Was Imelda’s life really a Cinderella story?

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2021 - 12:00am

“The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos” became popular because it was a rags to riches story which it was with Imelda as a poor relative of the politically powerful clan of the Romualdezes. She rose to the top and surpassed them all. But in time it became clearer that it was Marcos, although not a poor boy, who had the ambition to become the president of the Philippines.

The formula for achieving that was to marry a member of the elite and powerful, like one of the daughters of the Quezon family, or of wealth like Chito Madrigal Vazquez. But they snubbed him as a political and social climber. He was not part of them although he was an aspiring congressman.

Then he met Imelda Romualdez, a fit for the formula as the stepping stone to social prominence in Manila society. She had the name, the beauty to supersede the other women of the elite. But as he said later on, I knew she was a poor relative of the Romualdezes but not that poor when he found out that the Vicente Romualdezes lived in one of the quonset huts left by the Americans after World War II.

A publicity campaign was set up to hide all that until the “The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos” was published. I would have played along with the ploy and got the first information from Malacañang, thinking I would write the Filipino version of the Jack and Jackie Kennedy story.

But destiny has a way of intruding on human plans. I met a member of the Romualdez clan who was willing to tell the story if I would dare write it. She was a raconteur, remembering the details of the Romualdez clan story that began with the success of Justice Norberto Romualdez and ended with the failure of Vicente Romualdez, Imelda’s father.

In time Imelda became known as the powerful partner of the Marcos conjugal partnership. No one would dare go against an Imelda order. I began writing the book. It became known as the martial law book because the Marcoses attempted to ban it. Instead the young activists took it up as their cause. It foreshadowed the peaceful people power revolution the 35th anniversary of which we celebrated this year.

We got it all wrong when we interpreted “The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos” as a Cinderella story of Imelda. It was Marcos who used the formula of how to get to the top in the Philippines. This was the country’s politics and culture. He used the opposite of what Imelda was and created the image that would be acceptable to the social and political standards of the time.

But the poor girl from Tacloban would supersede the political commoner from Ilocos Norte. She would be known as the richest woman in the world, according to Cosmopolitan magazine.

While people thought that she was meeting leaders of countries in Marcos’s behalf, she soon got hold of the story that Marcos had fallen in love with a Hollywood actress who stayed with him when she was abroad.

But an event that soon followed the book scandal provided Imelda with ample ammunition of her own to counteract Marcos’s rejection. Not long after Imelda’s visit to Loreto, a voluptuous American B-movie star named Dovie Beams would reveal her affair with “Fred.” She produced tapes and held hour-long press conferences on a story that led straight to Malacañang. There were sighs, breathless half-minute pauses and, most titillating of all, singing while it all happened.

The voice, Marcos watchers avowed, sounded uncomfortably reminiscent of the president’s baritone vowing to lead the country to greatness.

Miss Beams told of escapades arranged by a colonel who acted like a guardian, always on the lookout for prying eyes or the storming in of a betrayed wife. On one occasion he seems to have slipped, and the offended lady barged into the room screaming a litany of epithets unworthy of an aristocratic lady of impeccable breeding.

But the lady made it clear to the horrified starlet that it was not the affair with her husband that offended her. Dovie and Fred could by all means enjoy themselves, for all she cared. But did Miss Beams need to make it so public? The scorned wife was even grateful to her, the American actress alleged, for fulfilling a role she was unable to play for her husband.

Miss Beams spoke of Fred’s gratitude to her. She had been told he was the most powerful man in the Philippines, and she was thrilled to have him in her arms. He had spoken of his undying love for her because she had overcome his years of impotence.

The press could hardly believe Miss Beams’s outrageous revelations. Equally puzzling was why Malacañang was so anxious to remove Miss Beams from the local scene or why Marcos’s publicists had tried so desperately to suppress her press conference about Fred.

During Imelda’s New York trial it was revealed she wanted to be president of the United Nations. The prosecutor presented more than 300,000 documents confiscated in Hawaii. The New York court wanted Bush to testify, citing Imelda’s story that he knew what was happening and even asked her that they put their moneys in US banks rather than in Switzerland. All this Imelda faced alone because Marcos died before the prosecution.

The judge said that as far as he understood the testimony, Imelda was indeed the word’s greatest shopper.

Western feminists had their own complaints about the UN extravaganza. Australian author Germaine Greer (“The Female Eunuch”) denounced it as “an extension of Madison Avenue feminism” set up as if the objective was to have poor women farm workers “lay down their hoes and light up a Virginia Slim.”

Ms editor Gloria Steinem arrived in Mexico City with a similar complaint. The conference, she said, “could trivialize the women’s movement. The very idea of the Year of the Woman becomes clear when we consider we don’t have the Year of the Man.”

It was not far from the truth if the man referred to was Marcos with his own untold story.

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