“You know Governor, if not for your mouth in Parliament,
we would still be in power today. My only consoling
thought is that we are out of power and so are you!”
— Imelda Romualdez Marcos, First Lady
My first glimpse of Imelda was when she floated like nymph into the gallery of the House of Representatives. A niece of Speaker Danieling Romualdez, it was only natural that the newspapers captured the beauty of Miss Manila that evening and, much later, as she was billed as the love interest of Representative Ferdinand E. Marcos, the brilliant and ebullient congressman of Ilocos Norte.
She made quite an impression on me as I am attracted to beautiful women since beauty is an elemental imperative in a man who wishes to capture political power.
My impression of Imelda that day at the House of Representatives stayed with me for quite sometime. She was enchanting. And the enchantment gained more ground when I saw her campaigning for her husband for the nomination as presidential candidate in the election of 1965 under the banner of the Nacionalista Party. By then the national press characterized her as the secret weapon of Marcos. She really was no secret weapon – she was a devastating open campaigner for Marcos. She really made a difference in the presidential nomination of Marcos at the NP Convention and in the national election that followed.
After the presidential election and the unfolding years, Imelda became a byword in Philippine politics. She was reviled by many for her luxurious habits but equally admired by a considerable number of Filipinos for her known concerns for the poor and underprivileged, and equally, in her pronounced devotion to arts and culture. But this is not a sketch of her achievements –and there are many. This short recollection refers to moments of my encounters with her and events in her life that affected mine.
It was in a massive rally at Plaza Miranda where Imelda was one of the main speakers.
While speaking at the rally, a man came from out of nowhere, ascended the stage and tried to stab Imelda several times. She suffered minimal wounds but the act of the man produced shock waves throughout the country and even outside the country.
While watching the event in television with my wife and children, I commented, “Tomorrow, there will be waves of arrest.” And indeed, there were massive arrests in Manila of suspected opponents of the Marcos administration, especially those who were viewed to have connections with the political underground.
Early morning the following day an eight vehicles convoy of the Constabulary Intelligence Task Force (CITF) earned me political imprisonment at Camp Crame for eight (8) months and seven (7) days at the Gymnasium of the Headquarters Philippine Constabulary (HPC) and ten (10) months and four (4) days at the Ipil Rehabilitation Center (IRC), Fort Bonifacio.
Thanks to that event which featured Imelda and affected my life, I learned to play badminton with my jailers and my fellow political prisoners. I also read books I missed reading before like Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River and Look Homeward, Angel, T.E. Lawrence’s Lawrence of Arabia, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine.
One day, I had a mystifying journey from the political prisons of Marcos to the gilded halls of Malacanang for the lifting of martial law. Members of the Cabinet, assemblymen from the Interim Batasang Pambansa, provincial governors and their vice-governors, city mayors and their vice-mayors, ambassadors and high ranking members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were invited to Malacanang to hear President Marcos deliver his piece on the scheduled lifting of martial law in 1981 at the Quirino Grandstand in the Luneta a few days later.
Since there were continuous rains and flash floods in Mindanao and there was no mention of a dress code in the invitation, I decided to go to Malacañang in my habitual uniform as provincial governor of Misamis Oriental – denim pants, collarless maroon T-shirt with the letters UP at the left side of the breast, and a leather half-boot instead of the usual sneakers.
As I was one of two opposition provincial governors in the country then, nobody dared to be near me when I was in the Malacañang ceremonial hall for fear of being suspected as a secret supporter of the opposition.
About ten meters away from me was Imelda in her usual blue gown, just like Alice Roosevelt Longworth, conversing with Vice-Governor Dodo Macias of Negros Oriental.
She looked at me, possibly offended and surprised since all men were in coat and tie or barong tagalog, except me. She whispered something to Dodo. After a while, Dodo approached me and related to me her conversation with Imelda. The conversation went this way.
“Dodo, who is that intruder in a maroon T-shirt? How did he pass security? Get security to escort him out of this hall,” Imelda told Vice Governor Macias.
“But Ma’am he is not an intruder, he is an invited guest,” Macias replied.
“Who is he?” Imelda asked.
“That’s Governor Homobono Adaza of Misamis Oriental,” Macias answered.
“Oh, so that’s Adaza!“ Imelda commented looking at my direction.
