1898: The U.S. colonizes the Philippines, having “liberated” the country from the Spanish. The Philippine-American War ensues, over one million dead.
Philippine soldiers during the Philippine-American War. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps
Song: American Troglodyte
1929: Imelda Romualdez (later Marcos) is born in Manila to the poor side of a prominent family. She lives on Solano Avenue in a garage behind the home where her father’s children by his first marriage live. She and her siblings are looked after by Estrella Cumpos—Imelda’s mother is a psychological wreck, and Estrella and Imelda become best friends.
1938: Imelda is 9 years old. The family moves to Tacloban, on the island of Leyte. At one point they all live in a Nipa hut, a shack made of thatched palm leaves.
Song: Here Lies Love
1941-1942: Japan invades the Philippines; Gen. Douglas MacArthur escapes to Australia.
1943: Young Benigno Aquino’s best friend is the son of President José P. Laurel during the occupation. After liberation, he will find that his pals have suddenly become persona non grata.
1944-45: Guerrilla forces and U.S. troops “liberate” the Philippines—again. MacArthur eventually returns, wading ashore in Tacloban, on the island of Leyte.
1946: Philippine independence declared.
1947: Imelda wins a beauty contest in her hometown; she is crowned “Rose of Tacloban.” She’s 18 years old and goes on to be crowned “Miss Leyte” and eventually “Miss Philippines.”
Song: Rose of Tacloban
1950: Imelda moves to Manila, where she lives with her uncle. She appears in local magazines and is named the “muse of Manila.” Her first serious boyfriend is Benigno Aquino who, at that time, was a young reporter with political ambitions.
Child Of The Philippines
Aquino breaks off the relationship—she claims it is because she is taller than he, which is true. She also claims he wants to hook up with someone with more money, which is also true—her name is Corazon Cojuangco—later to become Cory Aquino.
Song: Opposites Attract
1952: Young Ferdinand Marcos, who hails from the northern island of Ilocos, claims as part of his Senatorial election campaign that he led some of the liberating guerilla forces that fought the Japanese in Ilocos. These claims are later disproved by a U.S. military investigation.
Song: A Perfect Hand
1953: Imelda meets young Senator Ferdinand Marcos in the senate cafeteria. He too checks her height, but pronounces her OK. He courts her for 11 days, sending roses and presents, but never appears in person.
Song: 11 Days
Marcos invites her and a press agent on a road trip to the country, during which he produces a marriage agreement that Imelda signs. Their wedding reception is held on the grounds of the Malacañang Palace. Estrella is not invited.
The young couple, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos. Photo: Patrick Lichfield
Song: When She Passed By
1953: The young couple go on a honeymoon…with a press agent in tow.
Song: Sugartime Baby
1954: Marcos instructs Imelda on how to be the political wife he wants her to be. He weighs her food, shows her how to enter a room and instructs her how to dress. Under the intense pressure, Imelda has a nervous breakdown. Her brother takes her to New York Presbyterian Hospital (on the Upper East Side) where a doctor tells her that if she wants to stay with her husband, she has to think positive. He prescribes some pills to help her do so. She never looks back.
Song: Walk Like A Woman
1966: Ferdinand Marcos runs for president with the help of his wife, who campaigns tirelessly for him, often singing at the whistle stops around the country.
Song: Don’t You Agree
The Marcos’ actually keep many of their campaign promises—building roads, medical clinics and schools all over the Philippines. They are much loved, and they often encourage the local business community to make philanthropic contributions to their projects. The U.S. and its press love the Marcos'.
Ferdinand Marcos graces the cover of Time magazine
Song: Pretty Face
1966: Marcos is elected president and Imelda, now first lady, travels to New York and is welcomed into both discos and into high society.
Song: Dancing Together
1967: Not everyone feels that the First Lady’s building projects are totally appropriate. Ninoy Aquino makes a famous speech to the Senate entitled, “A Pantheon for Imelda,” criticizing her profligate spending on arts centers and other projects while a good part of the country lives in poverty.
Song: The Fabulous One
1970: President Marcos has an affair with an American B movie actress named Dovie Beams. When he sends her packing and penniless she produces (amongst other items) recordings that she made with a cassette player hidden under their bed. She passes the tape to opposition leader Benigno Aquino (!) who then passes it to the University Radio station who broadcast it.
Imelda is publicly humiliated.
Song: Men Will Do Anything
She is furious and despondent….but feels certain that the people still love her, even if her husband does not. She rises from the depths determined to prevail.
Song: Your Star and Slave
Imelda realizes she can turn this tragedy to her advantage. She demands of her now ailing husband (he has lupus and his kidney’s are failing) political autonomy and control over a sector of the Philippines. He creates a new entity—Metro Manila.
Song: Poor Me
1978-79: Imelda, with her new sense of power and independence, begins a campaign of what she calls, “handbag diplomacy." She meets world leaders and lobbies for Philippine interests…with a group of society ladies in tow.
Song: Please Don’t
Estrella is interviewed by a journalist about her shared childhood with Imelda. When it comes out that Imelda’s childhood was less than glorious, she is infuriated and has Estrella brought to the palace. Imelda offers her former friend and nanny money and eventually places her under house arrest
Imelda Marcos with Fidel Castro. Photo: Gunther Deichmann
Song: Solano Avenue
1972: Nearing the end of his second term, and forbidden to run for re-election, Marcos helps engineer civil strife and arrange fake assassination attempts. In 1971, the entire opposition (except Aquino) is blown up by a (real) bomb in Miranda Plaza. To bring order to the country, Marcos declares Martial Law. Order is miraculously restored.
Song: Order 1081
1979: With martial law and censorship in place, Marcos quickly rounds up his remaining opponents, including Ninoy Aquino, who is thrown into Fort Bonifacio prison for 7 years. After a hunger strike that attracts worldwide attention, Aquino has a heart attack, and Imelda, sensing an opportunity, gets him out of prison and sends him into exile in the U.S. where he will have bypass surgery. She warns him not to return.
Song: Seven Years
1983: Marcos is sicker than ever, and Aquino knows that he is the only one who can broker a deal to return the country to democracy. Defying Imelda’s repeated warnings not to return (the last was a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria), Aquino surreptitiously boards a plane in Boston and takes a circuitous route to Manila, where he suspects he will be killed. He wears a bulletproof vest, but he knows it offers only limited protection.
Song: Gate 37
1983: Upon arrival in Manila Airport, Aquino is escorted off the plane by “security forces” and assassinated. An anonymous man, a farmer, is claimed to be the killer and shot dead on the spot. In defiance of the government, thousands of people turn up for Aquino’s funeral. His mother makes a speech as she sadly realizes that her son’s sacrifice was not in vain.
Song: Just Ask The Flowers
1986: Under international pressure, Marcos holds what he calls a “snap election.” In the election, Aquino’s widow, Cory, runs against Marcos. Both parties claim victory, but it is clear that the election was rigged and the Marcos votes were stolen. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people begin to fill EDSA Boulevard. The Cardinal of the Philippines, Cardinal Sin, joins the demonstrators, as do nuns and many soldiers. After 4 days of peaceful protest, the people take the TV and radio stations back that previously had been manipulated by the Marcos regime.
Despite a call to Nancy Reagan, Imelda and her family are forced to flee the Palace and are airlifted out by U.S. Marines.
Song: Why Don’t You Love Me?
The People Power revolution, as it became known, was made by ordinary people from all walks of life. It became the model for many peaceful revolutions around the world.
The People Power Revolution in the Phillipines. Photo: Joey de VeraSong: God Draws Straight
EPILOGUE: Here Lies Love