philippines: remembering president marcos
January 26, 2008 9:50am CST
municipal hall is the famed mansion of the Marcoses. It was closed to onlookers but we did take a picture of the exterior. The building was painted white but the giant hardwood door, which was closed on our visit, retained its natural color. To its right is the Marcos memorial—two adjacent buildings, one of which houses the former president’s preserved body, while the other displays his war memorabilia, pictures, desk, and statues. The burial chamber has a black interior and from the darkness of the place, I couldn’t identify the material used on the walls and on the floor. The room is quite big and air-conditioned, with an eerie music continuously playing. Despite his grand burial clothes and the medals that adorned him, the former president looked very small in his glass coffin, a stark contrast to the former big man in Malacañang with whom all the people are afraid of. We wanted so much to take pictures but the caretaker would never allow us. Beside the memorial building is the residence of the Marcos patriarch, Don Mariano Marcos, which now houses the Marcos museum and the office of the Hon. Representative Imee Marcos. But during our visit, the museum was under renovation and was closed to public view. We then proceeded to Paoay, the next town, which is about 20 minutes from Batac. There we visited the Maharlika Hall, a convention center in the north where Marcos entertained or met dignitaries of other countries. The uphill drive to the entrance is lined with flags of different nations. Inside, we were greeted with a guide who toured us all over the building after paying P10/person for the tour. On the second floor, we were first led to the room of Madame Imelda, where the embossed pictures of the presidential couple were hang on the wall. There were also winter skates and some old furniture. Then we were directed to the different guest rooms across the hall, some of which badly needed repair. We asked why the rooms weren’t restored and the guide told us that Madame Imelda hasn’t given instructions for the renovation yet. He said that nothing could be moved or changed inside the Maharlika Hall without her orders. On the far right, was the deceased president’s room, and we wondered, what are these guest rooms doing in between the bedrooms of the masters of the house? Where the guests creating a gap in the presidential marriage? I live it up to you. If the former first lady went out of her room to the patio she had a magnificent view of the Paoay Lake. On the other side of the building, if the president came out, he would have the entire 18-hole golf course laid before him. Going back down the foyer, our guide pointed out the property across the street. We were told that the entire place was the presidential entertainment center, complete with a driving and shooting range, and other activities to keep the president and his guests occupied other than stately matters. We then drove around Maharlika Hall and were led to the famed Malacanang of the North, the equivalent of the presidential palace in the country’s capital. A guide also toured us around the place, telling us that the house is already government property and is being maintained by the Presidential Houses Program under the Department of Tourism. I asked if the houses of former President Joseph Estrada is also included in the program, but the guide just glared at me. It’s funny that here in our country, some misguided decisions become tourist attractions. We went around their dining area, the den, and up to their bedrooms, where we again learned that the presidential couple did not share the same bed. The interiors of the house had an antique finish and all the woodwork were done with sheer artistry and genius. I could only imagine them shuttling from one mansion to the other with their foreign guests! The next day, we went around the municipality of Sarrat, where the world renowned Irene Marcos marriage to Greggy Araneta took place. I did remember that when I was a young girl, I watched the wedding coverage on the television, and Irene was a very beautiful bride, a spectacle in her embellished white gown riding a horse-drawn carriage. There we learned that the entire Sarrat Cathedral, including the belfry, and the convent were renovated and plastered with red bricks all over just for the event. The multi-purpose hall beside it was also done with bricks and made ready for the great banquet following the ceremony. But the Cathedral and its neighboring buildings weren’t the only ones that got a facelift. All the houses that led to the church, wherever Irene’s carriage would pass by, were also given an image boost. Their exteriors and fences were done in bricks so much so that whenever pictures were taken, the background would look good at all angles. And of course, to please the eyes of the guests that came from far and wide. I can only imagine my wedding. On this trip, we also learned that President Marcos’ childhood home was only about a hundred meters away from the residence of General Fabian Ver, his ally and friend, who stuck with him till the end. Last stop of the journey was the Fort Ilocandia Resort and Casino in Laoag City, which I was told, was originally built by Marcos, but which a Taiwanese firm is now running. We went around, and everything about the place is recognizable by the design element consistent of all the Marcos properties—red bricks. But the highlight of our trip is one that we didn’t expect—the visit of Madame Imelda Marcos to Laoag City. While we were doing our shopping at the Duty Free Shop inside Fort Ilocandia, a commotion erupted outside. There we learned that the former first lady has arrived and the people scrambled just to get a glimpse of her. Many posed with her for a picture. And after all that has happened, the infamous first lady still drew crowds, and she still looked more dashing and radiant than ever, still statuesque in her fuchsia Filipiniana gown. I posed with her for a picture but since it was already dark, the print didn’t come out very well. One summary that ties all of Marcos’ mansions and that can best describe their lifestyle is old world grandeur. Opulence was everywhere and in stark contrast to what the Philippines is now, they lived big time. Their good taste could not be denied and every available resource was not spared in order to come up with what they desired. Sadly though, as with everything, all good things must come to an end and no amount of money can buy death when it comes. Nevertheless, his memory lives on. Whether it is good or bad depends on which perspective you are looking from.