The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos
Author’s Note: Her opulent boudoir with its high gilded mirrors and enormous canopied bed has been gawked at and gasped at like an obscene show, by rich matrons, slum dwellers and hordes of media vultures, but one question about Imelda Romualdez Marcos cries out for an answer: WHY?
Why would such a woman, the most powerful in the land, be driven to amass 3,000 pairs of shoes, 3,500 pairs of panties, 2,000 gowns, 500 bras, hundreds of handbags, watches, jewelry and antiques, a suitcaseful of girdles, baskets of scented soaps, and gallons of imported perfumes?
Such excesses have caused many Filipinos to spit at Imelda’s name, and even as more revelations spill out on the newspapers’ pages about the Marcoses’ $5 billion to $10 billion of plunder of the nation’s wealth, sympathy for the deposed rulers’ plight continues to dwindle. Now wanderers without a country, the Marcoses can only inspire that famous line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about a dazzling era gone by, The Great Gatsby: “The poor son of a bitch!”
Except for one difference: poor the Marcoses are not. The late General Carlos P. Romulo once observed that Marcos was the quintessential Filipino. Perhaps it could also be said of Imelda that she was, in a sense, the quintessential Filipina. For a time, in the public perception, the Marcoses embodied the best, the brightest and the most promising in the Filipino, but somewhere along the journey to unlimited wealth and power, something went haywire.
What went wrong?
What flaw lies in the Filipino character that spawned a Ferdinand and an Imelda and allowed them the impunity to get away with what they did for 20 years?
These interviews with Carmen Navarro Pedrosa, author of the long-banned Untold Story of Imelda Marcos, is an attempt to answer some of these questions. Ms. Pedrosa’s analysis also helps to put into perspective the staggering extravagance and vulgarity that characterize the legacy Ms. Marcos bequeathed to the nation.
The main bulk of these interviews is distilled from a long conversation with Ms. Pedrosa in December, 1984. The meeting took place in the living room of her family residence close to Hyde Park in London, a four-story townhouse with 12 rooms, which has been home for much of the Pedrosas’ 15 years in exile.
On advice of Mr. and Ms. lawyer Joker Arroyo who pointed out the unwritten media rule about “laying off on the First Lady”, the first interview was shelved for two years and has only now been unearthed to appear in print for the first time.
The second interview, since the fall of the Marcoses, is based on a recent telephone conversation with Ms. Pedrosa from London, and contains updated material on her sequel to the Untold Story and her views on the post-Marcos era Imelda.
Q. What made you write The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos?
A. I felt it was a beautiful story, a Cinderella, rags-to-riches story which any normal person would have been proud to share.
Q. Did someone ask you to write?
A. Oh, no, not at all. The idea just cropped up on the breakfast table. I was a journalist in the Chronicle up to the time I got married in 1966. When I got pregnant, I had to quit work and stay home. As an ordinary housewife, I was getting bored. I complained about this to my husband one morning while he was reading the newspaper over breakfast. “So, what do you want to do now?” he asked. I want to go back to journalism, I said. “But that would be difficult,” he said, “you’re pregnant.” Then out of the blue he asked, “Why don’t you write a book?” I said, what book? Right away he said, “Why not a book on Ms. Marcos?”
At first I did not like the idea. Ms. Marcos was far from my idea of an interesting subject for a book. I thought she was so silly, like that image of her by the New York Times — this was after the Marcoses’ triumphant state visit in the U.S. in 1966, their first real victory — which portrayed her as glamorous, beautiful, talented, cultured, every superlative you could think of. As a journalist, I feel it is always suspicious when someone is described in such glowing terms.
So Imelda was not my kind of subject, but I said, well, there’s no harm in getting an excuse to get out of the house and boredom.
My first stop was Malacanang. I wanted to get what was the official data available about Ms. Marcos. The first person to give some information was Ileana Maramag who asked me if I knew that Kerima Polotan-Tuvera was preparing a book on the first lady. She didn’t quite say it was a book, just a series of articles. But really, my heart fell. Ms. Tuvera was such a formidable writer and I held her in great respect. How could I possibly compete with her who wrote so well?
But then I discovered an important link to Ms. Marcos’ past: Adoracion Reyes. She was listed in Ms. Marcos’ biodata as the voice teacher from whom the First Lady learned how to sing. I went to see Ms. Reyes at her house in Sampaloc. I began by asking her all the usual trivial things, then she said, “Oh, that Imelda, did you know that this sofa I’m sitting on now is where she used to sleep? But she has changed, she doesn’t recognize these things anymore.” I pressed her for more information, but she said, “the person who can give you a lot of information is Loreto Romualdez Ramos, she’s a brave woman.” I was intrigued by what there was to be brave about, so immediately I went to Ms. Ramos — and it was stupendous!