I was amused by Dodo Macias’ story thinking that were it not for Dodo who finished medicine at the University of the Philippines, Malacañang security men would have hustled me out of the front door.
Before the end of the affair, someone through the sound system, blared instructions that
all men must get their barong and pants material on the way out to be tailored and worn for the rally that ended martial law at the Luneta, a few days later. I got my barong and pants material. I did not have it tailored neither did I go to the Luneta. It was a well-remembered moment with Imelda without any word spoken—just a glance and that was that. Imelda was still enchantingly beautiful.
Months later, there was a drought in Mindanao and the Visayas. I went to Malacañang to attend a meeting called by President Marcos about the drought. Immediately after the Marcos conference, Imelda asked me whether I would be willing to attend a meeting in Malacañang with her presiding. Governors Choleng Calo of Agusan del Norte and Valentina Plaza of Agusan del Sur urged me not to attend as they had heard the same lecture from Imelda several times before and if I were not around, the lecture would surely be cancelled.
Well, I attended the lecture and Imelda was talking about her concept of a holistic universe and the Philippines being at the center of God’s attention as the hole in the sky was directly over the Philippines.
What amused me during the lecture was every time Imelda made an assertion of fact she punctuated it with a question directed at me, saying: “Is that not true Governor Adaza?” Of course, I said yes in answer to her questions. What could I do in the lair of the First Lady but agree, irrespective of my disagreement at some of her assertions. I said to myself that Imelda had learned a lot from President Marcos all the years they were living together.
It was smart for her to do that. First, it flattered me no end to be asked by the First Lady to confirm the truth of facts and the validity of principles. Apparently her act was designed to soften my critical bent on her activities and administration policies. Second, she was trying to impress me, considering I was the youngest national Opposition leader in the country who was irrepressible. Third, she was determining the depth of my opposition to the Marcos administration. Fourth, she assessed whether there was room for political negotiation between me and the Marcos administration.
Three years later after that encounter, I was elected to Parliament as one of fifty-nine Opposition members. As the de facto Minority Floor Leader, I had to deliver a flood of speeches assailing the Marcos administration. Being at the forefront in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, I was always interviewed by media persons from the domestic and international press. In one of my reckless moments, I told Tony Lopez of ASIAWEEK and Anthony Spaeth of WALL STREET JOURNAL that it is a kiss of death for any Opposition leader to be photographed with Imelda.
A week after that interview, I was on my way out of the Cowrie Grill of the Manila Hotel with delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention Abraham Sarmiento when I noticed a
red carpet spread from the center of the lobby floor to the front door of the hotel.
“Abe, there must be a high dignitary here. I suspect, either President Marcos or the First Lady,” I told Sarmiento.
“I agree,” Abe replied.
As we were going out of the lobby of the Manila Hotel into the foyer, I saw Imelda with some American-looking personalities, surrounded by domestic reporters and foreign media correspondents. Remembering my statement about being photographed with Imelda, I immediately joined the crowd surrounding the stand of the Manila Hotel security guards to avoid being photographed with Imelda. I failed to notice that Abe Sarmiento went direct to Imelda saying, ”Ma’am, MP Adaza is here,” while pointing to me.
Then, Imelda called me to join her crowd. As I joined her, Imelda immediately introduced me to the editors of the New York Times who were visiting the Philippines and said, addressing the editor-in-chief or managing editor, “Mr. Rosenbloom, this is MP Homobono Adaza. He is our bitterest opponent in Parliament, but he is my friend. He is even a closer friend to me than he is to the members of the Opposition.” TV cameras continued rolling and the cameras started flashing.
I could not say a word by a way of a reply. I just smiled remembering my statement about the kiss of death, if photographed with Imelda. After the interlude, I told myself that I
should not be shooting off with my big mouth next time. And thereafter, the media had a field day on the photograph and my statement. After years with Marcos, Imelda must have learned the art of how to deal with political opponents, especially in public, always remembering the popular President John F. Kennedy quote that “in politics, there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends, there are only permanent interests.” Very likely, she must have remembered also one of the favorite quotes of Vice-President Emmanuel N. Pelaez saying, “Lo cortes no quita lo valiente” (Courtesy does not make you any less valiant.)
