Published September 24, 2012
They once ruled supreme in the Philippines, dictator Ferdinand Marcos impeccably dressed in his Barong shirts and his flamboyant wife Imelda in stunning dresses -- best known around the world for her massive collection of shoes.
Their rule was known for its extravagance, with Imelda’s shoes symbolizing their greed in a desperately poor country.
While Imelda accumulated shoes, the couple also accumulated foreign bank accounts and, it's believed, stashed away billions of dollars.
And they weren’t scared of flashing their wealth.
Imelda’s shopping trips were legendary as she traveled the world and she wasn’t just buying shoes.
She purchased a number of properties in New York, including the Crown Building, the Woolworth Building and Herald Center.
Imelda declined to buy the Empire State Building, however, quoted as saying it was “too ostentatious.”
Her Manhattan real estate portfolio was later seized, as was her art collection that included works by Michelangelo and Botticelli.
But time was running out for the Marcoses.
The ‘People’s Power’ revolution finally forced them from power in the 1980s.
They left a huge collection of clothes and mementos behind, including more than 1,200 pairs of Imelda’s shoes left in her closet in the presidential mansion.
They didn’t leave much money in the country’s treasury, which they seemed to have viewed as their personal bank account.
Some estimates suggest they embezzled between $5 billion and $10 billion during their 20-year rule.
While they left some of their clothes and shoes as they hurriedly left, Marcos and his cronies did manage to make one final grab for wealth as they escaped to exile in Hawaii.
According to reports, U.S. Customs agents found 24 suitcases of gold bricks and diamond jewelry in their bags, as well as certificates for gold bullion worth billions of dollars.
Ferdinand Marcos died in Honolulu in 1989 and his body was interred in a private mausoleum while his family waited for approval for it to be returned to the Philippines.
Their request was finally approved, and his remains are currently interred in a refrigerated crypt there.
The hunt for the missing money went into full swing in the early 1990s while Imelda remained in exile.
I remember trying to interview her in Hong Kong as she traveled around the world trying to escape justice in the Philippines.
I saw her once jumping into an expensive car near the Star Ferry terminal on Hong Kong island.
I ran up to the car and tapped on the window. Surprisingly it was lowered and there was Imelda, looking at me.
As I stuck my radio microphone into the car, I asked her what she was doing in Hong Kong and where was all the money.
Her response was similar to what you would get if you did the same to the Queen of England. She waved me away disdainfully and the car sped away.
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to see what pair of shoes she was wearing.
Imelda’s shoes were largely forgotten over the past decade as the world moved on and other dictators fell.
But now it's been revealed the shoes are now at risk of being lost forever.
According to officials, 150 boxes of the Marcoses clothing, including more than 1,200 pairs of her shoes, were moved from the presidential palace to the national museum two years ago after termites, humidity and mold threatened to destroy them.
They were moved to a padlocked museum hall where they seem to have been forgotten, until this weekend when museum officials entered the room after they saw water pouring from under the door.
They were surprised to find Imelda’s shoes and gowns and Ferdinand’s shirts when they opened the wet boxes.
Museum curator Orlando Abinion told the Associated Press, "We’re doing a conservation rescue….It's unfortunate because Imelda may have worn some of these clothes in major official events and as such have an important place in our history," he said.
Imelda’s shoes came to symbolize the worst excesses of the Marcos regime, but it mustn’t be forgotten that the couple also oversaw a brutal rule, which persecuted its own people.
Her shoes may have been lost forever, but Imelda is still going strong.
She still denies she and her husband acquired their colossal wealth illegally and is currently an elected Senator in the Philippines.