WebClick Tracer

A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Haunted by the ghost of Imelda Marcos 

a sojourners view karl gaspar mindaviews column

Book: Forgiving Imelda Marcos
Author:  Nathan Go
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York

Even if she is still living, Imelda Marcos’s ghost continues to haunt the Filipino people! Or at least the segment of the population whose traumatic experiences of the Marcos dictatorship make them cringe whenever she appears – in various ways – resplendent in her terno, flaunting her jewels!

In the Big Apple’s Broadway Theatre these days, her ghost appears every night, enthralling the New Yorkers and everyone else flocking to watch the performance of HERE LIES LOVE, a major musical production involving an all-Filipino (mostly Fil-Americans) cast, led by Lea Salonga! Written by David Byrne (and additional music provided by Tom Gandey and Jose Luis Pardo and directed by Fatboy Slim, HERE LIES LOVE is the current toast of Broadway. 

Most major periodicals and magazines – from The New York Times to Variety to The Guardian – have written reviews, thereby fueling greater interest and expanding its popularity.  However, while these reviewers praised some aspects of the production, their critique also raised a lot of negative comments. 

On one hand, the immersive experience of being inside the theatre, where all the orchestra seats were taken out – which consequently transformed the entire hall into a discotheque (as Imelda in her prime was known to love discotheques)  – is an innovation first seen in Broadway with this production. Theatregoers stand around the stage and are invited to dance along with the actors. 

But all that dancing on and off the stage made Naveen Kumar pointedly ask this question in her review that appears in Variety:  “A brief coda aims to suggest that the show is conscious of this geopolitical context — that its mirrorball rave has been a warning all along. But if audiences at “Here Lies Love” are meant to represent the body politic, what does it mean that this descent into fascism feels like such a blast?”

Another positive aspect of this production is that this is the first time that a big musical production in Broadway employs an-all Filipino cast, with a few Pinoy producers contributing to pay for the costs. While Miss Saigon may have initially showcased the musical talents of Pinoys on Broadway, they were just part of the cast and besides they were playing the role of Vietnamese. This time, the musical’s locale is the actors’ own country and they portray various Filipino characters!  HERE LIES LOVE is being hailed as a triumph of the representation of Asians – specifically Filipinos – on the Broadway stage!

The main critique of most reviewers have to do with how the Imeldific is portrayed and how it glossed over the heroism of the Filipino people who finally ousted her husband’s dictatorial government, forcing him, her and their entire family, along with a few select cronies, to escape from the wrath of a brutally victimized people as they were flown to Hawaii, courtesy of the US government that had legitimized the brutal dictatorship for decades! 

In HERE LIES LOVE a flamboyant Imeldific is glamorized and romanticized, following the way Eva Peron was portrayed in the musical EVITA. The difference is that this Andrew Lloyd Webber production had a lot more critical comments of the Perons as provided by another important character in the play, namely, Che Guevarra. The Marcoses’ brutalities and abuses were hardly referred to by the musical. Interestingly, as one reviewer indicated, while EVITA referred to Eva’s fetish for Dior’s couture dresses, HERE LIES LOVE failed to refer to Imelda’s thousand shoes!

In her review that appears in The American Theatre Review, Amanda Andrei, a playwright and theatre critic with Pinoy roots, wrote: “David Byrne’s Broadway musical is a breakthrough for Filipino American performers, but at what cost to the historical truths it dances around?… It is true that we cannot ask this musical to do everything. But we can place it in the larger arc of history and geopolitics. This show is an opportunity for Filipinos, Filipino Americans, and theatre-makers to productively address our relationships to collective memory, the ethics of making art, and transnational power dynamics.”

Despite its mixed reviews, the buzz arising out of this production reinforces the myth of Imelda Marcos making her truly one of the most – if not the most – recognizable Pinoy icon in the global scene.  Love her or hate her, Madame is easily a representation of our islands to non-Pinoys who only know about the Philippines from what could be presented in a few minutes of video clips on TikTok.

Of course, HERE LIES LOVE is just one of a long list of media’s projection of our celebrated former First Lady. From film (from Laureen Greenfield’s documentary THE KINGMAKER to Darryl Yap’sMAID IN MALACANANG) to books (beginning with Carmen Navrarro Pedrosa’s THE UNTOLD STORY OF IMELDA MARCOS), Madame’s life story – from her impoverished childhood to her rise as a powerful First Lady – has been told in varying levels of truth and lies. 

Now comes another book, FORGIVING IMELDA MARCOS, by Davao resident Nathan Go, published by a New York publisher, which has gained a bit of attention with mainly positive  reviews appearing in The New York Times and Washington Independent Review of Books. 

Despite the title, the main character in this book is not Imelda but her husband’s nemesis, Cory Aquino. The main event covered by this book took place after the return of the Marcoses from their exile, when supposedly Cory took a trip from Manila to Baguio to meet Imelda. And perhaps in the process, Cory might forgive Imelda for what the Marcoses did to her family (the imprisonment and death of her husband and the family’s exile to the US). 

