamang taong namamayagpag, naghahari.  May mga mababait na aping api pa rin hanggang ngayon, eh.

What about all those houses?

It crops up once in a while. It’s a little bit sad. Here in Ilocos, for example, there’s so much that has been laid to waste. The Malacañang ti Amianan is really gorgeous. At that time it was such a really pretty house, but hinayaan. Matagal na naming sinasabi, we’ll fix it. Ayaw namang i-turnover.  Ganuon din naman yung mga damit ng Mommy ko. Yung mga terno.  Some of our friends, the fashionistas, have been asking. And I think it’s a valuable resource. It’s just right na ipunin lang yung damit ng nanay ko, kasi Ramon Valera, Christian, Joe Salazar, they are really stunning examples of Philippine embroidery and real high fashion.  Eh wala, iniwan sa bodega, kinain ng daga. Ang dumi. So, sayang, they should have allowed us to clean them and donate them to fashion schools, so kids will learn from it, the structuring, the concept, the design, yung pulidong gawa, yung beading. Namatay na nga  yung mga bordadora nuon, di  ba? So, a lot of those designs do not exist anymore. A lot of the embroidery techniques are lost.  Simply because we couldn’t take care of them. Nanghihinayang talaga ako. We owe it to put those things together. I am sure my mother has the most Valeras. He made everything from alaskin mini dresses to trapeze coats, to the ternos especially the draped ones, the structured 1960s, ang dami. Even the color combinations alone, matututo ka. Iba kasi yung taste ni Valera.  He is from Abra and Ilocos Norte. So he is Ilocano. Ang taas talaga ng level niya, maski sa color lang, iba eh. The clothes he made are an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about fashion.

What is your fashion preference today?

Ah, me, now? I only dress for comfort. I sometimes buy off the rack from the local malls. Sometimes, in boutiques, sometimes, yung sa tiyangge.  Here in the province, I was surprised for example, because all the barangay officials came all dressed up for my birthday. I didn’t lend anything to the occasion. Usually, hindi ako bihis masiyado. And my mother is always telling us always about that. Just because you are in the province doesn’t mean you don’t dress up, she would tell me.  You have to look forward to the occasion. And you have to honor them. Parati kaming nasesermonan niyan, eh.  Why panget? Palibhasa mga sosyal lang sa Maynila. Bakit? Sa barangay di naman ahh, mas lalo nga nilang gusto ng okasyon. Kaya paghandaan mo, hindi puwedeng ganiyan lang. So, medyo napagalitan ako. And I think the people really look wonderful. They really dress up. It’s just like during the fiesta. Any other occasion is a privilege. Sa nanay ko, you must honor the occasion. You must honor the hosts and the guests. You must honor their effort.

How are you and your mom today?

Okay naman. My mother has very valuable insights and she is really an inspiration. She is 81 and she works harder than anyone. She came by car yesterday, umuwi by plane on the same day. Hindi rin siya pangkaraniwan. In the past, she used to sleep for only two hours, now four hours na. Ibig sabihin, sobrang tanda na niya. Tuwang tuwa kami kasi nakakapahinga na rin kami kahit paano. Ang hirap, kasi three shifts ang umaalalay sa kaniya dati. Dati, mangangarag ka eh. Dati, you go to bed at 2 a.m. Pag may dinner, after dinner, siyempre mag naknock off yung mga opisyal mga 12 o’clock. Ang nanay ko naman, nakaterno yan, maghahard hat, lulusob sa mga projects niya, magiinspeksiyon yan hangang 2 to 3. After dinner, she will go to the construction sites. Then the next day, ang aga na namang gigising, mga  5 a.m. or 6 a.m.  Tapos ready na naman. And she always looked impeccable, and we all end up wondering, how the heck did she do it?

Would you be more of a Marcos or a Romualdez?

I always think that I am more of a Marcos because I like Ilocano food like simple vegetables. I always think I am more Ilocano, and because I was such a daddy’s girl growing up, that my habits are very much like my dad’s, a little bit nerdy. I am not really a natural politician because I like my company best. I get tired a little bit by always having so many people around, unlike my mother, she is a whole other creature. She recharges when there are people. The more people she sees, the more energetic she gets. She is totally my opposite. Hindi siya napapagod basta may tao. Tapos pag wala na lahat, at siya na lang ang gising, maaalala na niya. Hindi pa ako natutulog ah, oh sige, matutulog na ako. Pero habang may kadaldalan, enjoy na enjoy siya, buhay na buhay. The short answer is I am a Marcos, but come to think of it, this whole artsy-fartsy thing about me is very Romualdez. There are some sculptors and poets in my dad’s family. But in general, it is the Romualdezes. The Romualdezes have a whole other attitude. They’re not interested in living the social life, but they will always have music at home, first-rate paintings. I don’t know, it’s a Romualdez thing, they’re just terribly interested in arts.

And you are really into popular arts, too.

Of course, it’s a big argument in my family, because they always think I am a purveyor of popular arts. I’m not that committed to opera, for example. But my mom and my sister are, whereas , I started Metro Pop, so they’re like all glaring at me. They look at me as the purveyor of popular entertainment and pop music. Yes, I am. I am also not interested in arthouse films that no one will watch. I don’t like literature with a big “L” that no one will read. I am perfectly happy. At the end of the day, a good story is a good story if it translates to a comic book.  Then I know it holds up.  That’s a real test because you can teach it to a nine year old.

Do you watch movies?

Yes, I watch Filipino movies. I like the independents. A movie I helped to produce, Donor, actually won in the Cinemalaya awards. Also, we just won last week in the Brussels Film Festival. It’s by Mark Meilly. I wish I could still carry on producing stuff I like animation.

Did you think of politics when you were young? Or did you think more of the arts?

My first love talaga is film. And talking about the cinematic history of Ilocos Norte, it is really varied and long standing. From the early Cirio Santiago, Roger Corman B movies, the grindhouse movies in the US car parks, then it went all the way to Born On The Fourth of JulyLast Samurai, Mad Max then to the Temptation Island, and to the classics like Himala, which was shot right here at the bottom of the Lake Paoay. The sand dunes here are really the classic location for the mob scene with 2,000 extras. And it’s only take-one. I think people who come

Should you agree or disagree, praise or damn, e-mail me at cyber.proust@yahoo.com.

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