Ferdinand Marcos Jr looks set to become President of the Philippines and many are looking to his family ties for signs of things to come.

The son of late former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr has said he should not be judged by his ancestors, but his family members are not mere relics of the country’s political past.

Marco Jr’s mother, Imelda, re-entered Filipino public life after fleeing into exile when her husband was deported in 1986, despite legal action against her and accusations of stealing billions from the state when she was first lady.

Here’s what you need to know about Imelda Marcos.

Who is Imelda Marcos?

Born Imelda Remedios Visitacion Romualdez in 1929 in Manila, the former beauty queen rose to prominence in 1965 when she became first lady of the Philippines alongside her husband, the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Now aged 92-year-old Ms Marcos served in a variety of other roles during her husband’s three autocratic terms as leader of the country, including minister of human settlements and governor of Metro Manila.

The couple married in May 1953, until the death of Ferdinand Marcos Sr in 1989. They had three children: Irene, Ferdinand Jr and Imee.

The family fled to Hawaii in 1986 after her husband was ousted as millions took to the streets in the largely peaceful “people power” uprising to force a return to democracy.

After returning to the Philippines in 1991, Ms. Marcos immediately set about reviving her political network. Two failed bids for the presidency itself in 1992 and 1998 did not deter her from entering politics. In 1995, she was elected to the Congress of the Philippines, for four terms.

Why is it controversial?

Former First Lady of the Philippines and now Member of Parliament Imelda Marcos is assisted to her car after visiting the grave of former Philippine President and late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during National Heroes Day at the Heroes Cemetery in Manila on August 28, 2017 - National Heroes Day commemorates the beginning of the "Cry of Pugad Lawin", the struggle for independence from Spain by Filipino revolutionaries led by Andres Bonifacio.  (Photo by NOËL CELIS / AFP)

The elder Marcos, Mrs. Marcos and their associates are estimated to have stolen up to $10 billion from state coffers during his 21-year reign.

The money was hidden in foreign bank accounts or invested in masterpieces of art, jewelry, thousands of shoes and goods from Manila to New York.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled that Marcos and his family had committed large-scale fraud and ordered his surviving relatives to repay millions of dollars.

The couple legally earned $304,372.43 during their two decades in office, the court heard, and described their assets and properties as “grossly disproportionate” to their salaries as public servants.

Their fortunes are said to have come from plundering the treasury, taking bribes on government contracts, seizing private companies and tapping into foreign loans.

The Marcos family was allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991 by President Corazon Aquino, whose husband’s assassination in 1983 helped drive the People Power movement that eventually ousted Marcos Sr.

Allowing the family to return from exile after the elder Marcos died in 1989 in Hawaii was an act of “extraordinary generosity”, according to David Chaikin, a researcher at the University of Sydney.

“It was the beginning of the Marcos family working their way to power,” he said.

After other corruption convictions were overturned, in 2018 Ms Marcos was convicted on seven counts. She has appealed the conviction, which means she cannot be arrested while the proceedings are ongoing.

Corruption allegations

Former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos walks past her voluminous pending court cases during an interview with AFP at her residence in Manila in 2009. AFP

She faced around 900 civil and criminal cases after her return, ranging from embezzlement and corruption to tax evasion. Most were thrown out for lack of evidence, and the few convictions were overturned on appeal.

Ms Marcos was sentenced to a long prison term in 2018 for funneling around $200 million in embezzled funds through Swiss foundations decades ago.

She remains free on bail while the case is appealed.

Why is she known for her shoe collection?

Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, looks at her famous shoe collection after the opening of the Marikina Shoe Museum in 2001. Joel Nito / AFP Photo

Despite the government salaries the couple enjoyed, Ms Marcos amassed a huge collection of art and other luxury items during her time at the top.

ABC Australia reported that during her tenure as First Lady, local shoemakers provided her with 10 pairs of shoes a week. If she liked a pair, she often ordered more, with matching handbags. She also traveled the world buying expensive foreign pairs.

Her name has even become something of a shorthand for people with large shoe collections, because when she fled to Hawaii, she left over 1,000 pairs of shoes and 800 handbags at Malacanang Palace.

She later reportedly said protesters who stormed the palace were “looking for skeletons, but thank God they only found shoes, nice shoes.”

The exact number she possessed, however, is disputed. Media reports have estimated between 3,000 and 1,000.

“I didn’t have 3,000 pairs of shoes. I had 1,060,” she said in 1987.

Where are Imelda Marcos’ shoes now?

Around 800 pairs of designer shoes can now be seen at the Marikina Shoe Museum in the north of the country. The collection includes shoes of all shapes and sizes, from low heels to flat boots from local manufacturers and designers like Christian Dior.

In a 2019 documentary about Ms. Marcos’ return to public life, titled the kingmaker, she excused her extravagant dress. “When I became first lady, it became demanding for me. I have to dress up and make myself look better,” she said.

“Because the poor are always looking for a star.”

Additional reports from Reuters and AFP

Updated: May 11, 2022, 03:00

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