By Alex P. Vidal
When former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos returned in the country in 1991 five years after the 1986 EDSA Revolution, we were among the few journalists from outside Metro Manila who were given the chance to visit her for interview at the Manila Peninsula Hotel.
I was with freelance broadcaster Louie Vivar, Arsenio “Kamlon” Ang of DYRI “Radyo Agong”, and Mario Jara of the defunct DYRP “Radyo Tagring.” We went to the hotel with a police escort provided by then Western Police District director, Chief Supt. Ernesto Diokno. Our entry in the tightly secured five-star hotel was facilitated by Mrs. Marcos’ media liaison, Sol Vanzi, who herded us like VIPs to the waiting area on the 9th floor.
Upon entering in a suite on the 9th floor, we were surprised to find out we were not the early birds, after all: fellow Ilonggo and Prensa Libre publisher Vicente “El Cid” Nava was already inside and about to finish his first cup of coffee.
“Welcome, my fellow Invaders of the Lost Ark,” Nava, a poet and literary writer, greeted us smiling. “Your arrival has completed the outcast!””Well, I was told that Madame First Lady Marcos might or might not show up due to security reasons, among other alibis, perhaps,” Nava quipped, avoiding an eye to eye contact with Vanzi, who apparently was peeved by his –and our — presence, as well as Nava’s snide remark.
“We are here to greet the First Lady because we missed her. It’s been a long time since we last heard from her and the Marcos family; and we want to know from the horse’s mouth how is President Marcos doing now in Hawaii,” sighed Vivar, then a blocktimer of Manila-based DYWB and a “sweet talk” specialist.
“I thought you came her to interview the First Lady?” Vanzi retorted, raising her eyebrows to stress a point.
“That’s exactly the reason why we came here all the way from Iloilo City,” I volunteered. “We want to have not only an exclusive interview with First Lady Marcos, but also to be part of history — as among the first media people to have interaction with the most famous woman in the Philippines since the EDSA Revolution.”
“At handang handa na po kami (And we are very much ready),” Ang, holding his cassette tape-recorder, chipped in.
“OK, just wait. I will check upstairs (12th floor) if the First Lady is now available,” Vanzi said.
Several minutes later, Vanzi returned and produced Atty. Dean Antonio Coronel, the Marcos family’s combative and fire-spewing lawyer. There was no Imelda R. Marcos.”I would like to introduce to you Atty. Dean Antonio Coronel. He will answer all your questions concerning the First Lady. He has been authorized to answer all your questions,” Vanzi stressed.”Where is the First Lady?,” Nava and Vivar chorused.”She is not feeling well. You know, she just arrived a few days ago and has been busy meeting important people, friends and relatives she haven’t seen for a long time; she badly needs some rest,” Vanzi explained.
No choice, the “invaders” settled for the swashbuckling lawyer known for his goatee and acerbic voice. “They can’t arrest the First Lady because there have been no formal charges filed against her; and if there is any, she is entitled to due process which is a sacred right of any individual regardless of status,” Coronel remarked.
Since it was near the 20th year anniversary of the Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21, 1971, I asked Coronel about Mrs. Marcos’ stand on the issue.”Mrs. Marcos has maintained that it was the handiwork of the Communist Party of the Philippines (founded by Jose Ma. Sison),” Coronel said.But the CPP blamed President Marcos, whose rival, Liberal Party stalwart, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., who was assassinated on August 21, 1983 at the airport tarmac, was linked to the CPP, by virtue of his “curious” absence from the Liberal Party rally.
The lawyer confirmed that some of those Mrs. Marcos (she was very much involved in the political affairs of the state especially during the Martial Law) had ordered arrested in relation to the political party bombing that killed nine people and wounded more than 30, were members of the media who went underground after their names had been linked to the blast.
He confirmed among those arrested earlier was radio commentator Roger “Bomba” Arrienda. The bombing happened a few minutes before 9 p.m., the official proclamation program for the Liberal Party’s senatorial slate.Manila Mayor Ramon Bagatsing lost one of his legs; scores were wounded, including former Speaker Ramon Mitra, then Rep. John Osmena, the late senators Eva Estrada Kalaw and Jovito Salonga, who lost his eyesight.
In 1992, when Mrs. Marcos ran for president, she recruited the late comedians Chiquito and Johnny Wilson to run for senator under the KBL party and brought them to Iloilo City. They hired my services and for four nights and five days, I accompanied Mrs. Marcos in her Western Visayas sorties.
Although they all lost miserably, at least I was able to rub elbows and exchange tete-a-tete with my favorite childhood comedian, the late Chiquito, one of the worst senators we never had.