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The Philippine Daily Inquirer headlines showing part of the legendary jewellery of Imelda R. Marcos.

Imelda’s Legendary Jewellery in the News Again

The Philippine Daily Inquirer headlines showing part of the legendary jewellery of Imelda R. Marcos

The controversial jewellery of former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos that undergone legendary transformation are in the news again. This time the question is whether to have a public international exhibition in Manila featuring the jewellery now known for its notoriety association with Philippines history, and presently in the custody of the Central Bank of the Philippines.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PAGG) wants the infamous jewellery displayed before an international auction, possibly through the auspices of the Department of Tourism to lure international tourists to the Philippines at the Metropolitan Museum. But so far as we write this piece, the DOT is lukewarm in its response to the plan.

The jewellery collection of Imelda Marcos are grouped into three batches: a) 400 pieces of jewellery that were brought by the Marcoses when they escaped to Honolulu at the height of the 1986 people power revolution and confiscated by the US Bureau of Customs; b) 300 pieces of jewellery left behind in Malacañang by the Marcos family when they fled in haste to Clark Air Base before flying to Hawaii; and c) Roumeliotes collection of  60 pieces of jewellery, named after the ex-first lady’s alleged Greek accomplice, Demetrious Roumeliotes, who was caught at the airport trying to smuggle the items out of the country shortly after the Marcoses left. Included in this last group is a 37-carat diamond.

This recollection relates to the second batch of the jewellery now in the custody of the government. Although, I was not in Malacañang when the People’s Power Revolution took place, let me refresh my readers about that historic night the mob invaded Malacañang by quoting from Isabelo T. Crisostomo’s Cory: Profile of a President :  ‘An hour after Washington confirmed that former President Marcos and his family and party had left the country…, thousands of people surged like a mighty tide into the Palace and began to ransack and pillage it. Shouting the new President’s nickname, the jubilant masses smashed their way into the white-walled, historic building, official residence of all Philippine Presidents beginning with the great and justly famous President Manuel L. Quezon. Once inside the regal Palace, the hysterical, maddened mob began to explode firecrackers, burn books, destroy furniture, hurl appliances, framed pictures, telephone sets, small cabinets and lamp posts, everything they could lay their hands on, out of the windows. Decent people who were merely curious and anxious to have a glimpse of the presidential Palace were elbowed, thrashed  and trampled by the rampaging flood of ‘emancipated humanity,’ a considerable number of them represented by thieves, kleptomaniacs and the frustrated seeking to wreak vengeance on a despised leader by stealing or destroying some discarded tokens and symbols of his regime.’

The author inspected Juan Luna’s masterpiece The Blood Compact to find out if it was damaged the night the mob ransacked the palace

The following morning I was back at work and noticed that only a few of my employees had reported for work, and many were telling stories of how they spent the night at EDSA or Malacañang Palace, where the so-called confrontation between the Marcos loyalists and the military, spearheaded by RAM, the Ramos and Enrile military-headed group, took place.

Late in the afternoon and busy at work, I got a call from the late Carol Afan, a friend and co-worker. She was an official of the National Library who was considered by many as instrumental in producing much valuable researches on Philippines history and culture. She was a nationalist and protector of Philippine culture. She was asking me to join her and two others from the National Historical Institute to document the destruction in the historic Malacañang Palace that happened the night before. The other two NHI employees were a researcher and a photographer.

But before going to Malacañang Palace, a thirty minute trip by car, our group was brought to a house in Makati which was teeming with people from all sectors of society. There I also met a former classmate, a co-fraternity member during my college days. He told me that he was settled now in Mindanao.

It was at this residence that I encountered power brokers for the newly installed government. It was like a market selling, not goods, but power and influence. My former classmate, knowing that I was with the group of persons very close to President Cory, asked me right there to help him secure a political place in Mindanao, where he was then a local leader. In some parts of the house, others were busy establishing the ‘right’ contacts.

