Imelda Marcos Weeps on Return to Philippines

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Weeping and clutching a rosary, flamboyant former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos returned home to a tumultuous welcome today after nearly six years of exile in the United States.

Thousands of loyalists and curious onlookers lined the road for more than five miles from the airport, honking horns, blowing sirens, tossing confetti, waving flags and shouting pro-Marcos slogans. Workmen clanged pipes and cheered from construction sites along the road.

It was an impressive show of support for the homecoming of the 62-year-old widow of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos. The Marcoses fled the country in disgrace after the "people power" revolt of 1986.

Philippine government officials said Imelda Marcos will be arrested and released on bail Wednesday. She faces at least 70 criminal and civil charges for the alleged systematic looting of the impoverished country's treasury during the Marcoses' 21-year rule.

Soldiers armed with automatic weapons surrounded her as the motorcade drove slowly through Manila's jampacked streets.

"It's wonderful to be home," she said as she disembarked from her chartered Boeing 747 and, amid tight security and a crush of reporters, was taken into an airport holding room where her one-way entry documents were stamped. "I'm overwhelmed."

"This is for me the start of a healing process, a mission of reconciliation, healing and peace," she said earlier in a news conference aboard the plane.

Marcos was met by her 34-year-old son Ferdinand Jr., known as Bong Bong, who also returned from exile last week. At his side was Vice President Salvador Laurel, a former Marcos opponent who is now an opposition leader.

Hundreds of photographers and camera crews pushed and shoved at the airport, and Imelda Marcos appeared frightened and bewildered in the crush. She wore a simple white dress, with gold jewelry and white high heels.

After the Marcoses' fall from power, her million-dollar shopping sprees, 1,220 pairs of shoes and 6,900 garments became a worldwide symbol of the regime's gross excess, corruption and greed.

"It's good she's here so we can get on with the judicial process," said Horacio Paredes, a government spokesman waiting at the airport.

The government has accused the couple of stealing $5 billion to $10 billion, enough to earn them the citation for "theft" in the 1991 Guinness Book of World Records. She was acquitted of federal criminal racketeering charges in a New York trial last year, however.

Marcos landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, named for the popular anti-Marcos leader, Benigno S. (Ninoy) Aquino Jr., who was gunned down as he disembarked from a plane returning him from exile in August, 1983.

The assassination, which many blamed on the Marcoses, outraged the nation and ultimately led to the 1986 military revolt and civilian rebellion that overthrew Marcos and put Aquino's widow, Corazon, into the presidency.

In what many see as a personal vendetta, President Aquino has refused to let Imelda Marcos bring her husband's body back to Manila for burial. The government relaxed its five-year ban on her return in August.

Marcos, characteristically, made a spectacle of her homecoming. Her chartered jet held 235 journalists, aides, hangers-on, politicians, doctors, solar-power experts and, according to one aide, "people who know how to harness the energy in sea waves."

There was also a 3-foot, white statue of the Virgin Mary, which rode in the cabin with Imelda Marcos during the nearly 10-hour flight from Honolulu.

As the jet neared Manila, a family priest offered prayers over the loudspeaker and sang. Imelda Marcos then sipped a glass of sparkling wine, dipped two fingers in it and dabbed her traveling companions under the ears for luck and the cameras.

The jet left Hawaii after considerable confusion and delays. Plans changed as often as Imelda Marcos changed outfits--three times in one afternoon.

She finally departed at 4:40 a.m. Sunday, after saying a tearful goodby to about 20 well-wishers at the airport. She told reporters she would ask to meet Aquino "as soon as I get back" to plead for her husband's burial.

Imelda Marcos' final days in Hawaii were classic, if a bit macabre.

She made a surprise farewell visit Saturday to her late husband's shed-like wooden crypt at the Valley of the Temple Memorial Park outside Honolulu, where he has lain since his death in Hawaii in September, 1989.

After aides opened the tomb and then the casket, she spent more than an hour with the corpse. She wept, prayed, dabbed its shiny forehead, held its stiff hand, ran her fingers through its black wig, and whispered in its waxen ear. She twice called photographers up the wooden platform to record the ghoulish scene.

Nearby, Frank Malabed, the family mortician, was proud of his dead charge. "He's in good condition," he said. "Well preserved."

Malabed has commuted regularly from Manila to tend the corpse. He also cares for the still-unburied corpse of Marcos' mother, Dona Josefa Marcos, who died in May, 1988, and lies in a crypt in the family's home province of Ilocos Norte in northern Luzon.

On Friday, Imelda Marcos held court for a constant stream of friends and reporters late into the warm evening under a striped tent in the lush garden of her sister-in-law's estate on Makiki Heights, overlooking the glittering lights of Waikiki Beach.

Another corpse, this one of a former gardener, lay in a coffin behind a curtain in a garage set up as a press center. Imelda Marcos said the Philippine government refused to let her take it home for burial for fear she would switch bodies and slip her husband's remains into the country.

"There might be an exchange of corpses," she said.

Charming, gracious and warm, Imelda Marcos used self-deprecating humor to deflect questions about her shoe collection, which became the best-known symbol of her excess.

"I've very, very few shoes left," she insisted with a giggle. She even removed her left high heel, a size 8 Charles Jourdan, to show reporters. Later, she did it again for photographers.

"You can see I'm a good sport," she added. "You can see how I survived this. A little sense of humor helped."

For a woman who fell from grace when she fell from power, she still manages to weave a spell around her. Loyal aides and politicians laughed on cue at her jokes and nodded appreciatively as she expounded at length on her philosophy of "beauty and love."

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