‘We met for lunch; I ate, Imee didn’t’ (Part 2)

By Marissa Bañez, Esq.

When the date arrived, I was equally nervous and excited.  I don’t remember the date, but it was a nice day, which leads me to think that it must’ve been sometime in the spring of 1979.  Even in retrospect to this day, I can’t believe that I of the unknown Bañezes actually sat at a table across from her of the well-known Marcoses to share a meal and have a conversation.  I thought Princeton – through my advisor – was the unexpected equalizer once again. I was wrong.

Since then, I became a litigator and have engaged in many different power plays throughout my career.  For example, I learned to conduct meetings, especially adversarial ones, on my turf, where my opponent would have to ask me for anything he or she needed.  I have deliberately scouted a conference room or other meeting place beforehand to determine where I should sit to avoid distraction while making my opponent sit facing a window or other thing that could make his or her mind wander.  And, I have at least offered to pay (if not actually paid) for business meals with men to signal that my gender poses no financial problems; my money was just as good as theirs.

I was completely ignorant of such machinations back in the 1970s.  When I arrived at the restaurant, what I now recognize as a power play hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was the lunch hour, and the usually bustling restaurant was completely empty except for the maître d’ and a couple of serving staff. 

Top, Princeton University: Two Filipina students went to school here in the 1970s and went on to become the accomplished women they are today: Lawyer Marissa Bañez and Philippine Senator Imee Marcos (lower photo).

I was seated at an interior table for two away from the windows with my back to the door before Ms. Marcos and her security guards showed up.  I don’t know if they came in through the door, but they were nowhere near me outside before I entered the restaurant.  Thinking back, I wonder if they were already inside the restaurant when I got there and came up to me only after I was seated.  She sat across from me facing her bodyguards while they watched us several tables away

Well, maybe it wasn’t completely just a power play.  I fully understand the need to secure her safety, especially since her family still ruled through Martial Law in the Philippines and her admission to the university in 1973 was met with anti-Marcos protesters.  After all, she didn’t know me from Adam even though I’m sure they must have done an extensive background check of me before agreeing to the meeting.  For my part, my naïveté forestalled any cynicism or distrust.  Although one of my majors was politics, I was not actively following Philippine politics at the time.  In my mind, I was just having lunch with Ms. Marcos and having a conversation with a fellow student.

I don’t remember what we ordered.  What I do remember is that I ate, and she didn’t.  As a poor student, I wasn’t going to let good food go to waste.  She pushed her food around on the plate with her fork.

I also don’t remember much of what we said, although my current general impression is that she didn’t really say anything profound or unexpected.  What has stayed with me is that she spoke with what seemed like an affected British accent.  I found that interesting, especially since her Filipino accent was clearly detectable beneath the British inflection.  I couldn’t figure out why she spoke to me like that but then I just chalked it up to her worldliness and sophistication, which I obviously lacked in spades.  I just spoke American English.

The author’s diploma

When we finished eating, I motioned to the waiter so I could pay.  Ms. Marcos waved me off, saying that her security had already paid.  I now laugh at my youthful innocence in thinking that I could just pay for our meal.  I didn’t understand then – and I’m mortified to realize today – that Ms. Marcos had bought out the entire lunch hour of one of the most expensive and normally busiest restaurants in town, where kings reportedly ate.  It was a bill I could never have paid in my poverty-stricken student days.  The food she pushed around on her plate probably cost more than my tuition for the year.  So much for any semblance of equalization.  That was the ultimate power play!

I never saw Ms. Marcos in person again.  If the university records are correct, she left at the end of the school year in 1979 and I still had one year to go.  Whether she graduated is of no importance to me.  That’s between her and her supporters, as well as between her and her detractors.  I’m neutral on the issue as I don’t fall in either camp. But I can say in no uncertain terms she went there (along with her ubiquitous bodyguards), she was always beautifully dressed, we met for lunch, she spoke to me in a British accent, and she paid a lot of money for food she didn’t eat.  Those  are the things that matter to me in my memory of my encounters with Imee Marcos at Princeton.

Marissa Bañez is a lawyer and a children’s illustrated book author.  Her first book, “Hope and Fortune,” will be officially released on February 2, 2023, and is now available for preorders on Amazon.com.  Her second book, “Hues and Harmony (How the Singing Butterfly Got Her Colors),” is due to be released in July 2023.

Part 1: Imee and me at Princeton University

(C) The FilAm 2022

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