reprinted from South China Morning Post March 18, 2004
Poor Imelda Marcos is hurting. For years, people have called Ferdinand, her late husband, a crook, a despot and worse, and it has been an agony for her.
Well, enough of the boo-hoo. Ten days ago, the 74-year old widow filed a libel complaint against a government official who recently called her dead ex a dictator and a thief. She also filed charges against the reporter who wrote up the remarks and two editors of the newspaper that printed them. She said the insults "generated unjust contempt for my husband and my family, and clearly blackened the memory of my late husband".
You could almost feel the pain. Well, a few strange people did, anyway: two prosecutors and an assistant prosecutor in Makati city accepted the complaint, using a logic that might explain why the Philippines is in the state it is in. They said there was "no evidence that Marcos was ever convicted as a thief", therefore calling him one is "malicious".
Their argument could have interesting implications. If calling Ferdinand Marcos a "thief" is now libellous, Mrs Marcos could make a fortune suing thousands and thousands of people. Given enough time and legal victories, she might even possibly earn an amount equal to the billions her family stole - sorry! I meant, "appropriated".
The prosecutors have not said if they will also charge anyone who dares use the word "dictator", but if they do then the field would be wide open. There is a famous book about the Marcos regime (Is "regime" safe to use? Perhaps I should consult a lawyer.) called Waltzing With a Dictator. If Mrs Marcos wins a judgment, the title might have to be edited to say, Waltzing With a _________, or, if she wins big, even Waltzing With A Real Hep Cat.
Perhaps the three prosecutors are a bit behind the news. They probably never heard of the sequence of events that led to the Marcos family suddenly fleeing the country in 1986. It had something to do with Marcos running a brutish and murderous dictatorship and stashing away billions in overseas accounts.
When the Marcoses fled the Philippines they tried to take as much of it with them as they could. US customs inspectors reported the fugitives' luggage included 300 crates, 22 boxes of money, a diamond-studded gold crown, three tiaras, 60 pearl necklaces and several gold bars.
Maybe Marcos was holding down a part-time job while he was dictator - sorry, president.
Mrs Marcos used the national treasury to finance binges abroad where she bought everything from kitsch pillows to Manhattan condos. She has beaten one case for corruption but is still under investigation.
It is a truism that Filipinos are a forgiving people. But how will they ever forgive the crimes of the Marcoses? They cannot even seem to remember them.