An alert dictator always keeps one eye on the nearest exit in case, as so often happens with autocrats, a speedy departure suddenly becomes in order.
Such a fate befell Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, in 1986 after 20 years in which they and their cronies looted the country. The government has so far recovered $2.24 billion in cash and real estate. Meanwhile, the search for loot the family stashed overseas continues.
The compelling symbol of this avarice and excess was, curiously enough, footwear. Imelda Marcos, in her haste, left behind more than 1,220 pairs of shoes, expensive designer shoes that would have left the cast of “Sex and the City” writhing in envy.
About 800 pairs of the shoes survive, nicely cared for, in a museum in Marikina City, the country’s shoemaking capital, where they are viewed daily by small but curious crowds in a country, where, The Associated Press reminds us, “many still walk barefoot out of abject poverty.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the Marcos Collection has not fared so well. More than 150 cartons of the Marcoses’ shoes, clothes and accessories — Ferdinand was quite a clotheshorse, too — were transferred from the presidential palace to the National Museum in Manila where they were locked away in a disused room and then apparently forgotten.
The massive wardrobe was recently rediscovered after two decades, but rain, mold and termites have seriously damaged the shoes and clothes, and the government shows little interest in restoring them for display. An official statement from the government said the artifacts have no historical significance, indicating a yard sale may be in their future.
Imelda Marcos was a shopaholic, reportedly spending $5 million at a clip on overseas shopping sprees and at one time collecting New York real estate, including the iconic Woolworth Building.
Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, and in 1991 the family returned to the Philippines. In 1992, the irrepressible Imelda ran for president, losing badly, but she has twice been elected to Congress.
Mrs. Marcos’ shoes and what can be salvaged of her wardrobe should be preserved and displayed as a testament to avarice and excess. Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but unlimited shopping with the national credit card doesn’t do a bad job of it, either.