At the approach of the 1986 snap elections, Imelda found to her dismay I was beyond any kind of political arrangement, in a meeting scheduled by a friend, for Imelda and me to meet at the McArthur Suite at the Manila Hotel.
In the meeting, Imelda was not accompanied by a phalanx of security men. It was only Major Morales who was with her standing guard outside the door of the suite. As usual, she looked beautiful at her enchanting best.
Starting the conversation, she said: “You know Governor, the President and I want you to be with us but I know it is not possible. Why don’t you and your family leave for the United States before the snap elections? You will do the President and me a great favor.”
“But Ma’am, that’s not possible. What would the people think of me if I did that? Surely, they will say that I was bought by the President. I cannot live with that.” I answered politely.
“Why should the people think of you in those terms? You are going to the United States for medical treatment. You will be checking in at the Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland. And after a decent interval beyond the snap elections, you can return to the Philippines with your reputation undiminished.” Imelda argued well her point.
“There’s nobody in this country who thinks I am sick, how do I explain my sudden disappearance? “ I countered.
“Sickness and Walter Reed – that’s the explanation. Besides, media will take care of the rest,” Imelda answered convincingly.
“Ma’am, my presence in this country during the snap elections really makes no difference.
Your forces are so formidable your administration’s victory is almost certain.” I argued, feigning the Opposition’s weakness just so the fruitless conversation would end.
Imelda failed to convince me despite her smothering beauty, her soothing perfume and her persuasive arguments.
I have often wondered up to this day what could have happened to me and the country, if I succumbed to the Imelda temptation. It is anybody’s guess. But that is how destiny writes history and perpetuates the interesting historical guessing games.
Refusing to leave the country, I had the privilege of orchestrating the Opposition drive to unmask the joke that was the snap elections which led to Edsa Uno, and finally to the exile of Ferdinand Marcos with his family in Hawaii.
It was another twist of fate that I met Imelda again in 1989 in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the time when the band of Brigadier Generals Edgardo “Abe” Abenina and Jose Maria “Jimmy” Zumel, and Colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan was in the process of launching a coup against the administration of President Corazon “Cory” Aquino in 1989.
When I settled in my hotel in Honolulu, I got a telephone call from a woman, saying: “Governor, do you remember me?”
After reflecting on the tone of her voice, I answered: “Of course Ma’am, how can I forget you?”
“The President and I are inviting you to dinner tonight. Can you come?” she asked.
“Where?” I replied.
“At our residence at Makiki Heights,” was her immediate response.
“There is no way I can come for dinner at your residence. If I do, within an hour the Cory boys will know that I had dinner with you and the President. It’s good for you because you’re staying here but I’m returning to Manila and I will likely be arrested the moment I get there,” I answered.
“Ok, may I have dinner with you at your hotel?”
“Of course, Ma’am!”
Imelda came, looking not a day older than when she left Manila on her way to exile, and not any less beautiful and regal.
Imelda came with Rita Gadi who was with her husband and a Ms. Reyes.
“Governor, the President really wants to talk with you.” Imelda opened the conversation.
“Ma’am, I’ll just write a brief note on how the coup will be pulled,” I replied.
Immediately, the husband of Rita got a typewriter and I pounded my brief note for President Marcos. After dinner, Imelda insisted that I should really talk with President Marcos. Convinced by Imelda, I said: “Ok Ma’am I’ll see the President at your residence subject to the following conditions: 1) Only four people should know about the meeting – the President, you, me and the driver of the vehicle that will fetch me; 2) The meeting will be at midnight today; 3) When I enter the gate of your residence, there should be no lights in the garden and no visible security men around.”
Imelda observed the conditions to the last detail.
The coup failed, but with Imelda’s political savvy, she came back to the Philippines with the body of President Marcos, who passed away in Hawaii.
I met Imelda again in the launching of the book of Joe Lad Santos, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Reporter, a magazine that dealt on current and significant issues affecting the country.
Imelda arrived earlier at the launching. As I expected, a vacant seat was reserved for me beside Imelda, knowing the nose for news of Joe Lad. So I took my seat beside Imelda and the cameras started clicking and rolling. Almost immediately after I was seated, Imelda broke the ice, talking with me, saying: “You know, Governor, if not for your mouth in Parliament, we will still be in power today. My only consoling thought is that we are out of power and so are you!”
To be Concluded tomorrow