Published March 26, 2010
BATAC, Philippines -- Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, bedecked in jade and diamonds, began a grueling campaign for a congressional seat Friday that she hopes will allow her to bury her ousted strongman husband in a heroes' cemetery and clear his sullied name.
Marcos, 80, and nearly 18,000 other politicians barnstormed the impoverished Southeast Asian nation on the first official day of campaigning for May 10 local elections.
Presidential and senatorial candidates have been campaigning for more than a month. Police say political violence, which often goes hand-in-hand with festive campaigning, has already claimed close to 80 lives, including 57 people massacred Nov. 23 in an election caravan in the southern Philippines.
Also among the celebrity candidates is boxing star Manny Pacquiao, who is seeking a congressional seat in his southern province. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been threatened with criminal charges by critics when her turbulent term ends in June, is another candidate for the 287-seat lower chamber.
Emerging from more than a decade of political obscurity, Marcos strode back into the scene with a vengeance.
Her hair coifed back and wearing a bright orange tunic with jade and diamond jewelry, she led journalists at daybreak to the mausoleum of her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, in Ilocos Norte province, his northern stronghold.
She mournfully kissed his glass coffin as cameras snapped. "This is one of our major injustices," she said.
She went to church and then rode on a flatbed campaign truck festooned with balloons and posters as thousands cheered her along the way. She was flanked by her daughter Imee, who is running for governor in Ilocos Norte, a tobacco-growing region about 250 miles north of Manila.
Her son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is seeking a Senate seat.
Asked if she will push her long-standing campaign to have her husband buried in the national heroes' cemetery in Manila if she wins, Marcos replied, "Of course."
His burial there has been opposed by officials amid public outrage after Marcos -- accused of corruption, political repression and widespread human rights abuses -- was ousted in a 1986 "people power" revolt and died in exile in Hawaii three years later. Imelda Marcos and their three children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991.
"My ambition is to serve without end and to love without end," Marcos said in a news conference in a hotel discotheque before her long convoy hit the road under a broiling sun.
Afflicted with diabetes and glaucoma, Imelda parried a question about her age.
"It's true I'm 80 years old, but I can run and be a grandmother who can love and embrace the people more than a mother can," Marcos said, drawing applause from friends.
She is forever remembered for the stunning jewels and 1,220 pairs of shoes she left behind in the presidential palace.
She brought several new pairs for her campaign, aides said, and was wearing elegant leather sandals Friday.
Despite her reputation for extravagance, including shopping trips to the world's poshest boutiques and lavish beautification projects in a nation wracked by poverty, she retained supporters and even won a congressional seat in 1995. She ran unsuccessfully for president in 1992 and again in 1998.
Many Filipinos were incensed by her unashamed opulence, but others, especially the generation born after 1986 with no memory of martial law under the 20-year Marcos regime, view her as a celebrity.
Despite some 900 civil and criminal cases she has faced in Philippine courts since 1991 -- cases ranging from embezzlement and corruption to tax evasion -- she has emerged relatively unscathed and never served prison time. All but a handful of the cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence and a few convictions were overturned on appeal.
Marcos is running for a congressional seat in Ilocos Norte under her husband's political party, the New Society Movement, which has weakened considerably since his death. In Ilocos Norte, a laid-back province of 390,000 where the late strongman built a network of fine roads, an international airport and seaports, the Marcoses are adored.
"This is Marcos country, no ifs or buts," said village guard Elmer Macuco, who waited to see Imelda in one of the 21 towns she planned to tour Friday.
"She helps us and entertains us and has put us in history," Macuco said.
Clearing the family name remains an obsession, Marcos said.
Until that happens, she said, "I cannot rest."