Imelda Marcos (born 1929) was the First Lady of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. She made a name for herself as one of the biggest spendthrifts of all time, taking the position that money is no obstacle to happiness.
Unfortunately, the money wasn’t hers to spend. She and her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, amassed a fortune estimated to be as much as $10 billion by embezzling the majority of it from the Filipino people. They hold the Guinness World Record for the Greatest Robbery of a Government.
Before being deposed (and, shockingly, returning in 1995 as a member of the House of Representatives), Imelda took the concept of “spending spree” to whole new heights. Take a look at what billions of dollars, absence of accountability, no self-control, and very poor judgment can produce.
Shoes, Shoes, Shoes, and Let’s See… Oh, Yes…. A Whole Bunch of Shoes
A First Lady has to attend a lot of ceremonial functions and needs to dress for the occasion. Imelda may have overdone it a tad when it came to her footwear, however. Not counting whatever she was able to take with her upon fleeing the country in 1986, she left behind a shoe collection of 3,000 pairs.
For those of us whose total shoe collection consists of one pair of running shoes and two pairs of dress shoes, this boggles the imagination. To put it into context, she was First Lady for 7,362 days. She could wear three different pairs of shoes each day and have some in her collection that never got worn more than twice in those 20 years.
She also left behind a wardrobe consisting of 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, and 888 handbags.
A portion of her footwear collection is on display at the National Museum of the Philippines and a shoe museum in the northern city of Marikina.
Souvenirs, Such as Chewing Gum and Skyscrapers
Imelda loved visiting other countries and acquiring little keepsakes. Who can blame her for wanting to bring home a little something to remember her journey?
She returned home with $2 million in fine jewelry and a $3.5 million Michelangelo painting.
As is the case with any tourist, she needed ground transportation. She decided to rent cars and did not need a lot of convincing to upgrade her selections. All told, she spent $35,000 on limousine service.
She also bought some gum during a layover in San Francisco. I know… You’re thinking, “Oh, please! Who hasn’t bought a little snack at an airport gift shop while waiting for a flight? What’s the big deal?” Lest you think we’re being a bit too nit-picky, we should point out that she bought $2,000 worth of chewing gum during that layover.
There were, of course, a few things she wasn’t able to fit in her suitcases to take back to Manila. While in New York City, she purchased the 66-story Woolworth Building at 40 Wall Street for an undisclosed amount, suspected to be approximately $70 million; the $51-million Crown Building; the $60-million Herald Center; and numerous other pieces of real estate.
She gave serious consideration to shelling out $750 million for the Empire State Building. Upon sober reflection, however, she decided that might be “too ostentatious.”
We wouldn’t want that.
Classy, Even While Being Targeted For Assassination
In 1972, Imelda had a close brush with death. Carlito Dimahilig rushed toward the stage where she was appearing, intent on attacking her. He was armed with a bolo.
Dimahilig was apprehended and the First Lady was unharmed. When asked about the experience, she confessed that she was rather indignant that anyone would use anything as ugly as a common bolo to try to snuff her out. “He should’ve tied a yellow ribbon on it,” she reflected. After all, if you are going to be assassinated, you might as well go out looking good.
We Pause Our Stories About Spending to Tell You This…
It may not be entirely clear from what you have read thus far, but we suspect the former First Lady was not exactly operating on full thrusters, mentally.
During a 1982 visit to the United States, Imelda regaled American scientists with a detailed explanation of how the Philippines had already perfected a missile defense system. The country owed its good fortune to the hole in the atmosphere directly over the country that permitted cosmic rays to get through. The cosmic rays were so powerful that they could deflect Soviet missiles from hitting the Philippines. She graciously offered to develop the rays to eventually protect the US mainland from a similar attack.
So… What happens when you have a deluded belief about nature, delusions of grandeur, and billions of dollars at your disposal? That question is the perfect segue to our next story….
Whether It Rains, or Whether It’s Hot, We’ve Got to Have Weather, Whether or Not — Or Do We?
