MANILA, Philippines - Nearly a quarter-century after Imelda Marcos and her dictator husband fled the Philippines in disgrace - leaving a debt-ridden country but a lavish collection of shoes - the 80-year-old former first lady and two of their children are poised to revive the family's political fortunes.
At first sight, the outcome is surprising in an election that also looks set to award the son of the Marcoses' nemesis, “people power” President Corazon Aquino, the country's top office. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III campaigned heavily against corruption - endemic in the Philippines and allegedly practiced by the Marcos dictatorship on a massive scale.
But their family name still holds clout.
Imelda Marcos won a seat in the House of Representatives, where she also was elected in 1995, and her eldest daughter, Imee, also a former member of Congress, was elected governor in the family's northern bailiwick, Ilocos Norte province. Her son, former governor and current Congress member Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., likely won his Senate race, according to almost-complete results of Monday's vote.
With Marcos Jr.'s rise to the Senate, the Marcoses would claim their highest nationally elected post since their patriarch was ousted in a 1986 “people power” revolt.
“I thank the Lord, the Ilocanos, the Filipino people for the overwhelming mandate for the Marcoses in spite of all the odds,” Imelda Marcos told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. “The Filipino people can be assured of our selfless and endless service and love to all.”
Marcos is forever remembered for her collection of eye-popping diamonds and 1,220 pairs of shoes discovered in the abandoned presidential palace after Ferdinand Marcos and his family were sent into U.S. exile, ending his 20-year dictatorship and leaving the country's economy faltering under huge debts.
He died in 1989, and his widow returned to the Philippines in 1991 with her children, twice ran unsuccessfully for president and won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1995.
She retained her supporters despite her reputation for extravagance, including shopping trips to the world's poshest boutiques and lavish beautification projects in an impoverished nation where a third of about 90 million Filipinos live on $1 a day.
Despite some 900 civil and criminal cases she has faced in Philippine courts since 1991 - ranging from tax evasion to embezzlement and corruption - she has emerged relatively unscathed and has never served prison time. All but a handful of the cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence and a few convictions were overturned on appeal.
The Marcoses and the Aquinos are the most prominent of the Philippines' wealthy political dynasties and are inextricably linked.
A court found that Aquino's father, an opposition leader, was assassinated in a military conspiracy during Marcos' rule. Aquino's mother then led the mass protests that swept away the strongman and restored democracy. Only after his mother died last year of cancer did Aquino, a quiet senator and former House member, decide to seek the presidency.
If Aquino wins, “I will pray for his success because his success will be for our country and the Filipino people,” Imelda Marcos said.
She said she hoped Aquino will be successful in fulfilling his campaign promise to fight corruption, while she rejected as “lies” allegations that her husband engaged in massive kleptocracy, graft and human rights abuses.
“The Filipino people have not forgotten because even in this campaign they continuously resuscitate the lies about the Marcoses and they keep repeating that, but the Filipino people are getting to know more and more the truth,” Marcos said.
Her husband and his associates allegedly amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth while he was in power. The Presidential Commission on Good Government, created to recover the money, has found cash and assets totalling 85.1 billion pesos (around $1.9 billion).
Aquino, in an interview with AP last week, said as president he would set up a body to determine whether Marcos, a World War II soldier, should be given a hero's burial as the Marcos family has been demanding.
He also said he wants a truth commission formed to bring closure to questions about his father's assassination, including alleged links to Marcos.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said Imelda and Imee's victories were expected since they ran in their stronghold - known as the “solid north” for voters' loyalty to the Marcos family.
But he said many overlooked Ferdinand Jr.'s bid for the Senate as they focused on the presidential race and in the absence of a concerted opposition effort against him. Two leftist politicians who were among Marcos' noisiest critics ran alongside him in the same party, Casiple added.
“Many of the electorate were young. So the main factor was name recall and who would not know a Marcos,” Casiple said.