I had been making excuses all week but I knew the time had come to make up my mind. The Philippines Ambassador, the former anti-Marcos journalist J.V. Cruz, had warned me about the impending arrival of the Philippines’ first daughter for some time. Imee Marcos, my old nemesis from Manila, was going to be in London along with her new husband, Tommy Manotoc, as part of their round the world tour.
JV had been an outspoken anti-Marcos columnist on the Manila Times when I first met him in the late 60’s, But, like so many other prominent journalists, he had eventually been seduced by Marcos’s offers of money, power and position. In JV’s case, his loyalty had been bought first by an Ambassadorship to Germany and then, when he had proved his loyalty, to the Court of St. James. Even JV’s younger brother, Jun, had benefited from Marcos’s largesse towards his new Ambassador. First Jun Cruz was made Minister of Finance and then he was nominated head of the GSIS, the Government Service Insurance System. But, like all other favours the Marcoses dispensed, there was a price to be paid. Imelda expected her cut. In this case it was the GSIS that she used as her own private bank to finance many of her multi-million dollar projects. And both Jun and JV had to look the other way. I had known JV from my Café Indios Bravos days. He would drop by occasionally to receive or share the latest political and social gossip, to down a glass or two of whiskey and to cast a jaded eye around for any pretty, available girl. But now, in 1983, he was the essence of civility, his normal casual attire abandoned for a Savile Row pinstriped suit. And, instead of being content with a simple roof over his head he was now living in the vast Philippine Embassy residence on London’s exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens, known locally as millionaires’ row.
“I’ve got strict instructions from Imelda,” JV told me over the phone, “not to let Imee and Tommy out of my sight while they’re in London. They’re my responsibility. I’ve arranged a week of parties, theatres and sightseeing. But,” he hesitated, “there’s one night I just can’t be with them. Please can you and Ben take them off my hands that night for me, please.” JV was pleading. Although Ben proved fairly easy to convince when I discussed it with him later, I was extremely reluctant. Ten years earlier I had crossed swords with Imee on Philippine television. And, like her mother, I knew she was unlikely to have forgotten the exchange. Imee had arrived at the Channel 3 studio that night with an arm encrusted in vast uncut emeralds, the like of which I had never seen before. It seemed an extraordinary coincidence at the time because there was a story doing the rounds in Manila that several Andean miners had lost their lives excavating the world’s largest flawless emeralds intended for the First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Romualdez Marcos. I couldn’t take my eyes off the huge green rocks circling Imee’s wrist. And, being in a playful mood, I just couldn’t resist the temptation to remark on them. Live on air I asked: “Those are the most magnificent emeralds I’ve ever seen, Imee. Did you ever find out exactly how many men died digging them out of the Colombian mountains?” Flustered Imee hurriedly tried to
obscure the offending jewels by covering them with her other arm. I could see she was uncomfortable but I had started, so I persisted. “I heard your mother has yet to pay the bill, is that right?” The presenter, Elvira Manahan, who was one of Imelda’s coterie of “blue ladies”, pulled one of her characteristic Phyllis-Diller-type expressions and let out a nervous giggle. Her husband Dr. Manahan, Manila’s top gynaecologist, had delivered Imee and the other two Marcos children so I realized this must have been acutely embarrassing for her. I waited for an answer but Imee looked straight through me. For once the bright, intelligent First Daughter, who was being groomed to succeed her father, didn’t have a ready answer. Elvira coughed and tried to change the subject. But I knew my friends would expect me to pursue the subject until I got an answer. And youthful arrogance got the better of me. Besides, I was enjoying myself. “How much do you think they’re worth – $50 million, $100 million? What would you say, Imee?” Composing herself, Elvira reprimanded me: “Now, Caroline, that’s an unfair question. Imee wouldn’t have any idea. They were gifts from her mother.” While I was wondering how Elvira knew that for a fact, she turned to Imee:“
Now tell me about your life, Imee, are you planning to continue at Princeton in the Fall?” I was tempted to say, “If the Philippines can afford the bill!” for it was well known that funds to educate the Marcos children were extracted not from Marcos’s modest presidential salary of $6500 per annum but from the Philippines treasury. Like everything else in his life, Marcos automatically expected his political dynasty to be paid for by the people. I was also tempted to ask Imee about the rhinestone-encrusted jeans she had been reported wearing during a recent summer barbeque in Long Island. Except that, another guest reliably informed me, they weren’t actually rhinestones at all but real diamonds. Sadly, at this point, my instinct for self-preservation got the better of me. I had almost been deported once, Betsy, Henry and many of my friends had been jailed and now I had my own children’s safety to consider. So I let it go and we twittered on about innocuous subjects that required little soul-searching, little animosity and zero confrontation. I had not spoken to Imee since then. And now JV was asking me to look after her and her basketball coach husband, Tommy, for a whole evening. “Come on, Caroline,” Ben coaxed me, “it won’t be that bad.” So, very reluctantly I agreed. My brother-in-law, Elliott Kastner, had a new musical,