I was introduced to the group by Carol Afan as being from the NHI and as one who would help document the cultural destruction that happened in Malacañang the night before. We arrived at Malacañang Palace in a van, with other members of the group; some of them seemed to me to belong to high places. We entered the main entrance, which by that time was already under the control of the military that General Ramos had assigned to stop that ‘long night of unreined pandemonium and mob insanity as passions long seething and pent-up continued to burst into explosions of joy and hatred reminiscent of what happened as an immediate aftermath of glorious Roman conquests.’

Before we started our task, we were asked to go around the Malacañang Palace grounds, and to make some photo-graphic documentation. We went downstairs, but before going out to the grounds we found the legendary thou-sands of shoes owned by Imelda and expensive ternos, as well as a number of newly constructed wooden crates which were not used due to the haste in leaving the Palace.

Two lady volunteers busy undertaking audit of every piece of jewellery found in a room adjoining Imelda Marcos queenly abode

We then went to the room of Marcos and found evidence of his deteriorating health—the lupus machine and the padded toilet seat; then, the regal look of Imelda Marcos’ room mesmerized us; it was reminiscent of a room fit for a queen.  It had a huge bed, with a hanging mosquito net and expensive furniture. Papers were littered everywhere. Despite the thrashing it got from the angry mob the night before, one could still see the opulence of her lifestyle.

After documenting the surroundings by NHI photographer, we went to the room of Imelda where a small adjacent room was located. It was said that it was in that room where Imelda used to keep her well-known and expensive jewellery.  We arrived when the group was already opening boxes  of  jewellery.  I noticed some of them were not just interested in making a list of the pieces of jewellery, but were more curious and excited to find out the carats or value of the jewellery they were handling and listing. Some watches had the faces of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, all Swiss-made.

On our part, from the ‘cultural agencies’, as official representatives of the Philippine government, we were given pens and ruled yellow paper to make itemized lists of the contents of each box of jewellery assigned to us.  As the members of the group were busy with their tasks with the jewellery — rings, necklaces, watches, brooches, earrings, and many body fashion ornaments — we concentrated on listing how many gold necklaces, rings, male or female rings, and other items there were in boxes assigned to us.  We were not rushing our task, after all, we were just producing a list of the jewellery items found in that room, as big as a five-star hotel room, full of cupboards and open shelves where boxes of valuable items were stocked, some still in their original brand name boxes.

Hours later, we were told to complete our last list, even unfinished, as we were leaving. I did not complete my box, so I just shoved my yellow ruled paper listing the items inside that box assigned to me.

I left my box and let someone sealed it with sticky tape. While looking around the room, I saw jewellery boxes were still scattered everywhere, showing that there had been a chaotic effort the night before when the Marcos retinue left, attempting to pack valuable items from the room and nearby guest room adjacent to Imelda’s bedroom.

As we were leaving, the military assigned by General Ramos wanted to body search us individually for anything that we might have picked up or looted from the jewellery room. However, we all pro-tested and told the guard we would not be body-searched.  At the height of the negotiation, and to prevent any confrontation between the military and the civilian supporters of Cory, the military commander assigned to Malacañang gave way and let us go without checking us bodily.

Many of the group were happy and delighted for a job well-done. From Malacañang, we went to a house in Makati briefly, then to a small restaurant in Malate where we spent the early morning chatting and eating. We were served boiling soup in which we cooked prepared pork, shrimps, beef, vegetables, fish and others. It was like a luao, without music.

The following afternoon, I got another call from Carol telling me that I was being invited again, including my photographer, to go with the group to Malacañang to continue our documentation work. Sensing that what we were doing would take a long time and not within my jurisdiction, besides having other work to do, I begged off and said that I had important tasks to complete.

Many years later, already settled in Australia, I was informed that a popular newspaper columnist revealed our group’s nocturnal visit to Malacañang, the night after the downfall of the Marcos regime.

I tried to get a copy of that article, to find out if he wrote truthfully about what happened during that night of ‘documenting history’ in the Palace.  In newspaper articles that were published later concerning the Imelda riches, it appeared that there were three sets of jewellery involved, and one of them refers to the jewellery cited here and which found their way into the vault of the Central Bank of the Philippines.

An excerpts from The Life and Times of the Perdon Family by the author, now available at the National Bookstores in the Philippines and Manila Prints in Sydney.