How Power Grows

Byrne Joshua Al-ag
5 min readFeb 6, 2021

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Reacting to Lauren Greenfield’s “The Kingmaker”

What makes someone powerful? In a worldview without God as your master, money, power, or sex becomes one’s ultimate pursuit. In Lauren Greenfield’s brilliant documentary “The Kingmaker”, we witness how lavish and flaunty Imelda Marcos’ lifestyle is and listen to her own version of history. Watching the film brought me in the director’s own journey of discovering truth and witness how power can be used to acquire material possessions at the cost of someone else. In this case, a nation.

The film started with the scene where Imelda Marcos is giving away a pile of cash away to street children and vendors while travelling to the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, one of the Marcos regime’s projects. Wherever Imelda would be interviewed, the background is always surrounded by golden statues, priceless artworks, and anything expensive. Almost as if it was intentional. Although, it made sense once I discovered that Imelda Marcos was not your ordinary first lady. We have seen extraordinary first ladies in the world including the prominent Michelle Obama, wife of former President Barack Obama of America. She has written books and supported her husband by helping military families amongst other causes. Many first ladies are either involved in fashion or became an icon themselves. Former first lady Michelle Obama herself became a fashion icon and former first lady Melania Trump was a former model. It came as a surprise to me that former first lady Imelda Marcos was a former Miss Manila. That same beauty caught the attention of former president Ferdinand Marcos which led to the two being married after 11 days. Later in her years as first lady, she would be featured in magazines and other medias.

“I don’t believe in courtship, it’s a waste of time. If I love the person, I’ll tell her right away. But for you, I’ll make an exemption: Just love me now, and I will court you forever.” ― Ferdinand E. Marcos

This famous quote was allegedly said by Marcos which has circulated in social media. As a teen, I first saw this quote in Facebook when a high school friend shared the post. I thought it was romantic which led me to take my future romantic relationship seriously (let’s not hope it would be “relationships”). At first, I thought it was strange how two people who barely know each other got married so quickly. But after observing Imelda Marcos during her interview, I got to know her character.

A Character Twisted by Wealth & Power

By the end of the film, one may either conclude or deduce that Imelda Marcos is a manipulative woman. To be fair, the same cannot be ascertained towards other family members. Coming from humble beginnings, a thirst for more can be sensed in the way Imelda looks back from her younger years. The former first lady often describes herself as a mother who gave birth to all the good things that happened during their regime. From the San Juanico Bridge to the different infrastructure projects that they led. I noticed how she would always describe these accomplishments as beautiful and would continue to explain how if it wasn’t for them, these things would have never happened. However, she would use the same term to describe “beautiful shoes” and “all of these beautiful things” as she points towards her jewelries. She even mentioned how she made it a point that the San Juanico Bridge should look beautiful as it is a testament of Ferdinand’s love to Imelda. Makes you wonder about what she truly values.

But whenever the topic of martial law, poverty, and corruption would be asked, Imelda has a way of redirecting the narrative against their political enemies. She brilliantly paints a picture where the Philippines was more prosperous during the Marcos era. She brands any criticism towards unfavorable consequences as depressing and goes on to accuse the Aquino administration for their failures. She also accuses the media as they continue to tell the truth about history and what really happened. Never in that lengthy interview did she admit that the Marcos regime committed any mistake that resulted in the suffering of the Filipino people or that contributed to the slow economic growth our country is still experiencing after their term.

Based on her decisions, Imelda Marcos is a pretentious, foolish, and compulsive when it comes to her investments. Take for example the case of Calauit Island. I remember learning about this story when it was mentioned in national news when I was a kid, but I never knew the consequences of creating this safari. 254 families displaced, crops are harder to grow, and in-breeding has become detrimental to the health of these animals.

Watching the film, I discovered that she served as a diplomat and was given the opportunity to meet with prominent dictators like Gaddafi, Mao Tse-tung, and Saddam Hussein. However, she did not want to read books or learn about these leaders. She presumes that the way these people treat her reflects the kind of leadership they have. Do you see the problem when people believe leaders who promote and rule through violence and force are placed on a pedestal?

So why are the Marcoses still in power?

After 70,000 people incarcerated, 35,000 people tortured, and 3,200 killed, we see a Marcos in senate, a Marcos in congress, a Marcos as a governor, and a Marcos almost as vice-president with merely a difference of 300 thousand votes. Why then? The Marcoses have what you call a balwarte, a stronghold or a home base in Ilocos Norte. Over the 21 years of the Marcos Regime, many people were either helped, given support, or blessed by the government. As much as the atrocities that happened, Marcos gained favor and reputation to a lot of people through cronies, political power, and money. The money that they stole from the government would later be circulated to Marcos’ supporters to be laundered and used for any agenda. This is especially true in Ferdinand’s hometown. No one has ever stood up against the Marcoses ever since they went back from exile. If there were, political rumors would say that they were probably bought-out.

What can we do now?

Never forget history. We need to realize political issues divide people because there is no objective basis. One side would blame the other for the faults happening today and then the reply would be the opposite claim. This reality is magnified when you compare the narratives of the self proclaimed motherly Imelda Marcos to the story of the Aquino family and other government officials. But, we can rest on the facts. Do your research, make inquiries, discover the truth. Because the truth does not care about what you feel, it just stays that way. We live in a democracy where free speech may be the cause of division. This is the reality we live in.

Discover the truth and make a stand. Stay strong, kabayan.

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