The book is written from the stories relayed by Lito Macaraeg – who for a few years served as Cory’s driver – to his journalist son living in the US to fulfill a promise that he would send him a scoop.  Kia Corthron’s review  posits: “It  is indeed with wisdom and dexterity that Go intertwines the stories of three periods of Lito’s life: his final months, when Lito writes letters to his estranged son from a nursing home (which is the foundation of the novel); his youth, recounted via the memories that Lito has elected to share; and an extraordinary midlife occasion when, as a driver for the former Philippines revolutionary president Corazon Aquino, Lito is directed to transport the country’s leader to the home of Imelda Marcos, the scandalous widow of Ferdinand Marcos, Aquino’s predecessor and political rival.”

There are only two main characters in this book, namely Cory and Lito. In the course of the book, we know the personal history of Lito: the poverty experienced by his family during his childhood, how his father eventually joined the Communist guerrilla movement, how he joined his father in a mountain encampment headed by a charismatic priest and how eventually he ended up as the driver of Cory. One day he was informed that he was going to drive Cory to meet Imelda in Baguio.  Throughout this long journey – where the two met all kinds of unexpected circumstances – Lito struggled with his loyalty to Cory and his own moral uncertainly regarding Cory’s wish to forgive Imelda.

Eventually, they reached their destination. As readers move towards the end of this excellent book, they would rush through the pages to quickly reach the moment when the two powerful ladies would finally meet face-to-face. But do they? This reviewer would not commit a spoiler alert; so the reader will need to buy, steal or borrow this book to finally know if the meeting in Baguio actually took place.

Other questions need to be asked: Has Cory forgiven Imelda and the Marcoses? A corollary question is: Did Ninoy actually court Imelda before she married Ferdinand? So many other questions need to be raised in relation to the life stories of the Marcoses and Aquinos – whose lives seem to have been fated by destiny to intersect through various periods of the country’s history!

Just as we cannot ask HERE LIES LOVE to do everything, we certainly cannot ask FORGIVING IMELDA MARCOS to answer so many questions. But because the book, unlike the musical, merely includes Imelda as some kind of a footnote to the plot and not its central character, it cannot be accused of reinforcing the Imelda myth! Still one can understand why the author insists of having Imelda’s name in the title of the book. Because the house to where Cory was to meet Imelda seemed like a haunted house where Imelda’s ghost was waiting for her!  And because – and especially now with Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (aka BBM) in power – she has not exited from the country’s political scene (even as she hardly appears in public these days, presumably because of ill health).

More than the musical – through the life story of Lito and all the tangential events that unfolded in the country’s contemporary history leading to his becoming a driver of Cory – FORGIVING IMELDA MARCOS provides a more in-depth description of what the Filipino people were and continues to be subjected to as a Third World  country which underwent a brutal dictatorial regime. The remnants of that abusive regime is still in place e.g. the country’s current foreign debt grew further to $61 billion or 70% of GDP, as of 2023. It all began when Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. secured the IMF-WB’s support to secure foreign loans especially after he declared martial law in 1972. And now that the son of the Imeldific has regained the power once enjoyed by the conjugal dictatorship, there is little optimism among the people that things will drastically improve. In fact, many who take on a more critical view of current events cringe at how the situation has further worsened, much more so because our population has further ballooned (117 million today and counting by the second), the economy is wobbling and there are far more destructive calamities hitting the archipelago.

Meanwhile, owing to fake news and disinformation as well as the politics of gold, guns and goons in this country – and the Filipino people’s short historical memory and, seemingly, an amnesia vis-à-vis the need to remember the lessons of history – the Marcoses are back in power. The day when the Commission on Elections declared Imelda’s son as President in 2022 (after the term of Ninoy and Cory Aquino’s son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, from 2010 to 2016 and Rodrigo Roa Duterte from 2016 to 2022), the “Rose of Tacloban” must have sung an aria straight out of an opera as she looked forward to enter once more the halls of Malacañang Palace!  

So can we – the Filipino people – ever forgive Imelda and the Marcoses? Can Cory and Ninoy’s descendants forgive them?  Is the victory of BBM a sign that all has been forgiven?

Can forgiveness – which according to victims of human rights abuses of the dictatorship should happen only if the Marcoses show remorse (e.g. return all the stolen wealth of the country and publicly verbalize their asking for forgiveness) –ever occur? Or does it even matter now? 

To quote the last line of the book, Lito says: “Either way, we’ll find out soon enough!” 

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Mindanao’s most prolific book author. Gaspar is also a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents. He is presently based in Cebu City).

Your perspective matters! Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We welcome diverse viewpoints and encourage respectful discussions. Don't hesitate to share your ideas or engage with others.

Search MindaNews

Share this MindaNews story
Send us Feedback