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Personality Spotlight Imelda Marcos: Former Philippine first lady

By United Press International

Described as a steel butterfly, a fabulous beauty and even a political weapon during her tenure as first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos has been hounded by accusations of extravagance since her husband's 1986 fall from power.

Imelda transformed the role of the president's wife from a hostess at state functions to that of a dynamic trendsetter in local culture, social welfare and politics.

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She brought beauty, talent and vitality to Malacanang Palace after the 1965 election of her husband, Ferdinand E. Marcos, to the presidency.

Unusually tall for a Filipino woman at 5-feet-7 (170 cm), she won the title of 'Rose of Tacloban' in her hometown at age 18 and later reigned as Muse in the international fair in Manila in 1953.

In 1954 she met and, after a whirlwind courtship, married Marcos, then a congressman.

When Marcos became president, Imelda was not content to be a demure, decorative first lady. She launched her own cultural programs, beautification campaigns and welfare projects.

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Her welfare programs benefitted thousands of disaster victims, orphans, juvenile delinquents, the aged and inmates at the National Mental Hospital.

She headed a beautification committee, which completed the transformation of Rizal Park in Manila, once the haven of teenage gangs and thieves, into one of the loveliest parks in Asia.

Marcos repeatedly called his wife 'my secret weapon' in politics and personally credited her with winning for him a half million votes -- almost his winning margin -- during the 1965 presidential election campaign.

It was during that campaign that Imelda showed off her charm and talent to Filipino voters as she shook hands, smiled and sang native songs during political rallies while stumping the country with her husband.

From that time on, whenever Marcos traveled with his wife, he never tired of telling his audience, 'I know you didn't come to listen to me but to see Mrs. Marcos.'

But after Marcos won re-election in 1969, he and Imelda increasingly were the subjects of criticism. There were fallings out with longtime friends. Insiders said Mrs. Marcos could be a tough, unforgiving foe.

In December 1972, three months after her husband proclaimed martial law in the Philippines, a Filipino engineer walked onto an outdoor stage, pulled a jungle knife from his left sleeve and lunged at Mrs. Marcos, who parried the attack with her hands. Security men shot the assailant dead.

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Under martial law, Imelda Marcos assumed important roles in government. She became governor of Metropolitan Manila, human settlements minister and special ambassador for her husband.

She traveled to Beijing to lay the groundwork for the establishment of diplomatic ties with China in 1975, meeting with Chairman Mao Tse- tung and Prime Minister Chou En-lai.

She went to Cuba in 1975 to re-establish diplomatic relations with Havana, frozen since 1961 after Fidel Castro assumed power.

She had audiences with the pope, tea with Queen Elizabeth, danced with an enchanted Lyndon Johnson, cheered Richard Nixon in a California hospital after his resignation, talked business with oil sheiks, Wall Street bankers and the men who ran the Kremlin.

After Marcos' fall from power in 1986 in a civilian-backed military uprising, Imelda drew widespread criticism for her extravagance.

President Corazon Aquino turned a portion of the presidential palace into a museum displaying Marcos' personal belongings, including racks of gowns, Gucci handbags and 1,700 pairs of Imelda's shoes.

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were indicted in October 1988 in New York on federal racketeering charges accusing them of using stolen funds to buy U.S. property.

Ferdinand Marcos died in Hawaii exile in September 1989 without seeing the acquittal of his wife on the U.S. charges in July 1990.

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Aquino this year lifted a ban on Imelda's return to the Philippines to allow her to face a string of tax fraud and corruption charges in Manila that on conviction could put her in jail for a total of 150 years.

The ban on a return of Ferdinand Marcos' corpse to the Philippine capital remained in effect. Aquino said Imelda Marcos' return to the Philippines could be a first step to bringing her husband's body home.

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