- By Catherine A. TraywickCatherine A. Traywick is a fellow at Foreign Policy.
Today we celebrate the 85th birthday of Imelda Marcos, the Steel Butterfly, widow of an ousted dictator. Her reputation precedes her: She was a collector of shoes and a friend of Richard Nixon’s. She entertained Muammar al-Qaddafi in a "coconut palace" so opulent that Pope John Paul II refused to enter. Her family plundered $10 billion from the Philippines’ coffers but her charm is such that no jury has ever convicted her; indeed, she’s now a member of the Philippine legislature. She has gold, jewels, a thriving political dynasty, and — even in her 80s — a good deal of beauty left. So, what birthday gift could one possibly give to the woman who truly has everything?
1. The complete Sex and the City box set
Both Imelda Marcos and Carrie Bradshaw built their lives around "love and labels." Imelda was a profligate spender who believed that love conquered all, and that dressing well was a service to her nation. When a popular uprising forced her to flee the presidential palace and go into exile, she infamously left thousands of designer shoes behind.
It’s kind of like that time in Season 4, when Carrie’s boyfriend threatened to evict her if she didn’t pony up a down payment for her apartment. She exclaimed to her friends: "’I’ve spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!" Imelda would so identify with that.
2. $8.5 million worth of jewels
More specifically, the $8.5 million worth of jewels that the Philippines government confiscated from Imelda on the grounds that she acquired them through graft. Imelda has, for years, pleaded for the return of the jewels, which include a 150-karat Burmese Ruby and a 30-karat Bulgari diamond bracelet, pouting that she is left with nothing but "junk." (Still, she rarely appears in public without an embarrassment of baubles.)
3. A private showing of David Byrne’s "Revolutionary Musical Experience"
A woman with so much pizzazz clearly would inspire a biographical album. Her story spoke to acclaimed musician and former leader of the Talking Heads, David Byrne. "Here Lies Love," is now an immersive, theatrical show that chronicles the meteoric rise and ignominious downfall of the Steel Butterfly through song and dance. Unfortunately, the show has never been staged in the Philippines. So, what better way to celebrate its subject’s birthday than to organize a private, remote performance? Imelda loves to dance, after all.
4. A second chance at Malacanang Palace
Obviously, two decades spent living large in the presidential palace isn’t enough for Imelda. On her birthday, she made clear to reporters that she’s ready to move back in — this time, with dowager status, and her son, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in the executive office. "I still have a vision and hope to bring more help to the Filipino people," she said. "Malacanang would be a great help." (It’s worth noting that her family already controls the island of Leyte and that at least seven of her family members hold public office.)
5. A "hero’s burial" for her husband
In birthday celebration, Imelda visited the tomb of her late husband, Ferdinand Marcos, whose body is preserved within a back-lit glass case inside a refrigerated mausoleum in his hometown. As pictured above, Imelda dramatically kissed the glass enshrining her beloved before saying that her real birthday wish is to give her husband a "hero’s burial." Marcos died in exile and the Philippines refuses to interr his body in the cemetery where the country’s other presidents are laid to rest. Imelda and her sons have lobbied for a "hero’s burial" for years, with little luck. Still, a girl can dream.
Happy Birthday, Imelda.