Queen of the Quirky, Imelda Marcos Holds Court

MANILA, the Philippines, Feb. 27, 1996 : A pale blue bird began to chirp loudly high above the table where Imelda Marcos was eating breakfast.

“Oh, Ma’am,” cried her companions, breaking into applause, “Ma’am, it’s a sign, it’s a love bird, oh, he’s cheering for you! Ma’am, congratulations!”

It was, they explained to a visitor, the spirit of her late husband, Ferdinand E. Marcos, come to be with her on the 10th anniversary of the darkest day of their lives, when, lugging crates of jewelry and pesos, they boarded an American helicopter and fled their palace forever.

“There are many things we cannot understand in this world, there are spirits,” Mrs. Marcos said, as if struggling for meaning in a land where she has become a caricature of extravagance and greed. “On the first anniversary of my husband’s death, a butterfly fluttered right onto the cake — I could show you the pictures. And now this. It’s too pat.

“And this is just about the time he was taking his oath,” she said, referring to the presidential oath Mr. Marcos administered to himself just hours before he fled. “That’s too much. How can you explain that? It’s a love bird. It’s telling me, ‘I love you for what you are doing.’ And who is to say it’s not true?”

Mrs. Marcos was having breakfast with half a dozen close supporters, the remnants of the clique known as the Blue Ladies who surrounded her when she was, in effect, queen of the Philippines during Mr. Marcos’s two decades of strongman rule.


The Marcoses in Hawaii six weeks after fleeing the Philippines. Photo by Seth Mydans

She had just come in from a strange predawn rally where she spoke and sang to about 400 mostly elderly people, a smattering of the slum-dwellers who had formed a fanatical constituency during her years of jewels and glamor. As the sun rose and her rally dispersed, the Government was launching a day of speeches and parades to celebrate the anniversary of the “People Power” uprising that forced her husband from power on Feb. 25, 1986, after a disputed election.

Mrs. Marcos is a congresswoman now, elected because of the sentimentality of voters in her home province of Leyte but showing little, if any, interest in the work of the legislature.

She is also a convicted felon, appealing a 1993 conviction for graft that could send her to prison for 24 years. “Necrophiliacs,” she calls the Government that is prosecuting her.

This morning she offered the latest in a series of explanations of the billions of dollars that she and her husband, who died in 1989, are believed to have stolen during his presidency.

“It so coincided that Marcos had money,” she said. “After the Bretton Woods agreement he started buying gold from Fort Knox. Three thousand tons, then 4,000 tons. I have documents for these: 7,000 tons. Marcos was so smart. He had it all. It’s funny; America didn’t understand him.”

Comments about Mrs. Marcos among Filipinos these days are dismissive. Not enough time has passed for people here to view her flamboyant self-image with humor or to feel compassionate about her obvious bewilderment at her orphanage from pomp and power.

“She’s not a factor; she’s an irrelevance,” the comments go. “A pathetic widow living off the past. . . Slightly touched. . . Sorry for her? I don’t think it even pains her.”

But, as during her glory days, Mrs. Marcos sees what she wants to see.

“I am human,” she said. “One day I sing. One day I dance.”

She looked bravely regal on this anniversary of her great loss, sitting up straight as, one after another, a score of South Korean tourists came to lean over her, grinning, for souvenir snapshots as she ate.

And she nodded graciously as an acolyte from the morning’s rally, a middle-aged woman named Grace Gutierrez, squeezed in beside her murmuring: “Ma’am, I love you so much, I don’t want you ever to forget that I love you so much, Ma’am, I love you very much. I love you, Ma’am. Ma’am I did not come to ask you any favors. Just to hold you is enough. Ma’am, you did not change in 10 years, you are even more beautiful.”

After a while Mrs. Marcos’s attention began to wander as the Korean tourists continued to slide behind her for portraits and her pancakes cooled, but Mrs. Gutierrez prodded, “Ma’am, you did not hear what I said.”

“I heard. I heard,” Mrs. Marcos muttered.

Is it any wonder that the woman once known to the country as “F. L.,” for First Lady, is beginning to recognize that she is a little crazy?

This morning, as she has over the years, she sought solace by launching into a philosophical stratosphere where few people have ever managed to follow her.

“The world is not left and right,” she announced, leaning forward as her coterie laughed and chattered around her. “It is a circle, and if you turn right four times — right, right, right, right — you have a square and in that square you have four sharp points pointing into the four winds. The end of a straight line is sharp and violent. Logic. Hitler. Logic. Ergo, let’s kill the Jews.”

Once upon a time, Mrs. Marcos lived in a world that was beyond logic. “I know what it is to fulfill a dream,” she said, remembering.

“I had 101 pairs of sunglasses,” she said. “I thought they were so glamorous looking. But whenever I was in public people would shout, ‘Ma’am, we want to see your face.’ I could not wear my sunglasses for one minute.”

Copyright The New York Times