“Marilyn”, about the life of Marilyn Monroe running at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand so I reckoned I could invite Imee and Tommy to that. By going to the theatre I imagined, we could keep the conversation to a minimum thus avoiding dredging over old animosities. I called Elliott, explained the situation and he reserved some complimentary tickets at the box office for us. He suggested I call the manager of the theatre to warn him that I would be bringing the daughter of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. The manager was extremely courteous and offered to make all the necessary security arrangements, take us into the private VIP bar during the interval and arrange for us to meet the actors backstage at the end of the show. I knew two of the main actors, Stephanie Lawrence, playing Marilyn and Judith Bruce, playing Marilyn’s mother, so I called them to say we would be dropping in after the performance. Everything was in place. “Sorted”, I thought, almost looking forward to the evening. But how wrong I was. I should have known that nothing involving any member of the Marcos family is ever that simple.
I spoke to Imee the day before the event. I gave her the name and address of the Adelphi Theatre and told her exactly what time we should meet there. In order to avoid misunderstandings I asked her to write it all down. “Everything’s clear,” she told me. “And please make sure you’re there ten minutes before curtain‘s up!” I said as politely as I could. And then, more pointedly, “Theatre starts on time in England.” “Sure, no problem!” she replied and put the phone down. At the allotted time, Ben, the theatre manager and I were waiting patiently in the lobby. Five, ten, fifteen minutes – half an hour – passed and still no sign of Imee. Yet again, just as it always did in Manila, the theatre curtain was forced to wait for a member of the Marcos family. As the audience inside began to hiss and boo, the red-faced manager could wait no longer. He gave the nod for the show to begin. My heart sank. I visualized Ben and me waiting in the lobby all night. I was indignant. This was discourteous not only to the management but also to the actors and the audience. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, seven stretch black limousines rolled up outside the theatre. Doors flung wide open and uniformed men, carrying armalites, spilled out onto the pavementt. I watched in horror as some of the armed minders rushed inside and others surrounded the perimeter, effecting a cordon sanitaire around the theatre. And, when they decided the venue was safe, they snapped their fingers, whispered into their walkie-talkies and nodded the go-ahead for Imee and Tommy to emerge.
By this time people in the street had stopped dead in their tracks. They stared incredulously, probably wondering who on earth deserved such a massive security operation. I, too, couldn’t believe my eyes. This was like finding myself in a cheap gangster movie. I couldn’t help thinking that nobody in London would even recognise Imee Marcos, let alone care who she was or what happened to her. Nobody in London was ever likely to threaten her physical harm or kidnap her. Well, nobody that is, except, of course, her own parents who had already proved they were more than capable since they managed to “kidnap” the hapless Tommy Manotoc following their daughter’s hasty marriage to him. And all for the simple reason that Imelda didn’t approve of him. When the scared young man was finally “released” from a month in his secret mountain cave and when his supposed captors, the NPA Communist guerrillas, had been suitably “punished”, Tommy emerged into daylight for the benefit of the television cameras looking healthier and more robust than he did before he “disappeared”. But nobody was about to drag Imee off the streets of London and hold her against her will. Nobody was about to make an attempt on her life. Nobody was going to hold her for ransom. This was exhibitionism at its most vulgar. This was simply a very successful attempt at drawing attention to herself. And, whether it was her own idea of making a dramatic entrance or “Daddy’s” orders for protecting his anointed heir, I never did find out. But seven decoy cars and nine armed bodyguards seemed, in my opinion, definitely excessive. By now the manager was at his wits’ end. Armed guards were illegal in London and with them posted inside and outside the theatre so flagrantly he felt he was bound to get into serious trouble with the law. “Can’t you ask her to get rid of them?” he whispered to me, as Imee swept into the lobby. “I doubt it,” I replied, “the Marcoses are a law unto themselves. Nobody tells them what to do!