Loreto Ramos is the first cousin of Imelda, daughter of the late associate justice of the Supreme Court Norberto Romualdez, the first in their family to make a name for himself. Loreto has a fantastic, photographic memory, and like her father, has a knack for historical details. In fact, there is a small picture of Imelda in Loreto’s house with a dedication from Ms. Marcos: “To the basurera of the family.” That’s because Loreto collects everything.
Loreto called one of her sisters and said, come, bring me the red and blue albums. The red is the forbidden album. Then, with the albums, she told me Imelda Romualdez’s story with absolute candor. I would say that that first book was Loreto’s book, I just put together. I did many other things, background, interviews, etc., but the real line of the story was Loreto’s and it was the story of the Romualdez family and how Ms. Marcos belonged to the poor side of the family and because of that she had this obsession and drive in her to do better.
I questioned Loreto then about her motives, why she was telling me all those things about Ms. Marcos. She’s your cousin, I said, this might hurt her. And she said, “I don’t see how this can hurt her, it is the truth. I’ve told this to Nick Joaquin, to Kerima, and to all the people who have asked about her. And we have told her ourselves, hey, Imelda, we said, what are they telling about you that you are choosing between your silver heirloom and your silver from London which you just bought. The only silver heirloom we can speak of is this silver spoon made by the Spanish friar from whom we, Romualdezes, are all descended. It’s such a comedy what you’re doing. What ancestral house? We have no such thing, and the Romualdezes did not build the town of Tolosa, Leyte. Anyone who has a little bit of historical background will say this is absolute stupidity what you’re peddling about. And Imelda said, ‘Oh, you know, that’s just all publicity.’”
But Imelda rather enjoyed the image created about herself. In the beginning, she could joke about it, but then she began to believe in it, too, and became very serious about her image. That, to me, was the tragic part — that she began to believe the image and got caught up in it.
Another key person in the book is the maid who stayed with Imelda’s mother during those unhappy years of Imelda’s childhood: Estrella Cumpas, a Kapampangan. While I was writing the book, Estrella lived with me for a while. She came to the house one day and I told her I could not give her any money because they might say I am corrupting her, but I told her she could be the yaya of my children and whenever she was free, I would interview her for my book. That’s how she came to live with me for sometime.
But after the book came out, Imelda had her snatched away. It was Gen. Ver who got her. She wrote me about this later. One day she came back and told me that she was under guard, and that someone had called her at the house and told her that her child had been run over so I let her go and that’s when they snatched her. She said she was taken to Malacanang. Imelda told her, it’s all your foolishness, look at what has happened.
Then Imelda gave her a pension of P300 a month plus a job for her husband and jobs for all her children. When she came to see me afterwards, she was nicely dressed, new bag, new shoes, everything. I told her, isn’t it good this happened to you, if not, where would you be by now? She said, yes, yes, that’s true.
But I don’t think this lasted. The last time I heard from her she was asking me if she could come to London and I said it was impossible. I send her help every once in a while.
Q. Your book became very controversial because it revealed facts that were not written about before. How come the other writers never brought out the real story of Ms. Marcos?
A. Because they were never really interested in the real story. They were more interested in creating the image. At that time there was such an aura of glamor about the Marcoses; they were young, beautiful, talented, and vibrant, they held so much promise, and they began to believe themselves as a kind of Filipino counterpart of the Camelot-Kennedy legend, and so the Writers, including the journalists, sort of wanted to be a part of the court. If they only dug deeper. I’m sure the information was available and they would have gotten the facts way ahead of me.
It seemed the objective was not to bring out the truth but to come out with a nice piece of writing. I call it prose felicity, a kind of self-indulgence. That, to me, was the flaw in many of our so-called outstanding writers — they placed their reputation for beautiful writing above their role as a medium for conveying the truth. What came first was how to have a beautiful article, rather than, is it the truth. That’s how our writers were easily corrupted. The Marcoses really went out of their way to corrupt the writers who allowed themselves to be used as a medium for the perpetuation of the Marcos myth. It was a terrible situation because we needed the writers so badly at the time. There was ferment and chaos. This was during the First Quarter Storm. There were demonstrations in the streets. We needed our writers to detach themselves from the ferment and the chaos, to analyze things, to help us understand what was going on, apart from what the Marcoses wanted us to believe.
The writers must share the blame for building a myth around the Marcoses that insulated them from reality. In paying court to the regime, the writers helped create an atmosphere of truth, goodness, and beauty around the Marcos conjugal dictatorship which was all illusion, a veneer that obscured reality and made them believe that they were invincible and that they could get away with anything.
