By Cathy C. Yamsuan
Would the notorious background of Imelda Marcos’ jewelry be enough come-on for tourists to travel all the way to Manila to view them?
Newly confirmed Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez raised this question Wednesday following reports that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) wants his department to exhibit the former first lady’s jewelry before a planned auction.
More specifically, the PCGG wants the Department of Tourism to showcase the Iron Butterfly’s gems at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, a stone’s throw from the vault of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas where the famed jewelry are kept.
Jimenez remains cool to the idea, especially the part where PCGG Chairman Andres Bautista thinks the “notoriety” of the jewels’ former owner would add premium to the collection and attract curiosity-seekers. The secretary said the PCGG proposal was “something that has to be evaluated. Any exhibit is possible but I have to see it first.”
The PCGG said the recommendation to display the jewelry was given to Jimenez in March. The secretary told reporters, however, that the commission made the proposal “before my time.” Jimenez has been heading the Department of Tourism for almost a year.
“Just because it’s jewelry doesn’t mean it’s touristic so I will (have to) see . . . . Notoriety is not exactly the best way to attract tourists,” the secretary said. “I do not look at implications other than the fact that it’s possibly an opportunity for our people to draw in more tourists. If that is what (PCGG officials) think it is,” he added. Bautista said the PCGG already got a call from the international auction house Sotheby’s expressing interest in auctioning off Imelda’s jewelry.
Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie
While estimates put the jewelry collection’s value between $10 million and $20 million, Bautista believes the former first lady’s “notoriety” could push her seized jewelry’s value up. Bautista was apparently thinking of the precedent set by the sale of jewelry owned by other famous women, including Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis and the Duchess of Windsor. The jewels these personalities had owned fetched figures way beyond the expectations of auctioneers.
Marcos lived the life of a bon vivant with an unlimited shopping allowance during her late husband’s presidency. When Ferdinand Marcos escaped to Honolulu at the height of the Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986, his wife brought along with her 400 pieces of jewelry that were later seized by the US Bureau of Customs.
This was apart from the roughly 300 pieces of jewelry, left behind in Malacañang when the Marcos family fled in haste to Clark Air Base before flying to Hawaii. The Philippine government also keeps the so-called Roumeliotes collection of 60 pieces of jewelry, named after the ex-first lady’s alleged Greek accomplice, Demetriou Roumeliotes, who was caught trying to smuggle the items out of the country a few weeks after the Marcoses left. The Roumeliotes collection is believed to be the most expensive, as it includes a 37-carat diamond.
Exhibit OK with Sen. Marcos
At the Senate Wednesday, Imelda’s son, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., said his mother had thought of displaying her jewelry when they were still in power. But putting the jewelry up for auction would be a different and more difficult issue, he said.
The senator recalled having family talks in which his mother’s famed jewels were discussed. “I remember we talked about it several times. She asked, ‘What shall I do with these?’ The family agreed to put it on public display because the people deserve to see them,” he said in Filipino. Which means the PCGG plan to exhibit his mother’s gems is a welcome move.
Senator Marcos noted, however, that his mother once complained that there were many pieces missing after reading a list of her seized jewelry provided by the commission. “I have no idea how many pieces are no longer accounted for but when we once asked for the list from the PCGG, my mother noted that many were not on the list,” he told reporters. “The question she asked was ‘Bakit konti na lang ‘yun?’” the senator added.
Gifts from dad
Not being the sentimental type, the younger Marcos said he did not recall a specific piece that would elicit memories for him. “I know it’s valuable and beautiful. I recall some pieces that my dad gave my mother on her birthday or at Christmas. I’m sure she can tell you which ones,” he said.
The senator turned grim when asked about the PCGG plan to put the pieces up for sale. “Has it already been decided that these jewelry transferred ownership? Or is the whole case still in limbo? I’m not following the case very intently but I can tell you, she did not just get those jewelry. She bought those (hindi naman basta kinuha lang ‘yun, siya ang bumili nun),” he said.