Filipinos Awed by Opulence at New Museum-- Marcos' Palace

Associated Press

The government opened the presidential palace to the public today, letting elderly women in tattered dresses and giggling youths tramp through the bulletproof powder room of Imelda Marcos.

A woman in a sweat-soaked housedress gaped as a volunteer worker lifted a sable jacket off a rack in the sprawling basement storage room that is just down a wooden stairway from the former first lady's sleeping quarters.

President Corazon Aquino, who has shunned the opulent palace for her one-story suburban house, also toured the Philippines' newest museum with 70 volunteers who will act as guides to display some of the excesses of deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos' 20-year rule.

Buses are to bring in 2,000 Manila slum dwellers Friday for a tour with Aquino.

Thousands of people chanted Aquino's nickname, Cory, as they crowded the gates of the the two-story, Spanish-style mansion containing millions of dollars worth of antiques, jewelry, rare books, religious artifacts, paintings and other Marcos mementos.

"When I first saw this, I literally vomited," said Roman Catholic nun Christine Tan, interviewed outside a bedroom vault full of expensive Rosary beads, gold-plated clocks, handmade figurines and emptied jewelry boxes.

Mrs. Marcos took jewelry with her when the family fled the palace Feb. 25, fleeing a revolt backed by the Catholic Church and high-ranking military defectors. But other jewelry was left behind.

A scale in her bathroom, which has a gold-plated wash basin, was set at 131 pounds. The guide said it had not been touched.

In her bedroom were two glass-encased ivory images of the Christ child. One lay on a red satin pillow. Another was hung with jewels.

Marcos' quarters were spacious, but Spartan in comparison with those of his wife. A hospital-style bed remained next to his white curtain-draped, king-sized bed. Marcos denied having any serious illness during the campaign leading to the Feb. 7 presidential election.

Parked across the room from the president's bed was a miniature Mercedes-Benz car, which a guide said cost $5,000 and belonged to one of Marcos' grandsons.

Nearly every room contains giant television screens and videotape units.

Some visitors shook their heads at the surroundings, which had been off-limits to all but those closest to the Marcoses.

"We eat like the pigs while they have billions and billions," said Vivian Villacorta, a first-time visitor.

Most of the private rooms, including Mrs. Marcos' cavernous bedroom with walls, ceiling and floor of polished dark wood, are windowless. A guide said windows in the adjoining powder room and in Marcos' bedroom overlooking the Pasig River are bulletproof.

Bea Zobel, a wealthy socialite who has prepared the palace as a museum, said she had been in the palace many times but was shocked at the vast wealth contained in the private quarters. "Nobody knew this existed," she said.

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