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Imelda Marcos and her Shoes

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Imelda Marcos and Her Thousands of Shoes
Imelda Marcos's shoes in the presidential palace, Manila, 1986.

As First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos amassed a collection of thousands of pairs of shoes - at a time when many Filipinos lived in dire poverty. This photo from 1986 shows a small section of her collection. Click for larger image.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

It's one of the quirkier stories in recent Asian history: the former beauty queen who marries her college sweetheart, becomes First Lady of her nation, and goes on some truly epic shopping sprees. However, the more than 3,000 pairs of shoes that Imelda Marcos bought in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have a serious significance, as well.

Imelda's shoes are a potent symbol of the embezzlement and corruption that pervaded the Marcos regime, as Ferdinand Marcos siphoned off billions of dollars of public money from the Philippines' coffers. Transparency International's Global Transparency Report of 2004 estimates that the Marcos family took between $5 and $10 billion US during Ferdinand's presidency, from 1965 to 1986. Imelda helped to spend the ill-gotten gains; in one famous 1983 shopping trip to New York, Rome and Copenhagen, she splashed out a total of $7 million US in stores over a three-month visit.

This might seem funny, or even irrelevant, more than twenty years later. However, Imelda Marcos, now in her 80s, is a member of the House of Representatives for the Philippines at this writing. Her son Ferdinand Jr., usually called Bongbong, is a senator and may run for president one day soon. Meanwhile, although poverty in the Philippines is not as wide-spread today as it was in 1986 when Imelda bought her shoes, it is certainly too prevalent to support such corrupt political practices.

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