When I was a student in the late 1970s, my sister’s family invited me to watch hitmaker Dionne Warwick’s very first concert in the Philippines. The venue was the Folk Arts Theater, and it filled to capacity shortly after we arrived. A problem quickly arose: the concert did not start at 8 o’clock in the evening, as the ticket indicated. The delay was a full 30 minutes. As the clock continued to tick until one o’clock, you could feel the growing agitation of the audience. An hour late was an affront to patience, to say the least.
Suddenly, attention was focused on the entrance to the theater. A group surrounded by a large phalanx of men in civilian clothes had entered. There you go, it was the Marcos family – the conjugal dictators and their three children. They walked down the aisle to the front row seats which were clearly reserved for them. As we were seated right in the middle of the central aisle, we saw them up close as they passed. Everyone began to understand why the concert had been delayed.
That’s right and as soon as the Marcos were seated, Dionne Warwick slipped across the stage to open with her Burt Bacharach hit “You’ll never go to Heaven if you break my heart”. (“… It is truly a sin to be mean and cruel, so remember that if you are false the angels in heaven are watching you.”) She was addressing this to the culprit who caused the great series delay?
I had witnessed the license and exhibitionism of the Marcos to assert their powers in front of an audience they did not care about.
I remembered this thumbnail when a friend sent me a blog entry from Caroline Kennedy (not the JFK girl of the same name). The British travel writer is also a humanitarian aid worker, theater director, former wife (now divorced) of national artist BenCab. She was also specially related to the Marcos children through her best friend Betsy Romualdez Francia, Imelda’s niece who owned the famous Los Indios Bravos watering hole. Among the regulars was the writer JV Cruz.
In 1983, Cruz had been appointed by Marcos to the diplomatic service. It is in this context that he and Caroline had met in London, during which Cruz made an unusual request to Caroline. By telephoning Caroline, Cruz announces to her the imminent visit of Imee Marcos and his partner Tommy Manotoc. (They were married in the United States in December 1982, but Manotoc’s Costa Rican divorce from Miss International 1970 Aurora Pijuan was not valid in the Philippines).
âI have received strict instructions from Imelda not to let Imee and Tommy out of my sight while they are in London. They are under my responsibility. I organized a week of parties, theaters and tours. But, he hesitated, there is a night when I just can’t be with them. Can you take them away that night for me, please?
Kennedy writes, âMy brother-in-law Elliot Kastner had a new musical, ‘Marilyn’, about Marilyn Monroe’s life at the Adelphi Theater on the Strand, so I figured I could invite Imee and Tommy over to that. called Elliott, explained the situation and he booked us free tickets at the box office. He suggested that I call the theater manager to let him know that I would take Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ daughter. was extremely courteous and offered to do all necessary safety precautions, take us to the private VIP bar during intermission and arrange for us to meet the actors backstage at the end of the show.
âI spoke to Imee the day before the event. I gave him the name and address of the Adelphi theater and told him exactly what time we were due to meet there. In order to avoid misunderstandings, I asked him to write everything down. âEverything is clear,â she told me. “And please make sure you’re there ten minutes before the curtain rises!” I say as politely as possible. And then, more precisely, âThe theater starts on time in Englandâ. ‘Sure no problem!’ she answered and hung up.
“Five, ten, fifteen minutes – half an hour – have passed and still no sign of Imee.” Again, as always in Manila, the theater 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 couldn’t wait. He gave the green light for the show to begin. My heart sank. I visualized waiting in the lobby all night. I was outraged. It was discourteous not only to the management, but also to the actors and the audience.
âFinally, after what seemed like an eternity, seven elongated black limousines drove outside the theater. The doors swung open and men in uniform carrying armalites spilled out onto the sidewalk. I watched in horror as some of the armed guards rush in and others circle the perimeter, creating a cordon cordon around the theater. And, when they decided the venue was safe, they snapped their fingers, whispered into their walkie-talkies, and nodded for Imee and Tommy to emerge.
By then Kennedy’s jaws dropped in disbelief at the show of force: âThe people in the street had stopped dead in their tracks. They watched in disbelief, probably wondering who on earth deserved such a massive security operation. I too couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like finding myself in a cheap gangster movie. I couldn’t help but think that no one in London would even recognize Imee Marcos, let alone who she was or what had happened to her. No one in London was likely to threaten her with physical injury or kidnap her.
Kennedy continues: âBy now the manager was at his wit’s end. Armed guards were illegal in London and with them posted inside and outside the theater so blatantly that he felt he was going to get in serious trouble with the law.
âThere was more hissing and booing from the audience as we were escorted into the theater in the middle of stage 2 and blindly made our way in the dark to our seats in the middle of the front stalls. I cringed as people made room for us to pass, were forced to stand, dropping their bags, coats and boxes of chocolates, their seats clinking with a thud. Feeling no guilt, Imee then whispered to me, âWhat’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 reflections in my direction as I explained the plot. I desperately wanted to leave, preferably in the dark, so that no one could see me and point the finger at me.
âIt was exhibitionism at its most vulgar. It was simply a very successful attempt to draw attention to herself. And, whether it was his own idea of ââmaking a dramatic entrance or “Daddy’s” orders to protect his anointed heir, I never knew it. But seven decoy cars and nine armed bodyguards seemed, in my opinion, definitely overkill. “
In 1984, it was Irene Marcos’ turn to visit London. She was on her honeymoon with her husband Greggy Araneta. That’s when Caroline got the chance to ask Irene a nagging question about Imee that she never got a chance to ask on that furious concert night.
“I now had a perfect opportunity to ask Irene why Imee had left her baby Ferdinand at home.” Dad thought it was safer for him to stay in Manila, “Irene replied.” But I think the hearing that she was still breastfeeding? â’Yes, she was.’ Irene looked bored. But I was intrigued. âHow the hell did she keep doing that while she was traveling in Europe?â I persisted. Irene glanced at me like if I was stupid. âSimple, Caroline!â she laughed. âShe just expressed her milk every day, then daddy sent a Philippine Airlines plane to where she was and that would bring the milk back!â Irene shrugged. shoulders as if to say: isn’t that what every mother does when she is away from her newborn for several weeks?
The opinions in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of VERA Files.