Imee Marcos returns to NYC after 36 years in hush-hush event

She speaks to community leaders of New York as multiple public personas — from government official to martial law revisionist to powerful presidential sister to standup joker.

By Cristina DC Pastor

The so-called “Super ate ng pangulo” walked into the Philippine Center the evening of September 30, stepping into the consulate building again after 36 years from the time the Marcos family was chased into exile in 1986.

“Lumang luma na itong Philippine Center,” Senator Imee Romualdez Marcos began, speaking before an audience of about 50 enthralled community leaders. She spoke very intimately like she was in a pajama sleepover  with old friends from high school. “First time kong pumasok dito in like a hundred years. Babalitaan ko yung nanay ko na medyo kailangan bumalik siya dito.”  

The community leaders guffawed, applauded and lapped up freewheeling banter courtesy of the elder daughter of dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and brother of current President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.

She came dressed in a colorful blazer and boots, jokingly grousing about the cold weather and saying she’s happy to be back in “rambunctious and  lively” New York. “Alam niyo naman ang Washington D.C. nakakaantok,” she said making a playful comparison of the two cities.

Her carefully selected audience – only so-called “Level 1 community leaders” — was privy to a hush-hush community dialogue with the chairperson of the Philippine Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.  Imee presented herself as multiple public personas from government official to martial law revisionist to powerful presidential sister to standup joker. That she managed to be all these is a trait honed from decades (interrupted by almost eight years of exile) of being in the public eye and being a Marcos-trained political charmer. She spoke in Tagalog sounding like she was “one of us” and sprinkled her talk with language one hears on the street or social media. She sounded very relatable – and funny to those in attendance.

“Sa kabila ng pagkatalo niya dito…ang lalim ng hugot,” she harrumphed. If she sounded gloating like she was rubbing it in the face of Leni Robredo, she did not continue. She thanked New York for her brother’s political triumph and said, “Maraming salamat sa inyong suporta.” (Actually Robredo won in New York over Marcos.)

Photo ops with community leaders. Photos courtesy of Joycelyn Aligarbes and Juliet Payabyab.

Imee said she just came from D.C. where she met with her counterpart Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“First time kong maging chairman ng foreign relations committee. Palagay ko nilagay ako diyan para palayasin ako sa Senado,” she wisecracked. “Biro lang.” She said that was her father’s old role in the Senate.

She said she heard rumblings from the community about the J1 exchange visitors visa which does not lead to permanent residency. “Mabilis pa sa alas kuwatro eh sinumbong ko na sa ating mga senador, mga totoong senador sa Washington. Pag-aaralan pa kung pano puwedeng baguhin. (Baka) may exploitation diyan sa J1. Kunyari exchange yun pala pag-aalipin.” If she was suggesting the J1 visa may be used in human trafficking, Imee was obviously giving her audience crumbs of hope they wanted to hear. She tried to correct herself to say the H1 visa is probably the way to go for foreigners who want to remain in the country.

She talked about the nurses who are known as the “mga bayani ng Covid.”

“Parang nakakatense,” she said. “Kailangan bang mamatay ang mga bayani? Wag naman tayong pumayag non. Kawawa naman.”  Everywhere in the world people are grateful to Filipino nurses, doctors and all our health workers who are our best exports, she added.

The event program

She asked her audience if they’ve seen “Maid in Malacanang,” a movie about the frantic last two days of the Marcoses in the Philippines. It started as a joke, the movie, she said.

“Biro biro  lang kami… sige gawa tayo ng sine, lokohan lang. Pito-pito, pitong araw na shooting pero nadagdagan ng konti.  It resounded with the audience and became a blockbuster.” She said proceeds from the movie will go toward reviving the Marcos-era nutribun project started by her father in the 1970s.

One community leader asked if she could help bring to New York a cultural dance troupe from the Philippines so they could show the community here an authentic cultural presentation. Imee pooh-poohed the idea saying it’s hard to get funding for such projects out of Manila, budget being a touchy subject in her brother’s administration. Another idea she did not encourage is the construction of an airport in Cagayan de Oro. Imee said Lauag has an airport but has no people. She said before a city can have an airport it has to have enough traffic to make sure the business is sustainable.

Obliging offers of photo ops from the community leaders, Imee said she was having a good time to be in the company of a “small but elite group.”

This is my first time in the U.S. after 36 years,” she said smiling with a mock grimace. “Ang tagal kong hindi bumalik dito mula nung 1986. Ang tagal…kasi may nangyari nun…” More laughter.

© The FilAm 2022

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