No tears for Imelda and her ex-groupies

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2002-11-15 03:00

JEDDAH, 15 November 2002 — The story this week that the now ex-groupies of Imelda Marcos, namely Cherry Cobarrubias, Rita Gaddi, Anthony Violago and Nonoy Escolin Jr., were all dumping her for being selfish and having used them, came as little surprise to chroniclers of Marcos family excesses.

Contradictory statements emanated from the group, with some saying that they had stuck with Imelda through thick and thin, and that after all of that, Imelda had the nerve to forget them, especially now that she allegedly received 2 billion pesos in a settlement with the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. I say contradictory, because others in the group emphasized that they had remained loyal to Imelda through the worst days precisely because they didn't expect to be monetarily rewarded for it. In short, they stuck by Imelda in honor of everything her late husband Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. had done for the Philippines.

So what was it to be? Loyalty with no rewards, or wink, wink, did they really expect Imelda to give them large cash bonuses? I think what happened was that these ex-groupies did indeed stick by Imelda out of loyalty, but it was a loyalty that always had material gain as an end result lurking there in the background. For sure, many of these Marcos loyalists, and others, profited immensely financially from the Marcos era. It is well known that the former president handed out economic concessions to his friends and cronies when he was in power.

Cobarrubias accuses Imelda of treachery and manipulation. She complains that she once lent the former first lady $50,000, and that Imelda has subsequently neglected to pay her back. Now, I don't think Imelda somehow forgot the debt, or even less believable, didn't have the money to pay her back. Imelda herself admitted in an interview that her family had at least $800 million stashed abroad in foreign bank accounts, and that there was even more that she wouldn't reveal. Now, when you have that amount of money stashed away, paying back a $50,000 debt should be peanuts, right?! Not if you're Imelda.

It is my theory that Imelda and her family have put up an elaborate charade since they fled the country in 1986 following the toppling of the Marcos regime. The elaborate charade is that they are severely impoverished after being persecuted for years, first by the administration of Corazon Aquino, and then by the Ramos one, only finding some relief when Marcos supporter Joseph Estrada came into power in 1998.

With strict Swiss banking secrecy laws the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has failed to unearth all of the Marcos wealth and loot that has been hidden abroad. Large amounts remain frozen in Swiss banks, but the Marcos family used a network of cronies and false names to conceal much of their wealth. With the Philippine government always looking for more Marcos money to appear (the Marcoses have billions of pesos in unpaid income and property taxes), and various independent bounty hunters sniffing around also, the Marcoses have had to maintain an elaborate front of now being impoverishedî so as to keep the hounds at bay.

Imelda claiming that she doesn't have enough money to pay the electricity bills of her husband's mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte, is patently absurd. As Cobarrubias points out in an interview with the Inquirer this week, Imelda is a master of acting and deception. As an example she cites the time Imelda was recently invited to attend the wedding of a friend's daughter. Imelda, not wanting to go, didn't decline the invitation, but instead had herself admitted to Makati Medical Center to feign being unwell. When Cobarrubias asked her if she was sick, Imelda said no, she was just pretending.

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The fascism of MMDA chairman Fernando

THERE HAS been a long running battle between Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Bayani Fernando and sidewalk vendors in Manila. He wants them gone by any means, and they of course are fighting for their meager livelihoods that they manage to scrape together on a day-to-day basis by selling their wares on the sidewalks of the city.

I have seen MMDA enforcers, I should really say stormtroopers, on TV tearing down sidewalk stalls and mercilessly trashing the goods of sidewalk vendors who refuse to clear out as demanded by the MMDA.

The MMDA claims that the explosion of sidewalk vendors throughout greater Manila has contributed to traffic snarls and impedes the access of emergency vehicles to certain areas whenever a fire needs to be put out or a person taken to hospital in an ambulance.

I concede that Fernando has a point there, but forcibly tearing down stalls and burning them is excessive and shouldn't be allowed to happen by the various mayors of Metro Manila.

Needless to say, with Fernando constantly railing on TV against sidewalk vendors, and with the forceful actions of MMDA enforcers, it's no wonder that violence has broken out more than a few times. Now in Fernando's latest fascist brainstorm, he is threatening to literally douse sidewalk vendors' wares with kerosene so as to make them unsellable.

As if sidewalk vendors were the new pariahs of the 21st century, Fernando explained that by spraying goods with kerosene, MMDA enforcers wouldn't have to actually come into contact with the wares or the vendors themselves. Sounds like President Bush explaining the benefits of carpet-bombing Afghanistan: minimal exposure to hostile enemy forces while causing maximum damage.

In a country with so many people struggling to get by, sidewalk vendors should be commended for their entrepreneurship instead of being treated like animals whose goods need to be sprayed with kerosene and sometimes lit on fire! The whole point of sidewalk vendors is that they cannot afford to pay for a stall in a regular marketplace and thus resort to squatting on public property.

If the various mayors of Metro Manila were prepared to set up new markets to absorb all the sidewalk vendors, this would go a long way to alleviating traffic problems in the city. The stalls could be provided at a minimal cost, but I do think that vendors should be made to pay a small percentage of their daily revenue as rent. These new stalls should not be seen as a handout by the government.

In the meantime, President Arroyo would do well to rein in the nasty Fernando and warn him that treating sidewalk vendors worse than animals is not acceptable in a democracy like the Philippines. Better yet, Fernando should be fired as MMDA chief. Anyone who so badly treats people trying to make a decent living doesn't deserve to stay in his position.

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Comments or questions? Email the author at: [email protected] or [email protected].

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