Sunday, July 02, 2006
: . "I am still standing, still fighting the superpowers"
10 Questions: Imelda Marcos
by Nelly Sindayen
Since her husband, Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos, died in exile in Honolulu in 1989, Imelda Marcos has seldom been out of the news, mostly because of the Philippine government's 20-year pursuit of what it considers the Marcos family's ill-gotten gains, rumored to amount to billions. Marcos talked with TIME's Nelly Sindayen about money, her encounters with world leaders, and -- what else? -- her shoes.
You're said to be one of the world's richest people. Just how rich are you?
If you know how rich you are, my dear, then you're not really rich. Frankly, I don't want to put numbers [out there], I don't want to attract any more lawsuits. The vultures want a piece of the Marcos meat, watching every figure mentioned.
How did your husband become so wealthy?
Ferdinand was a gold trader. He was a lawyer for mining companies. When he entered politics in 1949, he had tons and tons of gold. When Bill Gates was a college dropout, Ferdinand already possessed billions of dollars and tons of gold. It wasn't stolen.
Why do you sometimes say you're poor?
I am poor not in material things but in the truth. I've been called a thief -- the biggest ever ... The problem with First Ladies is that you have to set the standard. I had to wear jewelry then, but all that was taken away, confiscated by the government. They think they have taken everything away from me, including my shoes. But actually that's my biggest defense: when they opened my closet, they found shoes instead of skeletons. They've listed my name in the dictionary -- "Imeldific" is used to mean ostentatious extravagance ... But the truth will prevail. At , I am still standing, still fighting the superpowers.
Speaking of superpowers, the U.S. filed racketeering charges against you in 1988. You were acquitted, but not before you had to post $5 million bail.
The first one to come to my rescue was [Muammar] Gaddafi, who said he was willing to post bail for me even if it were 10 times higher. Even Saddam Hussein sent his foreign minister to ask if there was anything I needed.
Many notorious leaders have been kind to you.
[Fidel] Castro too. When I visited Cuba, he drove for me. He told me he had driven for only two people in his life -- his mother and me ... At the height of the cold war, I visited China. When I saw Chairman Mao, I kissed his hand so he kissed my hand. "I like you," the Chairman said. "You're very beautiful, and childlike."
You negotiated with Gaddafi to stop Libya's backing for the separatist Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao.
Gaddafi said to me: You're a good woman, why don't you become a Muslim? I said I didn't know Islam. He said Islam is kind, so I said, then don't let Mindanao separate from the Philippines. He said Islam is generous, so I said, then give us oil at a low, friendship price. I ended up getting eight concessions, including cheap oil.
Do you have a message for President Bush?
My advice to him is: do a Ferdinand in handling power. Ferdinand once told me, "Imelda, power is not used, it is felt."
But Bush has to face threats like Osama bin Laden.
I beg Osama to stop warring. He is a Muslim, and Islam means peace. Nobody wins in a war ... I wish I were tapped in the problem about Iraq. I knew Saddam enough that I could have talked him into surrendering. But it's too late.
What will you do next?
I will come up with a project that will wipe out poverty in the Philippines in two years. I want to remove the people from economic crisis by using the Marcos wealth. Long after I'm gone, people will remember me for building them homes and roads and hospitals and giving them food. The people should stop laughing at all this. They should stop thinking that I'm a bit touched in the head.
You're as controversial as ever.
Being controversial is being whole. It's yin and yang. I used to be yin when Marcos was still alive, and he was the yang. Now I am both yin and yang.