When I read that manifesto signed by many generals which came out in support of Gen. Fabian C. Ver after he was charged in the Ninoy assassination case, I remember another manifesto back when Marcos was running for his second presidential term. The manifesto came out in all the newspapers and was filled with the signatures of writers and intellectuals, many of them, big names, pledging their all-out support for Marcos. The mind behind these manifestoes is the same mind that operates on corrupting our generals and our writers It was part of the whole Marcos scenario, reducing everything, including the truth, to some sort of public relations work.
Q. How did you publish your book?
A. I tried to get it published abroad, but the book did not have any international flavor. Ms. Marcos was not that internationally known yet. And the way it was written and conceived, the book was really intended for a Filipino readership. I asked F. Sionil Jose to read it and he said he’ll publish it on only one condition: that I ask permission from Ms. Marcos. So I said, that’s absurd, she’s not going to give it. And Frankie said, well, I can’t touch it and no one will touch it, either. That’s when I decided to publish the book myself. I had to be ingenious in going about publishing the book. When I found a printer, I spread the rumor that the book was going to be printed abroad. I think this was accepted because they started guarding the airport, rather than the local printing presses, which was rather providential because I was able to get the book printed without any difficulty.
But before I could publish the book, I had to file it first with the National Library in order to get a copyright. I submitted two copies of my manuscript to Andres Cristobal Cruz who was then in charge. Chitang Nakpil was there also and it was she who said there was going to be a controversy about the book. By then I knew that Kerima was writing Ms. Marcos’ biography and I was aware of the possibility that her book and mine would conflict.
Someone advised me that because my subject was a living person, it was a matter of courtesy to provide a copy for the subject, for clarification and points of error, without in any way destroying the book’s integrity. I did not want to go straight to Ms. Marcos, so I went through channels, people whom I trusted. I went to Teddy Locsin and he would not go out of his way to help me. I went to Joe Luna Castro — he was already being courted then, and was a compadre of Kokoy, and Imelda used to ring him up. I took the draft to Joe Luna to show to Imelda. I told him, you’re the editor of the largest newspaper (The Manila Times), it anything happens to that, I hold you responsible. Somehow the manuscript got to Chino Roces and I was told he raised his hands and said, “Oh, no, this is a small town, I understand Ms. Marcos throws up even at the mere mention of her being poor.”
So I went to Blas Ople who was supposed to be an Imelda man. I gave him the book, and he said, “Sure, no problem.” I asked him how long it would take before I hear from him. “Give me one week,” he said. I waited one week. Nothing. I was getting nervous. I knew I had to move fast. I went back to Ople’s office and he wasn’t there, just his secretary. I pressured her to give me back my manuscript so she opened Ople’s drawers and found my manuscript — not one, but two.
The manuscripts were the same ones I had turned over earlier to the National Library and every page was signed by the National Library, It was obvious that Andy Cruz, who had no business stealing records from a public custodian of documents, had turned my manuscripts over to Ople, so by the time I gave Ople another draft, he already knew what my book was about.
When the Ople channel fizzled, I thought there would be a greater chance that the book could get to Imelda through Marcos. I heard that Joe Aspiras was a trusted Marcos man so I went to see him next. I told him I just wanted some kind of reaction or review of the book, if there was anything erroneous which could be corrected before I went ahead with it. But they misunderstood my intentions. They assumed that I approached them because I was selling the book. If that were really the case, I would not have gone through the other channels, I would have gone straight to Ms. Marcos.
When I came back to Aspiras, he drew me aside and said, “I’m sorry, the answer is no. They don’t want the book.” I don’t know whether they had read it, but they gave me the impression that as far as they were concerned, I could go ahead with the book and expect everything that could happen to me. They seemed to tell me that I would be foolish to publish the book, but if I should decide not to go ahead with it, they would buy all the rights to the book, everything, including serialization rights, etc. Aspiras tried to make it look like a straight purchase. Of course, I knew right away what they meant. I was not stupid. They were buying me off. I said, I’m sorry, I couldn’t do that.
I was getting nervous. I didn’t realize that the book would be that explosive. But by then my husband and I had made up our minds and we would go ahead with the book, with or without sanction from anybody. This was 1969. I planned on coming out with the book before the elections that November.
