Imelda Marcos was not an Evita Peron

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

Senator Bert Romulo called me that he could not understand why Imelda did not like the “The Untold Story.” He said he was in a meeting with other members of the Cory Cabinet when the issue was brought up. In his opinion Imelda’s reaction against it is a case of wrong values. In a way, I agreed with him but only partly. It is the larger picture that matters and to look deeper on how these values were formed.

The widely held  explanation ( as I too held) is that her family (the poor Romualdezes of Ulot, Leyte)  were cast outside the center of the rich Romualdezes of Manila. It was that past she tried to hide. And so did Marcos. It was heightened by the privilege speech of then Senator Ninoy Aquino who said she had the makings of an Evita Peron of Argentina.

The Aquino tirade was a mistake. María Eva Duarte (7 May 1919 – 26 July 1952) is better known as María Eva Duarte de Perón. She was proud of her poor origins and used it to the hilt to acquire political power. Those who have studied the two women’s lives as first ladies find them significantly different. Eva Perón more known as Evita, was the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón (1895–1974) and First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952 and Imelda Romualdez was the First Lady to Ferdinand Marcos.

Imelda’s life story pales in comparison to Evita Peron as First Lady of Argentina.

Evita Peron used her early poverty to capture the following of the poor which formed the bulk of the descamisados. Evita used her life of poverty as a political tool. But she had a unique character that emboldened the descamisados to use their numbers to gain political power. It was she who advanced Peron’s political governance.

Evita’s life changed dramatically when she married Juan Perón who was a colonel and government official in 1945. He became president of Argentina the following year, and his wife proved to be his political weapon when she put together the scattered descamisados as a power under her influence.

Evita used her position as first lady to fight for causes she believed in, including women’s suffrage and improving the lives of the poor. She also unofficially ran the ministries of health and labor in her husband’s government.

It was through Evita that Perón became a legendary figure in Argentine politics. A skilled speaker, she was adored by the poor citizens she worked hard to help, but she was not without critics and detractors. Asked to run as vice president with her husband in 1951, she faced opposition by the army. She ultimately turned down the post – possibly due to the health issues she was battling around this same time, stemming from cervical cancer.

Evita made her last public appearance in June 1952, at her husband’s second inauguration. The following month, she succumbed to her illness: she died of cervical cancer in Buenos Aires on July 26, 1952. She was given a funeral fit for a head of state, showing how much public support she had from the Argentine people at the time.

Since her death, Evita’s life continues to fascinate people around the world. The story of a poor girl who became a prominent political power has been the subject of countless books, films and plays. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the hit musical Evita (1979), which was based on her life. Madonna later played her political personality in the 1996 film version, with Antonio Banderas portraying Che Guevara.

Evita understood the heart of Argentine politics. She was a power on her own right on whom Juan Peron depended. But Imelda’s and Marcos’s politics as a conjugal dictatorship failed to embrace the battle of the classes. It was a dead end.

Lucky for all of us that she did not have the qualities and bearing of Evita Peron of Argentina whose power came from herself and she used it to keep Juan Peron in power.

That is why the comparison of Imelda and Evita is a mistake. Senator Romulo is right that Imelda’s rejection of the “Untold Story” is a question of values. I must add not of Imelda alone but as a reflection of Philippine society and history.

MISCELLANY: “Wrong values” is pushing up its ugly head once again as we take up the ABS-CBN issue in Duterte’s presidency.


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