That’s tantamount to suicide where they come from!” I greeted the newlyweds and introduced them to the manager. There were no apologies but then I didn’t expect there to be. There was more hissing and booing from the audience as we were escorted into the theatre in the middle of Scene 2 and blindly groped our way in the dark towards our seats in the middle of the front stalls. I cringed as people making space for us to pass, were forced to stand up, dropping their bags, coats and boxes of chocolates, their seats swinging shut with loud thuds. Feeling no guilt at all, Imee then whispered to me: ”What’s going on? What’s the story so far?” Trying to keep my voice as low as possible I whispered back. I could feel the glares in my direction as I explained the plot. I desperately wanted to leave, preferably in the dark, so no one could see me and point the finger. In the interval, as promised, the manager led us around to the private bar. He offered us drinks and then left. I started to make small talk. Where had they visited, who had they met on their travels, that sort of thing. I finally plucked up the courage to ask Imee the question that had really been on my lips. “Didn’t you feel really bad leaving your baby behind?” “Oh, yes, I miss him terribly,” Imee replied. “Surely you could have brought him with you, I mean with a yaya (nanny) so you could still have gone out and enjoyed yourselves?” “Yes, but Daddy wanted me to leave him. He thought it would be safer.” “But,” I persisted, “I heard you were breastfeeding. Did you have to stop, just like that?”
I was really dying to know the answer to this. But, before Imee had a chance to reply, the composer Tim Rice and the actress Elaine Paige turned round to talk to us. More introductions and more pleasantries and then the bell rang and it was time to return to our seats. When the play was over, I escorted Imee and Tommy backstage. Imee was at her sparkling best. She talked, she laughed and, like her mother, she turned on the charm – but, if I or the actors were hoping for an apology for her late arrival, we were destined to be disappointed. Judith Bruce turned to me and whispered, “Well, Caroline, I’ve known you a long, long time but you always manage to surprise me with the people you know! Who on earth will you show up with next?” Graciously, like a well-rehearsed politician, Imee made her excuses to leave. Ben and I walked her back to the lobby where the theatre manager was waiting patiently. As soon as they spotted her the bodyguards sprang into action, raised their armalites, swivelled their eyes to scan the lobby and the street outside and fell into step behind her. She shook hands with the manager, thanked him for his arrangements and made her way through the glass doors out onto the Strand. The seven cars were waiting, engines revving. As she stepped into one of them, the minders piled themselves into the others and, with horns blaring and screeching tyres, they were off down the Strand. Ben and I stood, beleaguered, on the pavement. There had been no goodbyes for us, no thanks for arranging the evening and, despite the seven stretch limos, no offer of a lift home.
Later that same summer I found myself sitting on a sofa next to Imee’s younger sister, Irene. She and her new husband, Greg Araneta, were visiting London on their honeymoon. I now had a perfect opportunity to ask Irene why Imee had left her baby Ferdinand at home. “Daddy thought it was safer for him to stay in Manila,” Irene replied. “But I think I heard her saying she was still breastfeeding…” “Yes, she was.” Irene sounded bored. But I was intrigued. “How on earth did she continue to do that when she was travelling around Europe?” I persisted.” Irene glanced at me as though I was stupid. “Simple, Caroline!” she laughed. “She just expressed her milk everyday and then Daddy sent a Philippine Airlines plane to wherever she was and it would bring the milk back!” Irene shrugged her shoulders as if to say – isn’t that what every mother does when she’s away from her newborn baby for several weeks? Now I understood why all my friends had been complaining during that time that all the Philippine Airlines flights to Europe had either been delayed or cancelled. The solution was obvious. The presidential dairy run was abducting the planes and flying Imee’s precious breast milk back to Manila. This is when it really dawned on me that the Marcoses lived on a totally different planet to the rest of us.