Daily Archives: 23 April 2006

Imelda’s Still Imelda, 20 Years Later

Sunday’s Japan Times carries an exclusive profile by David McNeill of Imelda Marcos, who seems to have changed very little since she and her husband were ousted from power twenty years ago.

By the time the brilliant ex-lawyer and his beauty-queen wife boarded a U.S. helicopter on Feb. 25, 1986, they had become synonymous with the corruption and cronyism that made the Philippines one of the poorest nations on the planet. To his eternal credit, Marcos ordered his army not to fire on Manila crowds before he left, but then he expected to be back within days. Instead, he was to die in Hawaii three years later, leaving Imelda to carry on the Marcos legacy.

Today, astonishingly, Imelda is back in Manila and again a force in Philippine politics. Many believe the beautiful young country girl who caught the eye of the ambitious Marcos and helped him win a million votes in 1965 was the real power behind the throne by the end of their reign, when Ferdinand was desperately ill. Her political survival “makes a mockery” of the 1986 revolution, according to one of her biographers.

Now living on the 34th-floor suite in one of Manila’s most exclusive apartment blocks, the former first lady seldom gives interviews because she is invariably skewered by incredulous journalists when she brandishes her innocence and new poverty. She was, after all, once one of the 10 richest women in the world….

When Ferdinand died in 1989, aged 72, Imelda had to fight U.S. federal grand jury charges alone: principally that the couple stole over $200 million from the Philippine treasury and spent it on a real-estate spree in New York. After enjoying the backing of five U.S. presidents, and the close friendship of Ronald and Nancy Reagan (with whom she shared an interest in astrology), the shock of America turning on her was profound.

“They did this to me when I was alone, widowed and orphaned,” she says, on the verge of tears. “Even the Bible says there are special places reserved in hell for those who persecute widows and orphans. And it was not individuals who did me in, it was governments and superpowers.”

Though acquitted, few expected Imelda to survive the humiliation of being ditched by the White House, lampooned in the media and chased across the world by prosecutors who accused the pair of plundering the Philippines of $ 10 billion or more. But showing the irrepressible energy and brazenness that made her a legendary force in Philippine politics, Imelda bounced back, returned to Manila in 1992 and won a senator’s seat in 1995 after a failed bid for the presidency.

Today, she is again the matriarch of a minor political dynasty. Her son, Ferdinand Jr., is governor of Ilocos Norte Province in the north of the country, where daughter Imee is a congresswoman. Her nephew, Alfred Romualdez, sits in the congressional seat she vacated, and her brother is mayor of Tacloban City. She has been acquitted several times on domestic charges of corruption and extortion and, of the 901 separate cases she claims were filed against her family, she is now down to the last three. Considering her regime was recently ranked as the second-most corrupt (after Suharto’s Indonesia) of the late-20th century, it is not a bad end to a life. “I am still standing up at 76, fighting superpowers.”…

It is not difficult at times like this to imagine the young, naive, fun-loving Visayas beauty dazzled by the ambitious senator Ferdinand Marcos and the jet-set life he promised; much harder to put this tearful, almost childish woman together with the picture painted of her in many biographies. Did she really offer her archrival Benigno Aquino $1 million to stay in U.S. exile, then order his 1983 assassination in broad daylight and in front of the world’s press when he returned? Would the money she and her husband embezzled really, as many say, pay off the Philippines foreign debt?

And the biggest mystery of all: why have the people who threw her out accepted her back?

“Some people look at the chaos now and think things were probably better then under Marcos,” says taxi driver Mike Avila. “He was strong and kept people in line. Things don’t seem to have improved much since they left.”

An interesting profile, despite the always irritating deus ex imagina taxi-driver quote at the end.

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Shinto-Buddhist Syncretism in Heian Japan

Esotericism was central to both Buddhist traditions ascendant in the Heian period (794–1185): Shingon and Tendai. Shingon is an exclusively esoteric school founded in Japan by Kukai (774–835) whereas Tendai, founded in Japan by Saicho (766–835), includes esotericism as part of its grand synthesis of many Buddhist perspectives. Although several Buddhist schools had entered Japan by the end of the Nara period, for the most part none had developed into fully independent, religious establishments in their own right. That is: Shingon and Tendai were the first to flourish and develop as distinctively Japanese independent schools. Furthermore, both schools developed forms of Buddhist-Shinto synthesis. Both Shingon and Tendai arose about the time the capital moved from Nara to Kyoto (called “Heian” at the time). Their success was due in part to the fact that Buddhist esotericism shares central assumptions with early Japanese spirituality. With its centuries of doctrinal and practical development on the mainland, esoteric Buddhism was uniquely positioned to give early Shinto spirituality a full-blown philosophical justification, albeit admittedly a justification in Buddhist garb. Let us consider three points where the worldviews of ancient Shinto and esoteric Buddhism intersected—areas of similarity on which Shingon and Tendai Buddhism were able to capitalize.

First, for both early Shinto and Buddhist esotericism, the world was alive with spirituality, as there is no sharp divide between spirit and matter….

Second, Buddhism and early Shinto both stressed the purely mindful heart….

There is, as well, a third commonality: both esoteric Buddhism and early Shinto assume the sacred can be in the form of celestial deities (in Shinto, the kami deities; in esoteric Buddhism, the celestial buddhas and boddhisattvas)….

Not surprisingly, then, with syncretism as the norm, the term “Shinto” had no popular use in Japan until the development of state ideology in the middle of the nineteenth century. In that era, an essentialist Shinto spirituality was on the rise and the agenda was to separate “real” Shinto from its Buddhist “distortions.” Because of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism, however, it seems that for a thousand years of Japanese history most people did not ordinarily find it useful to distinguish “Shinto” from “Buddhist.” These people did all along refer to kami, of course, but they knew that on some level (perhaps understood only by intellectuals) kami were just alternative forms of buddhas.

SOURCE: Shinto: The Way Home, by Thomas P. Kasulis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2004), pp. 95-102

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