HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - From the moment the Marcoses found themselves exiled in Hawaii, they sought to leave. But every attempt to move to another country failed.
And in 1989, at the age of 72, Ferdinand Marcos died at the St. Francis Medical Center in Honolulu.
Imelda Marcos was wrapping up an interview when she got the call that her husband’s heart was failing fast. When she got there, he was on an internal pacemaker. His condition seemed to stabilize, raising the possibility that he would once again rally. But as the evening wore on, hope began to dim.
Marcos’ namesake son Ferdinand Jr., who’s known as “Bongbong,” flew in from California to say goodbye. When he arrived, Ferdinand Marcos briefly opened his eyes.
And then he was gone.
Journalist Emme Tomimbang said after her husband’s death, Imelda carried herself like Jackie Kennedy had when she was in mourning.
“She just held her level to that standard and more so after he died,” she said. “You can imagine what was going through her mind and her heart, but she now sort of felt like this is her time to kind of speak for him, to take his place, and she did that.”
Imelda Marcos told reporters after her husband’s death:
“The president will never leave my heart and will never die as far as I’m concerned. He will always be there. In fact, he will be all the time there, in spirit of course, but when you have become so intimately involved with another human being, there can never be a separation again.”
After Marcos’ death, Filipinos in the islands split. His supporters mourned, decrying the fact the Philippine consulate would not fly its flag at half-staff.
His opponents celebrated the end of an era.
And Imelda Marcos found herself fighting to get her husband’s remains repatriated to the Philippines. President Corazon Aquino initially barred Marcos from bringing her husband’s body back home, but ― facing a major battle in the justice system and the court of public opinion ― eventually relented.
In an interview with Aquino, Tomimbang asked why she didn’t want Marcos’ remains to return.
The answer, Aquino said, was simple: “Basically, (she said) dead or alive, if he returns, it will create upheaval in our country, and I have to be aware of that.”
While Imelda Marcos won the fight to get her husband’s remains back to his hometown, she also faced sweeping criminal charges for allegedly looting her country of billions.
Marcos would face a highly publicized trial in New York City on charges that she raided the country’s treasury and invested the money in the United States. She was acquitted.
“I think now they’re starting to see the real Imelda, what is in my heart, not only the packaging outside,” she told reporters, after that win. “When I was deprived of country and everything, people started to relate to the real me. Not the symbol but the real Imelda.”
From there, Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines.
She would face more corruption trials, managing to evade much in the way of punishment and delay proceedings with years of legal wrangling. As those cases dragged on, Filipino voters embraced her, electing her to the country’s parliament.
And all these years later, the Marcos name is still a divisive force.
“How is it that the Filipinos in that part of the world are still electing her to a position of power again,” said author and activist Belinda Aquino.
“The relationship was just so that they still continue to hold power, even when they were out of real power. They still had so much money. They still had so much influence.”
Joe Lazo, a friend of the Marcos family, had a different view.
“The people in the islands know what Marcos did for our country. That is why they supported him, and that’s why the people love Marcos even now.”
For her part, Tomimbang is just hopeful that history doesn’t repeat itself.
“I’m hoping that Imelda’s children, who are now in positions of power, will now have learned from what they had to grow up and experience,” she said. “All the things that they were accused of doing, their parents, that they can learn from that and be better about it.”