Q. Did the Liberal Party use your book for the campaign?
A. No, I didn’t release my book until 1970. Besides, my husband was working for the MERALCO and his boss was Eugenio Lopez. The Lopezes were political partners of the Marcoses, and during the campaign they were on the same side. Ms. Marcos burned the lines to try to suppress the book. She called up my father-in-law (the late Cong. Pio Pedrosa) who is also from Leyte. She tried to prevail on him to convince me not to publish. He told her, why don’t you want to tell your real story, it is a beautiful, remarkable story. And she said, “Ah, Manong Pio, but they were so impressed with me abroad. I know everything about Gaughin, Picasso, Cezanne. They asked me, oh, Ms. Marcos, where did you learn about all this, it is so remarkable that you know so much, and I told them, ‘Toulosse’.” At that, both she and my father-in-law had laughed because they understood the joke to mean. Tolosa, Leyte. Anyway, my father-in-law told Ms. Marcos that he had no powers of persuasion over me.
Failing there, Ms. Marcos called up Don Eugenio Lopez who was in San Francisco at the time. She was burning the lines. She complained to him, what kind of political partnership is this, etc., you have someone in your staff whose wife is out to destroy me. The inference was, are we friends, or are we not?
GSIS general manager Ben del Rosario came to our house one night and said he was taking over the negotiations. He went straight to the point and made an offer: half a million pesos. They even had a draft of an agreement. This didn’t work.
By then I already had the books printed — 10,000 hardbound and 20,000 softbound for the first edition. The books went straight to my study in my house, ready for distribution after the elections.
Marcos and Lopez won re-election in 1969. Inauguration was set for January so we let two and a half months pass to allow for the euphoria of victory. But in January, there was trouble already, students demonstrating in the streets, people boarding up their houses and stores. That was already indicative of the growing violence and resentment against the regime. We told Don Eugenio the elections were over and we wanted to release the book already. But he said, wait a while so they will not think you are firing up all this trouble. Come April of 1970, my book was still under wraps in my study.
Then one day, a teacher friend of mine from Maryknoll came to the house and said, hey, I’ve read your book; it’s really fantastic. I wondered where she could have gotten a copy of the book because I had not released it yet. Then another friend called by phone to congratulate me about the book. She had read it and raved about it. That’s when I strongly suspected piracy. How we found out is a long story in itself, but I sued Imelda. Louie Beltran wrote about this and reported that the real story of the piracy was that if I had gone ahead with the printing of the book before the elections, they would plant the book in the Liberal Party headquarters through a double agent, a former National Press Club president who has since been amply rewarded.
The piracy was in keeping with the way Marcos operates, it’s all a matter of operations. If they can’t win you, they buy you off or corrupt you, and if they can’t do that, they smear your reputation. That’s what they tried to do with me. They tried to discredit my book by showing that it was part of the black propaganda campaign of the Liberal Party. When they failed to buy me off, their next line of operation was to accuse me of using the book as a political weapon. Planting evidence to ruin an enemy’s reputation is one of Marcos’ operations, a way of muddling the issues. That’s the way they are — all operations, they try to cover all angles, operation this, operation that. But sometimes they make mistakes. They overkill and somewhere in that excess is a flaw that will give them away.
As soon as I discovered the piracy I decided not to wait any longer. I released my book and distributed them in all the major bookstores. It wasn’t martial law yet, so there was no problem with distribution. Max Soliven got a go signal from Chino Roces to write a series of sensational stories about my book. Kerima’s biography of Ms. Marcos came out at this time and Ms. Marcos herself added to the fire by making references about me in interviews and conferences. All these only helped to sell my book fast. We had to run a second edition of 20,000 copies.
Q. Was your husband fired because of the book, and did you go into exile because of it?
A. I think it was providential that we decided to leave the country in 1971. There was already some friction brewing in the Marcos- Lopez partnership after the elections. Bert, my husband, was a top executive in the MERALCO and when the break-up between Marcos and Lopez happened, it was felt that since the ME RALCO was a public utility dependent on government sanctions, etc., it would be better for everyone around if one more thorn could be removed. My husband volunteered to go. Ostensibly he was being sent to London to study how MERALCO could hit the European dollar market at the source. Bert thought the new overseas assignment would be a learning experience for our family and we expected we would be coming home after two years. But martial law was declared in September 1972 and under the new management. Bert was advised that MERALCO would be pleased if he resigned.
That’s the story of why my family has been living in exile.
Q. Would you consider coming home now?
A. It seems pointless at this point. The work we’re doing here in London and Europe has become more political than when we were in the Philippines. I have a Filipino newspaper, Pahayagan, which I put out in London to serve Filipinos all over Europe. My children are in school here, and we have to consider their educational-social adjustment if we were to return to the Philippines. Perhaps early in our exile, the question was more of the hazards of our coming home. I am in the list of wanted people. But as time went on, it became, for us, a matter of choice. For now, we have no plans of coming home.
(As we go to press, we learned that the Pedrosas are deeply involved in the tracking down of the Marcoses’ hidden wealth in Europe and may return home to report on their findings. — ED.)
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.