In Imelda Marcos’ Backyard
Leyte, The Philippines
I’m a capitalist. American business practices have been ingrained into my way of thinking ever since I read my first Horatio Alger story in 4th grade. I don’t believe in social engineering and the redistribution of wealth. I’ve always felt that those that want the money work for it and those that don’t work for it don’t deserve a hand out.
Many of you reading this will disagree and that’s fine. It’s no big deal. I’ve seen my share of poverty and experienced it for myself while living on the Philippine island of Samar for two years. However, there are times when the disparity of wealth is so overwhelming it makes my stomach sick. One of the most glaring disparities to be witnessed is found hidden in a little, unknown village on the island of Leyte. Just outside of the region’s Main City of Tacloban lies the quiet little town of Tolosa. It’s not famous for much, it’s really nothing more than a blink in the road that lies along the Philippine national highway. I’m not one to romanticize the simple life of the islands but if I were to pick a town that most exonerated the pastoral qualities of the provinces it would be Tolosa. Its clean quiet streets, beautiful stretches of beach, and beautiful people make it the ideal retreat from the fast paced and the modern.
When first passing through Tolosa from Tacloban you will notice on your left a 14-foot cinder block wall that seems to stretch for miles. Running alongside the wall is the town’s never used and only sidewalk. The unpresuming and rather ugly wall hides many of the symbols of a country impoverished by the greed and inhumanity of the elite few. Lying beyond the walls hides the ancestral home of Imelda Marcos, wife of the infamous Ferdinand Marcos who ruled and plundered the coffers of the Philippines. Arguably he stole more money than any one else in history. Millions of dollars from developed nations given to the third world nation and intended for the use of developing and adding infrastructure to the country was siphoned off into Ferdinand’s private bank accounts.
The wealth of the Marcos’ was audacious and a glaring contrast to the poverty that surrounded them. Imelda had over 100 pairs of shoes. On several occasions she paid to have the SM Mega Mall, the largest in Asia and the third largest in the world, completely shut down to the public so she could engage in her own private shopping sprees. Although Ferdinand was finally forced from power in the People’s power revolution his legacy lives on through his wife Imelda. Today she still represents Region VIII that comprises the islands of Leyte and Samar in the Philippine national congress.
Imelda’s story is one that has captured the Filipino’s dreams for wealth and fame. And here in the tiny town of Tolosa it all began. I stepped off the bus and ducked out of the sun into the shade of the entry way into the Marcos estate. At one time the entry may have been considered grand but vines have now begun to grow on the cement wall and everywhere there were signs of decay. The guardhouse was empty and only a few groundskeepers were seen in the distance. The grass was overgrown on the golf course and the driveway leading up to the house had potholes. Looking to my left I glanced across the overgrown golf course towards Imelda’s private mountain. Mountain may be too grand of a word for the hill that jutted out of the ground like a giant pimple blocking the view of the beach.
Strolling down the driveway I dodged potholes and headed over to the main house. It was brown and boxy, and looked as if an aspiring twelve-year-old architect had been it’s designer. It was propped up on pillars leaving the way for a massive outdoor dining hall where the Marcos family undoubtedly entertained the country’s powerful. The dining hall had a very distasteful ’70’s feel to it, at the end of the hall was a giant smiling statue of a very fat and happy Buddha. Unable to resist the urge I rubbed its belly for good luck and noticed that I hadn’t been the first. Its belly had been shined by millions of hands before mine.
The creepiest thing about this place was its emptiness. Except for a few servants milling around the grounds, the property was deserted. It looked like the landlord had not been back in years. The property was a sad fall from grace. Expensive, gaudy, and soiled by the stench of corruption, the legendary home of Imelda Marcos left a stale taste in my mouth. As I proceeded to the rear of the home en route to the beach I passed by one of the Olympic sized swimming pools. A rat swam through the murky water, nonchalantly glanced in my direction and exited the pool. I left the property in disgust and headed to the beach. As I left the estate a group of kids playing soccer stopped long enough to yell “Hey Joe, Joe Romano!” I felt better already.