“This is our country. The only one. Let’s love her.” – Carmen Navarro Pedrosa
When in Manila, you might just bump into Imelda Marcos, former first lady, patron of the arts, the woman of a thousand shoes, and the other half of what historians described a “conjugal dictatorship.”
Maybe not her, but a book about her, with her face gracing the cover, on a book containing her life story, revealing secrets Imelda had gone to extreme lengths to suppress.
This is because in a night of Philippine opera music last June 20, journalist Carmen Navarro-Pedrosa launched the reprint of the The Untold story of Imelda Marcos, which had been banned by the Marcoses during the Martial Law Years and had been out of print since 1986.
When the Marcoses fled the country during People Power, boxes of books locked in residences finally saw the light. The book sold well enough over the years despite the ban as people clamoured for copies even if they had to acquire copies clandestinely—300,000 copies in the Philippines and other countries before going out of print. “But it was at a cost to my family,” Pedrosa wrote in the book’s foreword. Her family was forced into a 20-year exile in London because of “threats from the Marcoses.”
What made the books controversial? Here is an excerpt from the blurb:
A modern Cinderella story, it tells of how she rose from being a destitute child to become the most powerful woman in the country. As late as 1953, she was a starry-eyed, penniless, provincial lass in search of good fortune in Manila. Then came Ferdinand E. Marcos, a knight in shining armor who rescued her from poverty and misery. “I will make you the First Lady of the land,” he promised her.
It was the story of First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos as it had never been told before. Pedrosa went behind the image of wealth and affluence painstakingly crafted by the Marcos PR people and provided detailed accounts of Imelda’s family background and growing-up years until she became First Lady.
A fascinating story certainly. But why would it warrant the vehemence of the Marcoses? Philippine Star columnist Sara Soliven-de Guzman, whose late father was a good friend of the author, also wonders.
“I fail to see why these persons in the Palace so vehemently objected to the book. The few individuals who were discreetly privileged to read the volume were impressed, not only with Mrs. Pedrosa’s open-minded and practically admiring approach to her subject, but with Imelda herself. Some of them even confessed to me that they openly wept while reading the story because they were touched by several passages in the book. Mind you, a number of these few are not friends of the First Lady. Certainly a biography with a power to move even the most intelligent and critical readers to tears cannot be a hostile one to Imelda. Needless to say, of course – as one true to her training and profession as a journalist – “Chit” did not leave out the less complimentary details. But all things considered, I sincerely believe it’s a tale narrated with integrity and compassion.” – Philippine Star, 24 June 2013
I read the book and I agree. I must also confess that I was awe-struck. The young Imelda Marcos as depicted by Pedrosa was impressive. Her story was damned inspiring. With sheer-willpower, beauty, talent and guts, she overcame her social limitations to find fame, fortune and love. She was the embodiment of triumph over adversity. I don’t understand why she would deny the truth of that beginning. I just wish, though, that her story ended when she became First Lady and I can forget what happened after, just pretend that history in the 1970s and 1980s did not happen and the Imelda Marcos in my mind can live on as a fairy-tale-happily-ever-after.
But that would defeat the purpose of this book, wouldn’t it? It had defied punishment and raised itself from darkness so that the new generation would be gifted with truth, the good and the bad. It’s so easy to forget the past, but every Filipino should remember, or know what the obsession for power and wealth can do to a person—and to a nation.
“She was such a wonderful person, simple and unaffected,” Adoracion Reyes, Imelda’s voice teacher and surrogate parent in the city, recalled. But Imelda became something else, didn’t she? And this story Pedrosa recounted with The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos, written after 1986.
I am not entirely sure that the reprint of The Untold Story will not contribute to the remaking of Imelda Marcos as mythic, cultural icon, separating her from reality. There will be so many I know who will readily attest that she does not deserve admiration.
But When in Manila, you get the chance to discover for yourself. Pedrosa’s biographies are available as e-books from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple iTunes and Flipreads. Print books will hit the bookshelves soon. The initial batch of 2,000 signed copies was distributed and sold to the author’s colleagues, book club members and bloggers. Only about 500 copies will be distributed to retail. If you wish to get a signed copy, please email email@example.com. Price is PHP595 plus shipping fee.
The author. Carmen Navarro-Pedrosa was the first Filipino to be awarded a Thomson Foundation scholarship to Britain in 1965. She now writes for the Philippine Star. She has also authored the biography The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos.