Marcos Year 1

Liza Araneta Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines

Bea Cupin, Chay F. Hofileña

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Liza Araneta Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines
The First Lady, who inspires a heady mix of respect and fear, once said she was her own 'role model' as spouse to the nation's highest-elected official

Editor’s Note: For this story, Rappler spoke to a mix of sources – from inside the Palace, the First Lady’s social circles, and personalities with working relationships inside Malacañang. They requested anonymity, but information obtained and provided were verified.

MANILA, Philippines – As a small crowd wielding cameras and phones began to surround President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during a June 29 Pride reception at Malacañang, he kept close to his wife, First Lady Marie Louise “Liza” Araneta-Marcos. 

The First Lady was host to LGBT Pilipinas, a group that supported Marcos’ 2022 presidential bid.

This time, LGBT Pilipinas was hoping to get support from the First Lady for the President to create an “advisory body or commission on LGBTQIA+ affairs under the Office of the President,” according to the Presidential Communications Office (PCO).

In his brief remarks at the event, Marcos promised an administration that strove for equality but made no mention of this appeal. But Liza, speaking before the group, said she was “sure” their wish would be granted – after all, they campaigned for him in the presidential elections. 

“I think it’s our way of giving back to those who helped him in the election,” the First Lady said.

It’s one of the many things she is mindful of: payback and paying it forward, especially after an election they overwhelmingly won. 

Mrs. Araneta-Marcos  

In a different world, Liza Araneta and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. would never have made it as a couple, given how family relations in the Philippines often dictate upon alliances and even marriage choices.

Cushion, Home Decor, People
YOUNGER YEARS. The two met in New York City – he was in exile and helping his family handle charges against them, and she was both studying law and working. Bongbong Marcos’ YouTube channel

Bongbong is the son and namesake of the dictator ousted in the 1986 People Power Revolution, while Liza is related by affinity to democracy icon Corazon Cojuangco Aquino through mother Milagros Cacho Araneta. Milagros’ youngest sister Rosario married Cory’s eldest brother Pedro.

Liza, or LAM to those who’ve known her, is also the second cousin of Manuel “Mar” Roxas – among the leaders, like his father Gerardo, of the Liberal Party (LP), the political nemesis back in the day of the elder Marcos’ Nacionalista Party. Gerry Roxas was also among the leaders of the opposition who resisted Marcos’ brutal Martial Law

Further cementing that “politically different” relationship is Liza’s father, basketball Olympian Manuel L. Araneta Jr., first cousin of Mar’s mother, Judy Araneta-Roxas. 

Among eight children – there are six girls and two boys – Liza is No. 5. As if to remind her of her family’s political leanings, she was born in 1959 on August 21, the same date opposition leader Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983.

The twists and turns of fate would eventually render these filial ties insignificant after Liza and Bongbong met in New York two years after the EDSA uprising. She had completed law studies at the Ateneo Law School and then took post-graduate classes in Criminal Procedure at New York University in 1989.

She was a lawyer who happened to be close friends with one of the counsels of the Marcos family, who had flown from Hawaii to New York in 1988 because the cases against former first lady Imelda Marcos were being heard there.

YOUNG GRADUATE. Liza Araneta-Marcos in her younger years. Photo from the Office of the President’s website

“Once in a while, when we were in court, she’d make an appearance as a lawyer. So she’d visit us, and that’s how it started,” recalled then-presidential candidate Marcos in a September 2021 interview with an entertainment writer uploaded on YouTube. Despite earlier claims to the contrary, Liza was, however, never a member of the New York State Bar Association.

Away from the scrutiny of the Philippine elite and politically divergent families, the relationship would transcend friendship. A “gracious” Bongbong would strive to charm Liza’s family, chase her in Hong Kong until they agreed on a quickly-organized and intimate 21-person wedding at the San Francesco Convent in Fiesole, Italy, on April 17, 1993. It was youngest brother Martin who walked Liza down the aisle.

Adult, Bride, Female
ITALY WEDDING. It was an intimate wedding of only 21 guests in 1993. Bongbong Marcos’ YouTube channel

This year, just before the new administration turned one, the couple marked 30 years of marriage – Bongbong, now president, turns 66 in September, and Liza, his First Lady, turns 64 in August.

Adult, Bride, Female
UNLIKELY PAIR. When they wed 30 years ago, a young Bongbong Marcos declared there was nowhere he’d rather be than with her. Bongbong Marcos’ YouTube channel
Strong woman in the Palace

Asked back in March 2022 whether she would be “politically involved” should her husband win, Liza told TV host Boy Abunda: “I’ll cross the bridge when I get there. If ever, teaching would be good. But to enter government? No way! They can’t afford me.” 

Early in their marriage – before the national campaigns, before the crowds of hundreds of thousands of people, and long before the Marcos clan’s controversial return to Malacañang – the Marcos couple made at least one thing clear. 

“Early on, we decided that he’s the politician – he’s the star,” said Liza in September 2021. 

But Liza is a star in her own way.

FIRST COUPLE. President Marcos and the First Lady at a Filipino community gathering in New Jersey on the sidelines of an official visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. The two first met in New York City. Office of the President-Presidential Photographers Division

In her younger days, she did not hesitate to break barriers. Those who know her recalled that she dared smoke in front of her elders when it was not yet quite acceptable to do so back then. She was bold, daring, determined, would use logic and reasoning, and her brain – more than her charm.

She’s a very strong-willed woman who gets what she wants and recognizes no obstacles to get it. She’s probably as strong-headed as her sister-in-law, Senator Imee Marcos, according to those who know her, that’s why it comes as no surprise they don’t quite see eye to eye

CID or “consider it done,” according to President Marcos, is a phrase his wife often uses on their three sons when they need something or are still just in the process of figuring out how to do something.

Marcos himself told the story of how she managed to get a friend of theirs a seat for Miss Saigon on Broadway. 

When they got to the theater, the three tickets they supposedly put on hold had turned into just two. Liza would not let it slide. Alternately berating, then charming, then appealing to theater staff, and then demanding to see the manager  – they got their extra seat: a chair placed along the aisle of the theater. 

Ang sabi ko, kailangan kong pakasalan ito. Masyadong magaling ito (I told myself, I have to marry this woman. She’s too good to let go),” recalled Bongbong Marcos in the September 2021 interview.

She is most effective behind the scenes, as was the case during the presidential campaign of her husband. 

“She organized everything behind the scenes,” said one who has personal knowledge of how Liza worked. 

In the aftermath of her husband’s painful 2016 loss, it was Liza who buckled down for the electoral protests. They tried – and failed – to contest that defeat until the very end. Some of the documents they presented are now on display at Bahay Ugnayan, part of the Malacañang Heritage Tours which Liza herself spearheaded. 

FAMILY. The First Lady and their second son, Simon, listen as President Marcos speaks at the launch of the Malacañang Heritage Tours. KJ Rosales/PPA Pool

She was also key in preparing for her husband’s 2022 run, creating a small team early on to figure out how to best run a presidential campaign.

The result? Marcos won by a landslide with over 31 million, or close to 59% of votes cast in an election marred by disinformation and lies online.

Officials and sources in Malacañang describe her role in the Palace as that of a manager. She keeps affairs in check, and makes sure the presidential household is running efficiently. She has also been seen in official meetings, including one with staff of the Office of the Executive Secretary, two sources in the Palace said.

Political operators, individuals, and groups with something to lobby for are aware that when they want things done or want an appeal to reach the President, the First Lady is an invaluable ally. Many of what goes through the Executive Secretary or the “Little President” inevitably reaches the First Lady, too, according to a political operator. 

During her surprise birthday party, which was featured in the President’s regular YouTube vlog, her family and associates poked fun at her penchant for planning and organizing, as well as her “favorite things” that include making lists that are color-coded, numbered, and organized.

“Taking screenshots and sending to friends” is among Liza’s quirks, according to the birthday video. 

“The First Lady helps me in terms of the organization because she’s actually very, very good at that – organize which office, how the workflow goes, where the documents go through. She’s a well-trained lawyer – she’s very good at that. That’s the extent of it, we don’t talk policy together,” Marcos said in a media panel interview in January 2023.

Appointments and ties

Marcos has also claimed his wife doesn’t have a say in matters political – just legal. As if to stress this, days after that media interview, she released a video through Presidential Security Group commander Brigadier General Demy Zagala, denying she meddled in appointments. 

Over at Camp Aguinaldo, however, there was talk even in the early months of the Marcos administration that the First Lady did have a say. The video statement was released amid a tug-of-war over the top post in the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. 

In the same video, the First Lady also sternly said: “I leave that up to my husband. And if I find out that somebody is using my name, I shall tell my husband not to appoint you, okay?” 

She is said to be not as interested – or skilled, as some would put it – in politics. 

But in Malacañang, it’s difficult to separate politics from policy, as the two are crucial to the daily grind of ensuring an administration runs well. For work to flow and documents to pass through the bureaucracy at an acceptable pace, the right people – political appointees included – need to be in place.

Despite denials about having a say in appointments, Liza is known to have the President’s ear.

Marcos’ early Cabinet picks – including former executive secretary Vic Rodriguez and one-time press chief Trixie Cruz-Angeles – know that good ties with the First Lady are crucial, especially during crunch time. The two exited the Palace even before the Marcos administration turned 100 days old.

A source familiar with discussions at that time said that Liza was key in convincing Marcos to finally let go of Rodriguez, his 2022 campaign spokesperson and chief of staff. 

By then shamed and under pressure over a sugar import mess, Rodriguez told the media in September last year, with the help of Angeles, that he would be “presidential chief of staff.” 

The First Lady fumed over this claim, according to a Palace official. Presidential legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile immediately issued a memo debunking the necessity of Rodriguez’s supposed post. His replacement, former chief justice Lucas Bersamin, would later tell the media that the position was never created and that Rodriguez was no longer part of Marcos’ Cabinet

CORONATION GUESTS. Marcos and the First Lady went straight to the UK to attend the coronation of King Charles III following an official working visit to the US. Presidential Communications Office

It’s no surprise, then, that Liza Araneta-Marcos inspires a heady mix of adulation, respect, and fear. Praises are proclaimed in high octaves, while criticism from those within or close to her sphere of influence is uttered in hushed tones. 

If the President has been described as a patient and kind consensus-builder, his wife is often painted as someone who’s decisive, assertive – and if you cross her – vindictive and capable of burning bridges.

From her now-defunct law firm MOST (then known as Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio, Tan) to the Palace, the First Lady has kept a fairly close, select, and loyal team of aides and associates, many of whom now hold strategic posts in the Marcos administration. 

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is headed by tax lawyer Romeo “Jun” Lumagui Jr., husband of lawyer Carmela Esquivas-Lumagui, among the First Lady’s most trusted. He was appointed BIR chief in November 2022, just months after he became deputy commissioner.

Esquivas-Lumagui accompanied and campaigned with the two younger Marcos sons – Simon and Vinny – during the 2022 polls. The First Couple are also wedding godparents to Lumagui and Esquivas, once part of MOST and later, Liza’s M & Associates. 

Jun Lumagui, meanwhile, led the legal team that handled the disqualification cases against the then-presidential bet, Marcos himself disclosed in a closed-door event for his campaign team and supporters after the May 2022 elections.

Over at the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), lawyer Elaine T. Masukat, a former associate at the MOST law firm, was appointed head after the abrupt exit of Naida Angping

Lawyer Nerissa de Jesus-Lazaro was an associate at MOST and a partner at Liza’s M & Associates law firm before she was appointed in October 2022 as deputy commissioner of the National Privacy Commission.

The First Lady’s relative and godson, director Paul Soriano, is the President’s adviser for creative communications. Soriano is also the husband of host Toni Gonzaga, among Marcos’ most prominent 2022 campaign endorsers. 

Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) General Manager Mel Robles, also Marcos’ second-biggest campaign donor based on public records, worked with the First Lady during the campaign, according to a source familiar with arrangements in the Marcos team then. 

Robles served as manager of pro-Duterte-turned-pro-Marcos vlogger RJ Nieto (known as Thinking Pinoy) long before the 2022 campaign. After Marcos’ win, Nieto would mingle with the First Lady and the First Family on the sidelines of some official trips abroad – such as the state visit to Singapore and the official visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

The PCSO, under Robles, recently turned over vehicles bearing Liza’s name and face for use in her “Lab For All” medical outreach project. The project has brought her to different provinces in the Philippines – Pampanga, Tarlac, Baguio, and Batangas, to name a few. 


While far removed from the sartorial extravagance her mother-in-law once proudly displayed, Liza has figured prominently in arts-related projects such as the government-organized Likha, a showcase of Filipino textile and the TERNOCON, a regular convention and contest on the terno. 

Culture and arts had been an interest of Liza, even before she became First Lady. She was involved in projects to document Ilokano culture, particularly its textile. She’s also sat in the Asian Cultural Council board.

Since occupying Malacañang, she’s engaged in her own brand of diplomacy, hosting several ambassadors and making it a habit to arrange sit-downs and social activities with women envoys stationed in Manila. In these activities, she’s made a conscious effort to show she defers to the President on policy matters.

Still, embassies have taken notice and have worked closely with the First Lady. For the Philippine Independence Day event at the Palace, for example, it was Liza who helped pair women diplomats with Filipino designers for their Vin d’Honneur outfits, according to a Vogue Philippines feature. 

