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MANILA, Philippines – Imelda Marcos is famous for two things: being the first lady to dictator and former president Ferdinand Marcos and for her thousands of pairs of shoes that have become the stuff of legend.
Given that it’s such a huge collection – 3,000 pairs, as confirmed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to Rappler – it should have been easy to find. But Imelda’s shoe collection now isn’t the same as when her shoes were first seized from Malacañang Palace in 1986.
Imelda’s footwear are now housed in the Marikina Shoe Museum, along with those of celebrities, personalities, and former presidents.
The museum has 720 pairs of Imelda’s shoes – 253 are displayed, while 467 are in storage. According to the PCGG, then Marikina mayor Bayani F Fernando requested that the shoes be moved to the city in 1996. Imelda herself wrote in 1998 that she had no objection.
The museum opened in 2001.
Where are the rest of the 3,000 shoes sized 8 1/2? The PCGG and the Marikina Shoe Museum didn’t specify, but a 2010 report from the Associated Press (AP) published in The Guardian said that more than 150 boxes of the Marcoses’ clothes, accessories, and shoes have been damaged by termites, storms, and neglect.
These, AP said, were in the possession of the Presidential Museum and were later transferred to the Philippine National Museum. Both establishments directed Rappler to the Marikina Shoe Museum when we inquired about the shoes.
Made in Marikina
Where other people had donated a pair from their own closets or had replicas made for display, Imelda’s shoes take up the museum’s entire second floor.
Her shoes, visited by students and foreign tourists regularly, are arranged by color and are mostly black. Many are heels with a pointed toe, but there were a few knee-high boots too. The rows of shoes are interrupted by photos of Imelda with foreign officials.
That an entire floor is dedicated to Imelda’s footwear isn’t just a matter of sheer volume. Among the Chanels, Diors, and Guccis around P750 to P1,500 in the ’70s (US$103.48 to $206.96 back then)* are local brands like Marlet Shoes, Lady Rustan’s, and Maro by Mario Katigbak around P100 to P150 ($13.8 to $20.7)*, which were manufactured in the city.
The museum’s records of Imelda’s shoes that were given to Rappler includes 741 pairs of shoes with 104 brands. Sixty-seven pairs of shoes did not have brands and were labelled “no label” (28), “bedroom slippers” (22), “slippers” (11), “Republic of the Philippines” (3), “sandals” (1), “Taiwan” (1), and “Made in France” (1).
The shoe data given to Rappler yielded brands with the highest numbers. Below are the top 15, including shoes with no brand names. Brands that had the same number of shoes were counted as a tie.
With so many local brands mixed in with foreign ones, the museum’s display is also a way to showcase the handiwork of the Marikina shoemakers. The city prides itself in being the “Shoe Capital of the Philippines.”
Did it help local industry?
It’s a title that Imelda helped promote, Noel Box, officer-in-charge of the Marikina Shoe Industry Development Office, said in an interview with Rappler. “We used to call Madam Imelda Marcos our…shoe ambassadress. Because every time she went – because she went abroad often during that time – she often went to Europe, America, so she would wear our local products,” he recounted in Filipino.
He added that she would order local shoes every time she would go abroad, and promote them on her travels.
True to Box’s stories – and the stories of those in Marikina’s tourism office – Imelda Marcos did own quite a lot of shoes from the Philippines.
The story goes that brands from Marikina would give her a pair of shoes as a gift. If she liked them, she’d order more of the same in different colors and sometimes even a matching bag.
At the Marikina Shoe Museum, some of Imelda’s pairs had her name printed in gold script on the soles, where a brand’s name would usually go. In smaller print was the manufacturer’s name: “Imelda Marcos by Marlet Shoes.”
Brands from the department store Rustan’s were mostly from the Philippines during the Marcos regime and so were most likely Philippine-made, said Box.
The owners of Rustan’s, Bienvenido and Gliceria Tantoco, were close to the Marcoses, and were identified as one of their cronies back then. (READ: Search for Marcos’ wealth: Compromising with cronies)
Marikina shoe manufacturers decline
During the ‘70 to ‘80s, there were around 1,000 registered shoe manufacturers in Marikina, according to Box. Today, they number only around 260.
Box himself grew up in Marikina and earned his first wages as a young errand boy for skilled workers in the area. He later learned the trade through observation.
Later, United Nations Industrial Development Organization sponsored his and many others’ studies on shoe engineering. But their studies were too much about macro systems that they were difficult to apply when it came to the small manufacturing businesses of Marikina.
Today, Box blames the downward growth of the Philippine shoe industry on the lack of innovation and China opening up its doors to trade in the ‘80s. The city’s skilled trade has been left behind by machines that can produce more, faster.
The Marikina Shoe Museum’s first venue manager, Sally Manuel, still works in the Marikina Tourism Office today as an administrative aide. Manuel cleaned Imelda’s shoes herself, met the former first lady, heard her talk about her shoes, and walked through the museum with her when it opened in 2001. At the time, Manuel was 36.
Before that, she witnessed the rallies outside Malacañang against the Marcos administration, from the safety of La Consolacion College, where she studied. As a young girl growing up in Marikina, she thought of Imelda as a celebrity – one of the many, she said, who would visit the city for its shoe trade fairs.
Today, she admits to having “mixed emotions” about the Marcoses. “Parang hanga ako sa kanya [Imelda], kasi talagang ‘pag nakita mo naman siya, ang ganda-ganda niya talaga, ang puti-puti, ang kinis-kinis, tapos talagang mapapatingin ka talaga sa kanya. True, sa mga kuwento naman may maiisip ka rin,” she said, recounting the demonstrations she would see from school.
(It’s like I admire her [Imelda] because if you see her, she’s really so beautiful, so fair, so smooth-complexioned, you’ll really be compelled to look at her. True, because of the stories, you’ll have second thoughts too.)
Manuel isn’t alone.
Marikina Tourism Office head Poncialito “Ponchie” Santos said that older Marikeños were awed whenever Imelda visited the city. People would flock to her each time she came.
“And they also felt very proud when they see Imelda, they would take a look at the shoes [she was wearing, to see] if they were made from Marikina,” Santos said.
Santos and Box, like Manuel, are aware of the atrocities of Martial Law, but neither can discredit the help that Imelda gave to their shoe industry.
“Sometimes people would ask how the shoes affect us, or what we think about the shoes of a personality that was thrown out of power would be found here in the museum,” Santos said.
“So I just say we just look at it in a positive way or in a positive light. Because they had done something wrong in the past, but still, we recognize her effort to help us make our shoes known in the whole Philippines and even outside the Philippines.”
In a separate conversation, Box stressed the importance of history and of acknowledging both the good and the bad parts.
“Like I said, that’s part of our [Marikina’s] history. It has to be there,” he said in Filipino. “But what we don’t want, our museum, we don’t want it to be called the ‘Imelda Marcos Museum.’ That’s what we don’t want to happen; our museum is called the Marikina Museum.” – Rappler.com
*Based on 1975 exchange rates, $1 = P7.25