When Manila was chosen as the venue for the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, Imelda wanted to make sure everything went off without a hitch. She ordered the construction of a 10,000-seat Folk Arts Theater. By requiring round-the-clock work on the project, it was completed in less than three months.
There was one other trifling thing that concerned her, however. The weather in the Philippines is notoriously rainy. In Manila, it can be expected to rain about 150 days out of the year, with an average annual rainfall of 79.75 inches (202.57 cm).
Rather than run the risk that a seasonal typhoon might rain on her
parade pageant, Imelda had her husband deploy the Philippine Air Force to seed the surrounding clouds around the clock throughout the event.
Having cleaned up the skies of any distracting rain clouds, she set to work making sure things were tidy down below, as well. She whitewashed and bulldozed the pageant’s parade routes, clearing out the slums and relocating the inhabitants so visitors for the pageant would not see Manila’s lower classes.
Bolstering the Beaches of a Nation of Islands
In 1979 Imelda was planning a special event to celebrate the opening of a new beach resort. Since some of the guests would include members of European royalty, she wanted everything to look its absolute best.
Must to her dismay, the beaches were not nearly white enough for her tastes. She ordered white sand brought in to cover the unsightly brown stuff.
The Philippines is a nation of islands — 7,640 of them, to be precise. There is no shortage of beaches. Many of those beaches have pristine, white sand.
Naturally, therefore, Imelda ordered sand from Australia and sent government planes there to bring it back for the event.
Imelda didn’t think twice about accepting the invitation to attend the 1981 wedding of the United Kingdom’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana. She was so impressed by the spectacular affair that she couldn’t wait to try her hand at something just as nice.
Marcos and Imelda’s youngest daughter, Irene, was engaged to be married to the scion of the Araneta clan, Gregorio Benitez Araneta. Irene requested a small, private ceremony, limited to family and friends. Imelda had something a little loftier in mind.
She first set to work decorating the venue. In this case, it was the entire town of Sarrat. She had the entire town transformed into a replica of a Spanish-era town. No stone was left unturned as antiques were poured in from all over the country and people were fitted with all the colonial costumes of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to give everything an authentic feel.
All told, the “small, private ceremony” requested by Irene cost $10.3 million. It was billed as a tourism project, so it was all paid for with government funds.
“This is Your Pilot Speaking. We Have Had an Emergency and Will Be Returning to the Airport … To Get Some Cheese.”
Everyone knows what it is like to leave for vacation and wonder whether we accidentally left anything behind. We all can relate to going to the store to buy one particular item, only to come home with everything but that one item. What is different when this happens to someone like Imelda Marcos is — well, basically everything.
During one European shopping spree, Imelda was on the plane, having left Rome and eager to get to her next destination. Suddenly it occurred to her that she had forgotten to pick something up back in Rome. She had intended to buy some cheese, and it just slipped her mind.
Not a problem for Imelda. She simply ordered the pilot to turn the plane around and return to Rome so she could get some cheese. After all, cheese is such a rare commodity that it wouldn’t be wise to run the risk that her next stopover might be all of out it, right?
The incident earned so much notoriety globally it became known as the “Great Cheese Scandal.” It turned out to be such an embarrassment back home that Imelda ordered the media to remove any reference to it in any publication or program.
Despite All of This….
As previously noted, Ferdinand and Imelda were deposed in 1986. And, as previously noted, the scope of their embezzlement was such that it earned them a world record. This would naturally mean that they would spend the rest of their lives in exile, shunned by the people they ripped off, right?
In 1992, Imelda ran for president. She did not win, but she didn’t come in last. She finished 5th out of 7 candidates.
Three years later, she ran for office again. This time, she set her sights a little lower. Her approach paid off, and she was elected as a congresswoman of Leyte during the 1995 Philippine general election.
In 2010, she successfully ran for the second district of Ilocos Norte in the House of Representatives, replacing her son, Ferdinand Jr. She won re-election on May 14, 2013, and again on May 9, 2016. She completed that third term and entered into retirement.
Notably, she has not been barefoot throughout any of this.