People, Person, Adult
DIPLOMACY. First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos hosts a reception for women ambassadors assigned to Manila at Bahay Pangulo in Malacañang Park. Embassy of Hungary in the Philippines

But it’s in more resource-heavy beautifications and improvements within the purview of Malacañang where the First Lady has channeled her energies. 

In the first few months of the Marcos administration, she focused on renovations and additions to the Malacañang compound: construction for a new catering area within the complex, renovations within the Palace itself, and upgrades to the buildings Palace staff use daily. 

A 900-square-meter roof deck area that used to be the Presidential Management Staff’s lounge is now being used as the First Lady’s office, according to Palace sources.

Bahay Pangarap, the President’s official residence in Malacañang Park, has undergone drastic changes. An entire row of new structures has surfaced only after Marcos’ term started – changes which were never explicitly disclosed to the public. 

Overhauls went beyond the San Miguel district in Manila. 

All the way in Villamor Air Base now stands the Maharlika Hall, where the President and his delegation stay before boarding and after disembarking PR001 during official trips abroad. In the past, departure messages and send-offs took place at a cordoned-off area in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. 

Lounges, pantries, and cafeterias are always well-stocked and equipped. In the case of facilities where VIPs linger, an assortment of food and drinks – from coffee to sparkling wine – is always available. 

Rappler tried to access the details of these renovations and construction projects within the Malacañang Complex through a Freedom of Information request, but the request was denied. 

If it’s any indication of the administration’s willingness to be transparent, the Malacañang Records Office said in its reply: “The right to information does not include the right to compel custodians of official records to prepare lists, abstracts summaries, and the like in their desire to acquire information on matters of public concern.” 

The First Lady would later launch the Malacañang Heritage Tours in May 2023 – museums that feature Philippine presidents, including her husband and the Marcos narrative, along with events that showcase Filipino heritage. Bahay Ugnayan, the Teus Mansion, and the Goldenberg Mansion are all located within the Malacañang compound.

Own identity

When asked in a previous interview who her role model as first lady was, Liza declared without hesitation, “My role model is me.”

She’s made it a point to carve her own identity, not allowing herself to just be a politician’s supportive wife who recedes into the background. When Marcos was elected Ilocos Norte governor in 1998, Liza fretted over what she’d do: opening a law firm, as many had suggested, was not an option because it would inevitably lead to interactions with the provincial government and clear conflict of interest situations.

Instead, she went back to the academe and taught law at Northwestern University College of Law until 2006. “It was one of the best decisions of my life,” Liza recounted in September 2021.

The First Lady stuck to a class from their freshman year all the way to when they finally took the bar. She donated her salary to fund the batch taking the bar – from their bar review operations down to their accommodations and photocopying needs once they were in Manila. 

She had also taught law at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Far Eastern University, St. Louis University, and the Mariano Marcos State University (2018-2020). She currently teaches at the West Visayas State University in Iloilo City, but not without outcry from certain sectors of the university. 

The First Lady, however, remains averse to the media spotlight, keeping at arm’s length press scrutiny and shunning interviews.

FIRST FAMILY. President Marcos, wife Liza, and sons Simon, Vinny, and Sandro during the miting de avance of the Uniteam coalition in May 2022. Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

In early February 2023, at the height of allegations that her brother Martin was linked to onion smuggling, she kept mum and avoided a chance interview, opting instead for brief niceties with the Malacañang Press Corps.

Curiously, Martin’s Chinese business partner, Michael Ma – who had been linked, in previously published reports, to smuggling – has managed to steer clear of the usual investigations. 

On July 4, following a memorandum from Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo, Marcos ordered a probe into the smuggling of onion and other agriculture products, allegedly led by the Philippine VIEVA Group of Companies Incorporated – which Ma is not part of. 

Recently, there’s been activity on the political front, according to several sources – an “exploratory” team is figuring out if the First Lady could possibly have a political career of her own, despite her avowed aversion to politics.

As it stands, there’s already an abundance of Marcoses in politics, especially at the national level: the President, Senator Marcos, and presidential son Ilocos Norte Representative Ferdinand Alexander “Sandro” Marcos. Marcoses also dominate local politics in Ilocos Norte. On the Romualdez side, there’s presidential cousin Speaker Martin Romualdez, his wife Tingog Representative Yedda Romualdez, and another cousin, Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez.  

A 2025 run would complicate the political scene and further increase the number of Marcoses in elective posts. Senator Marcos, elder sister of the President, is also up for reelection in 2025. 

Many years ago, a young Liza Araneta was said to have declared: “One day I will be rich and famous.”

To her credit, she has become just that. But will she aim for more? –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.
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Chay F. Hofileña

Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.