The Corruptocracy of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos
In 1954, Ferdinand Marcos, then an up and comer congressman, married Imelda Remedios Trinidad Romualdez (1929 – ), a singer and beauty queen who hailed from one of the Philippines’ most prominent families. It was a good match – not for the Philippines, but for the couple: Imelda Marcos was a shrewd operative whose political instincts and ambitions matched and complemented those of her husband. She became known as the “Steel Butterfly” because of her combination of fashion sense and ruthless resolve.
As First Lady of the Philippines after her husband declared martial law and ruled as dictator, Imelda Marcos held various government posts, including Governor of Metropolitan Manila (1975 – 1986) and Minister of Human Settlements and Ecology (1979 – 1986). She took full advantage of her access to power to enrich herself with rampant corruption and blatant graft. She also appointed many of her relatives to lucrative governmental and industrial positions, from which they proceeded to loot the Philippines. Soon, the First Family was worth billions, stashed in Swiss bank accounts, laundered in real estate across the US such as shopping centers and high rises, plus posh mansions all over the world, including London, Rome, and Honolulu.
Before long, the entire regime was marked by rampant corruption. The Philippines became an out and out kleptocracy, in which the ruling couple, along with their relatives, favorites, and insider supporters, plundered the country at will. The rot became institutional and entrenched, reaching down from the top to the lowest rungs of government. Such endemic corruption fueled and exacerbated economic stagnation, and a steadily widening gap between the country’s rich and poor.
One thing that stood out about Imelda Marcos’ corruption in particular was her apparent obsession with expensive designer shoes – and “obsession” was no hyperbole. During the Conjugal Dictatorship, the Philippines’ First Lady earmarked a significant portion of the proceeds of her corruption and graft to splurging on extremely pricey shoes, eventually accumulating thousands of pairs. When the Marcos regime finally fell and protesters stormed one of Imelda’s palaces, they discovered over 2700 pairs of designer shoes in her wardrobe. Thousands more of her designer shoes were discovered in other palaces, mansions, and villas throughout the Philippines. A single pair of those pricey pumps could cost more than an entire city block in a lower class Philippine neighborhood earned in a year.
By the early 1980s, Ferdinand Marcos’ health began to fail him, and Imelda stepped up, wielding ever greater power, and widening her network of graft. As misgovernment grew, and the Filipino economy faltered, opposition to the Conjugal Dictatorship mounted. The first cracks appeared in 1983 when opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., imprisoned for seven years by the Marcos regime after martial law was declared, returned to the Philippines after years of self imposed exile in the United States. He was shot dead as soon as he stepped off the airplane at Manila’s airport. That set off massive antigovernment protests, and Ferdinand Marcos was forced to appoint an independent commission to investigate the assassination.